This is a mini post. A post about the recently launched Luka Mini.
Luka Mini is a simpler (and cheaper) version of the Original Luka Reading Companion, and it stacks up well against its forebears. I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it is – particularly give the significantly lower price point. It’s a great entry-level reading robot for toddlers / very young children, as it has reduced functionality and optionality, but the same ability to read physical picture books with high audio quality.
Firstly, if reading this, and you haven’t gotten on board with the Luka-craze yet, please read my earlier blog post about what Luka Reading Companion is. If you are already aware who this intelligent bilingual reading robot is, then read on to see how the latest model compares.
This post contains a detailed review and comparison of Luka Mini against Original Luka and Luka Hero, and covers:
- Luka Product Suite
- Differentiating factor of Luka Mini
- Head-to-Head comparison of Mini vs other Luka Hero and Original Luka
- Pros of Luka Mini
- Cons of Luka Mini
- Which model is best for our family?
We were blessed to have a Luka Mini join our family a month back, as a beta test for Luka Reads. Within days of it arriving, my kids were asking if I can buy one for them, and I think they do have a good point. If we didn’t already have an Original Luka, this would be my choice for the entry-level product for a toddler. However, it certainly doesn’t replace our much-loved Luka Hero (which is significantly more helpful for an older child).
The Luka Reading Robot Full Product suite
There are five main versions of Luka:
- Luka (launched July 2017): the original picture book reading robot – with ability to read story books in Mandarin and English (over 70,000 titles), play lots of Chinese audio/songs, and conduct short conversations using AI voice recognition. My original review was on this model.
- Luka Baby (launched July 2018): simpler version of Original Luka, without the voice interaction, and main focus on stories and songs.
- Luka Hero (launched August 2018): Same as the original Luka, but with AI image recognition, to support finger-point reading of any Chinese/English words, and more advanced voice recognition detects pronunciation and intonation of a child.
- Luka HeroS (launched April 2019): The backend is identical to Luka Hero, but in a different “outer shell” to look more like a space cadet. This version of Hero comes with a series of online interactive English lessons and English videos (note – it’s aimed at Chinese market, to teach them English, which is the opposite of our reasons for purchasing Luka!).
- Luka Mini (launched July 2020): an entry level version of Original Luka, with the key focus of reading picture books. Design wise, it has been specifically simplified for younger children: it doesn’t have the LED eyes from the original, and it comes with a with a drop-resistant shell, with low centre of gravity and big buttons for little fingers. Functionality wise, options such as changing the language, or AI-chat functions are more limited. This is the topic for this blog post.
In terms of product positioning, the Luka Mini is being marketed as “a story machine which can also read physical picture books”. So, it’s designed to be rivalling cheaper indestructible Chinese story machines such小牛津帽T熊 vs. 幼福忍者兔 vs. Food超人. These machines are literally just audio storytellers, but Mini obviously has the additional function to read physical books (which for me, is much more important).
In my humble opinion, Mini also rivals its sister product Original Luka on several fronts in term of most basic use, making it a suitable choice for a baby/toddler. Summary of detailed pros and cons are listed below.
Pros of Mini (versus Original Luka)
Mini offers quite a few kid-friendly differentiating features to Original Luka, which are:
- Kid-friendly buttons: the Luka Mini has a series of labelled buttons on its stomach which make it much simple for a younger child to press, rather than Original Luka which involves clicking on the secret component of the wings and remembering which side does what. This makes it more approachable for a young learner.
- Ability for parent to send a voice message to Luka: The Mini has the function for a parent to record a short voice message to their child, which can be played by pressing one of Mini’s buttons. On the Original Luka model, this is restricted to “text messages” (ie a written message which Luka will read out), but it’s not possible for the adult’s voice to be recorded. This is a nice touch – as the microchat function can help a baby to also talk remotely to the baby.
- Night light: in the form of the unicorn horn, with adjustable light level and timer. We actually use our Original Luka as a nightlight (using the big eyes …. it’s a bit of a hack!), but Mini has this specifically built-in.
- More child-proof design: Drop resistant plastic shell is softer, and more durable (doesn’t make such a big bang when it drops). Moreover, the centre of gravity is lower, so it doesn’t tumble as easily, and the ‘wings’ provide a source of shock absorption. It has large sized clear labelled buttons for little fingers. Finally, the ‘on/off’ switch is functioned by turning it clockwise, rather than pressing the tail it in/out, so it doesn’t accidentally turn on/off if Luka is placed in a carry bag or placed on a slanted surface.
- Speaker hardware: according to the marketing materials, the speaker module it uses is designed and manufactured by European company AS Audio, which is better for protecting a child’s ears, as the sound level doesn’t go beyond international safety standard of 85 decibels.
- Battery lasts a lot longer: since Mini doesn’t have the huge over-sized and overly cute LED owl eyes. It can go for weeks!
- Chinese/English language swap is restricted to only the adult app: This is both a pro and a con. On Original Luka, the language can be changed by clicking Luka’s forehead. I understand some parents of young kids found this feature frustrating as their children would deliberately keep switching it to English, and it was a game of ‘fastest finger’ to change the language back again. For Luka Mini, this issue is removed, as the language is controlled by the parent’s phone app, and nothing else. On the other hand, our family love this function of Original Luka, because the children often read a book page in Chinese, and then again in English, so clicking the head to swap languages is perfect.
Pictures above show the on/off button at the back, and buttons at the front, which are easier for small hands to navigate.
Cons of Luka Mini (versus Original Luka)
The features which have been taken out from Luka Mini, but which are aspects we enjoy in Original Luka are:
- Ability to play different versions of the books – Mini simply reads the story books, whereas in Original and Hero, there are options to have ‘role play mode’ and ‘singing mode’, where Luka narrates the books differently (or puts the text to music, and sings it as song lyrics!). This is a feature the kids love, but I don’t think it’s essential.
- DIY picture book recording is not possible on Mini – in the original Luka and Hero versions, it’s possible for an adult to pre-record their own story books into Luka, for a child to read along to. This is a lovely feature of the Original product to allow grandparents or friends to record stories for children, or do it indeed in another language like Cantonese, Malay, etc. It’s not possible in Mini.
- More limited interactive chat functions – the original Luka and Hero are endearing for their inane chatter, and occasionally unnecessary flatulence. The Mini doesn’t have this. Moreover, Mini is more limited in the voice commands which can be given to it. The voice commands in Mini cover a limited range of Mandarin topics (and non in English), whereas Original/Hero have seemingly endless ability of AI-chat in Mandarin, and a good range in English too.
- More limited audio content: The Original and Hero have a much wider range of songs and podcasts (not limited to nursery rhymes and children’s songs like Mini is).
Luka Mini: Cute to cuddle, great with books, but doesn’t replace functionality of Original Luka
Head-to-Head Comparison of Original Luka, Hero and Mini
This table compares the key features across Original Luka, Luka Hero and Luka Mini. For Mini especially, I’ve highlighted in green where I think it’s a benefit, and red where it’s reduced functionality from the Original.
Which Luka is right for our family?
For very young children / babies:
Most of the good story reading aspects of Original Luka have now been replicated into Luka Mini. So for someone with a baby/toddler, or primarily wanting the Luka for book reading, the Mini has you all covered. If you fall in love with Mini, then you’d probably want to seriously consider upgrading to Luka Hero a few years later, as it’s got a lot more features to continue enjoying, especially the broad range of audio/podcasts/music and AI Chat.
For older children:
Skip the Mini. Whilst Mini has many of the functions that Original Luka has, it’s Original’s random chatter and big eyes which make Luka really engaging. In that sense, Mini is lacking in personality and whimsicalness, whereas Original/Hero offers both of these. For an older child, I think engaging it what you want. Original Luka also has a function to record your own books, which is a nice feature, especially if you want to add in a new language to Luka or bring to life stories which your child has written/drawn!
Original Luka is really an excellent choice for any bilingual family, especially if the main focus is on listening to picture books being read, and for the rich audio options. However, for families where parents don’t speak Chinese, Luka Hero gives some interesting applications for older children, such as reading individual characters, or use as a dictionary to look up words (handwritten or printed).
The Luka Hero is leagues apart – both pricewise and functionality-wise – for good reason. Luka Hero has “Point and Read” and “Read and Repeat”, and also uses its large eyes to cleverly display Chinese characters / pinyin / English definitions. This means it can recognise any Chinese/English printed text or neat handwriting, which serves to assist an older child as a dictionary function, or assist in independent reading. I’ve written a detailed review of how Luka Hero compares to Original Luka in a separate post.
Where to buy Luka, Luka Mini and Luka Hero?
Luka Reads is the official distributor in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. For those countries, the international shipping fee is absorbed. Through their website, it’s also possible to order into other countries, if international shipping is paid. Luka Reads provides 1 year warranty and exchanges on any faulty devices.
If you purchase Original Luka or Luka Hero through their main website and enter my promo code as “Lahlah20off” for $20. Thank you Luka Reads team for blessing my blog readers (note: no sales commission/$ to me, just a gift to you!).
JD.com is a Chinese bookstore which ships globally, including in the US. They stock several versions of Luka at great prices, so if you’re brave enough to order through a Chinese website, you could give it a shot. Some mothers from Motherly Notes recommend this method. Otherwise the minefield of Taobao is where we bought our first one from. Neither of these methods will come with the local warranty or support though!
Have fun with Luka!
I hope this post helps you to understand the differences between Luka Mini and other models. I’d love to hear what you’ve discovered too! Please do share – either in comments below, or drop me a note.
If you’re interested to read more about Luka, some previous posts which I’ve written that you may like are:
- Review of Original Luka Reading Companion
- Review of Luka Hero (with some videos)
- Features we love about Luka aside from reading books
- List of Luka Compatible books, divided by age group
- Our favourite Luka books available in the Singapore NLB library
DISCLAIMER: I’m grateful that we have had Luka Mini to borrow, thanks to the lovely team at Luka Reads – since we were existing avid Luka fans, and I’d already written several blog posts on our other Lukas.
The views shared in this review are my own genuine, unbiased opinion – as is everything contained on this blog. There are no affiliations, sponsorship, commissions, behind this post nor anything on this blog. It’s a passion project, not a business or source of any income.