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Brian The Brain Reviewed

Here's our look at this brain-in-a-bowl kids bedroom companion - a chatty little chap that uses speech recognition and a database to entertain and educate kids.


Ok - As a technology radio show, reviewing what's essentially a kids toy is NOT what we normally do, but one of these devices seems to have sound its way into our studio and as it was featured briefly in Show 22, we thought we'd add some information here.

We'd tried searching online for a decent UK review of Brian The Brain, and as we couldn't fine one, we thought we'd better get on and write one!

Brian The Brain
Brian The Brain

What is Brian The Brain?

Brian The Brain is a digital room mate designed to entertain and educate kids aged from 8 years upwards. Essentially, it's a battery-powered brain in a bowl with a mini-keyboard attached. It has speech recognition, and a database of facts and jokes. Brian The Brain's memory contents includes an encyclopedia, dictionary and a world history timeline. The AI enables the product to learn about its owner and tailor its interaction, so it can behave as a friend.

Brian The Brain - Bonus "Off The Record" (2 minutes 30 secs)

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Getting a Brain

Brian The Brain became available in the UK just in time for the Christmas 2007 market.


Brian The Brain was last seen online at the following places:

  • Available for £79 from Argos (SPECIAL - £19.99!!)
  • Available for £59 from Tesco Direct


Our Review of Brian The Brain

Let's be honest - one of these has found it's way into our recording studio as we've toyed with the idea of using Brian's computerised voice in our online Tech podcasts. The team behind the show aren't kids, so we're not the target market, however we can still give this a decent review, from a tech perspective.

Out of the box, you need to load Brian The Brain with a set of batteries. It's powered by 4 x AA batteries and 3 x AAA batteries. The four AA batteries are actually included, to allow the unit to work on shelves when the "try me" button is pressed - they may therefore be drained before you unpack the product, so get ready with a new set of those too.

You need to reset the Brain before you can use it - (Press Q and the reset button), which gets it out of demo mode and ready to be placed in front of its young owner.

Brian The BrainAs part of the setup process, the Brain asks for the owner's name and a secret one-word spoken password, to allow it to be personalised and to become a secret-keeper.

Once it's up-and-running - a 2 minute job, the owner only has to utter the words "Hey Brian" to wake him up. You then speak one of the key command phrases to set the mode. These phrases are:

  • Joke - "What do you get when you cross a sheepdog with a rose? A collie-flower"
  • Info - Information from the Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Type in a word for look up a subject in the encyclopedia
  • Look up word - Type in a word to get a dictionary definition
  • Trivia quiz - Spoken questions from different categories
  • Play a game - Games include Brian Drain, Spynet, Word Twist, Word Wonders, Mind Reader, Wild recall and Key Blaster
  • What time is it?
  • Phone call - Start a voice call either by dialling a number or looking up a contact in the address book
  • Chat - Random nonsense, interaction and questions
  • History - One event from this day in history. You can also enter a date to hear what happened on a different day
  • Guard - You have 30 seconds to leave the room.
  • Calendar - Access to the personal organiser and reminders
  • Music - Hook up an MP3 player and use Brian as a mono speaker and light show.

Brian the Brain is supplied with a US male voice that suitably pleasing on the ear, and engaging. Interaction is done through a combination of speak recognition and keyboard entry - Where you need to answer "yes / no" questions, you can do that verbally, but entering a word into the dictionary lookup or encyclopedia requires input on the keyboard, with can be pulled away from the main unit for ease of typing

Brian The Brain Keyboard

They keyboard's pretty straightforward, and the built-in screen helps with prompts that can't be handled by the text-to-speech engine of the Brain. There's a reset button on the bottom of the keyboard for lockups (we've not experienced one yet).

The Brain has three levels of volume, and in our tests was perfectly audible and quite capable of understanding our adult voices. No kids to try it out on, unless you count co-presenter Carl, of course. The speaker is perhaps a little tinny - not great for podcasts, but fine for a kid's bedroom.

Cleverly, the Brain asks occasional questions, such as the owner's gender, number of brothers or sisters, parent's birthday, etc. It uses this information to tailor questions, set birthday reminders and to make interactions for relevant and realistic. The Brain is quite a chatterbox and as it has a pretty sizable database of facts, it's always got something to talk about - it also comes up with random funny lines, such as "What's that smell... was that you?".

Brian's head turns and the eyes blink, and the brain colour changes too - although we're still convinced that a brain in a jar is a little creepy - but hey ho!

Quality of the onboard data is adequate, but nothing special - the encyclopedia information could certainly be helpful for homework, but not overly up-to-date, and with a strong US bias. The dictionary is pretty comprehensive, with rude words removed. The quality of the text-to-speech for the dictionary is not great - with some definitions being too fast and occasionally badly read... good enough to be useful, but not great - presumably the quality was downscaled to allow an entire dictionary to fit in Brian The Brain's memory.

Brian The Brain

Rear of Brian the Brain - A 3.5mm socket for connection to an mp3 player, and an RJ11 telephone socket


Our summary? A pretty decent kids companion - Safe, educational and fun. Thought's clearly gone into the interaction, and kids should find this useful (encyclopedia and facts) as well as fun (room guard, calendar). Engaging and not overly repetitive, we're happy to recommend this.


Brian the Brain FAQ

Q. No Voice. Site visitor Denise asks: " We have a brian the brain - it lights up and moves his head, but does not speak. The keypad asks questions also. Can you help please?"

A. We don't have a definite answer to this, but strongly suspect batteries to be the culprit. There are two sets of batteries needed - 4xAA and 3xAAA. The Brain is supplied with 4 AA batteries which are enough to power the voice while the box is on shelves - we're guessing these control the voice, and as they've been on shelves tried by kids, are likely to be exhausted by the time you get the Brain home. Try replacing all of the batteries. It's also worth checking the volume by pressing the Vol button. Failing that, try resetting the Brain (button on rear of keyboard plus Q, as outlined in the manual). Still no joy? Perhaps you have a faulty Brian. Return to the place of purchase.

3.5mm to 3.5mmQ. How do I play music via Brian The Brain

We had a call to our show's podline in Show 25 asking how to connect an MP3 player to Brian the Brain. The answer... Connect a 3.5mm to 3.5mm jack lead from the MP3 player to Brian's Line in socket on the back, then say "Hey Brian.... " plus the word "Music". You can find a suitable lead at Maplin (Part: L29BA)

Q. How do I add a friend?

A. Rebecca called us in Show 46 of our podcast asking for help on adding a friend. To add a friend, press the Function button (to the right of the space bar), then use the cursor pad to scroll to left 13 times and find "Add a Friend". Then, press the Enter button.

Q. Wrong name. "My Brian the Brain thinks I'm called something I haven't even heard of and never said. Is there a way of resetting my name and if so, how?" (Michael Reid, Jan 2008)

A. You may be able to edit your profile settings from the Edit button. If that doesn't work, you can reset Brian as follows - This will reset to factory defaults. Hold down the Q key, then press in the button on the underside of the keyboard for two seconds.

Q. Manual: "My grandson has inherited a Brian the Brain. How can I obtain a handbook. Can I download one?" (Roger)

A. We couldn't find a Brian The Brain manual online, so we scanned the important parts of our manual. Download Brian The Brain Instructions (PDF file)


Got a question on Brian The Brain that we can answer in our next podcast?
Call 020 8133 4567 or leave a message in our blog

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