My Friend Cayla is powered by three AA batteries (not included) which seem to be lasting well. She's pretty easy to set up, you just insert the batteries and download a free app to your smart device. Then turn her on and connect her to the device via Bluetooth. She needs to remain reasonably close to the device, and you can't use it for anything else while she's being played with. You also need to have an internet connection, preferably WiFi, while you are playing with her.
In the settings you can change your doll's name and your location. You can also set how chatty she is and add any banned words to a list so that she won't use them.
Through the app itself you can play noughts and crosses (tic tac toe) with Cayla, the only game currently available (although more are promised for the future). She's a worthy opponent, and she won't always let you win. She has one story to tell you, about a trip to the botanical gardens with her mother, and you can look through her photo albums with her.
There are seven photo albums to choose from, for example Holiday, At the Zoo and At the Farm, and they do take a few minutes to go through, you can select a picture and Cayla will tell you more about it. They are fun, but it would be nice to see a lot more content within the app, especially some more games, as when you've done these the novelty does wear off.
I made this little video of Harry using some of the features within the app:
Cayla's main selling point however is the option to chat with her. As well as general conversation with Cayla, about her likes and dislikes for example, you can ask her general knowledge questions, which she will use the internet to answer. Some of the sample questions I have seen are things like 'What is the capital of France' or sums like 'What is two plus two'.
This is where we really struggled. When you first turn her on, Cayla says 'Hello' and then launches into a conversation about something relevant to a young girl, like trying out different types of food or owning three leotards for gymnastics. This usually ends with her asking you a question, like your favourite type of fruit, but then ignoring any answer that you give or just continuing the conversation with another statement on her chosen subject.
When she is listening her heart pendant lights up, and this is the only time that you can talk to her. When the light is out she is thinking. Sometimes she will wait for quite a while with no light, so you can't do anything with her, even if she has just asked you a question which you want to answer. Sometimes even when the light was on there was no response to anything that I said. I found that if she appeared stuck it was a good idea to turn her off and back on, and then she might be more in the mood for conversation. If she's left alone she'll start talking about things that she does or that she likes. When we did manage to get her talking we had some surreal conversations. For example:
Cayla: What is your favourite fruit?
Cayla: I love dogs!
Me: What is the capital of France?
Cayla: That's not appropriate.
Me: What is the capital of Spain?
Cayla: How are you coming up with these?
Harry: What is the capital of England?
Cayla: My Mum likes to drink tea.
Me: What is your favourite colour?
Cayla: I don't have a best friend necklace, but maybe someday we can have matching necklaces.
Many of the questions that I asked her were answered with the response that the question was too difficult, she didn't know, or she would have to ask her teacher. To be fair she did answer a couple of questions correctly, I did manage to get her to tell me that two plus two was four, she told me the capital of France in the end, and she told me all about the Mona Lisa. But there were many more occasions where she couldn't answer my questions.
You can see an example of her conversation in this video that I filmed of Harry playing with her. I accept that his voice is rather squeaky and some of his questions are perhaps not obvious or direct enough (they are based on things that she was talking about before I started filming) but this is pretty typical of the chats that we've been having with Cayla.
I did spend a lot of time looking online for advice, but I couldn't find any way of improving it. Even when I talk to her (in my standard, Southern accent) asking the questions suggested in the instructions and on-line tutorial videos, she very rarely gives me a relevant answer.
However, both my children love Cayla and they keep on asking to play with her. I think you can see in the videos that Harry is really affectionate towards her, he was stroking her, patting her and so on. Mia loves brushing and styling her hair (Cayla is her first doll with proper hair to brush) and she found Cayla hilarious whatever she said. I'm not sure how long the novelty is going to last though, especially as they can't set her up to play with by themselves.
I do think that the manufacturers have made some bold claims about the doll, and for us unfortunately she didn't live up to those expectations. She was fun to play with, and the technology is promising, but I think there is a little way to go yet.
I received a My Friend Cayla doll for the purpose of this review, as well as a second doll to offer as a giveaway prize. My Friend Cayla retails for around £60-£80.