It was of course inevitable that I would review some of the LEGO Dots products, so here we are.
Let me begin by saying that I pretty much stand by what I said in my initial thoughts/ ponderings when the products were announced. With the series being what it is, LEGO are entering a weird market with extremely short-lived product cycles and on top of that very little of it actually exists on the same quality level as LEGO products usually do. If you will – by competing with lesser products there’s always the risk that the perception and reputation of your own products gets tainted.
The other thing – and I also mentioned this to some degree in my other article – is that this is basically a no-win scenario with limited long-term prospects. Whatever LEGO are doing, they can only get it wrong. The deeper issue here is of course the conflict between the claims to infinite creativity vs. the viability of a commercial product. This means that you could do sets with 5000 pieces of all varieties and still not have covered all options while at the same time very few users would actually exploit this potential.
On the other hand you could do limited sets that cover a specific subject, limiting the creative exploration and also having the simple side-effect that at one point you may have done all the pencil holders, jewelry boxes and so on you can think of and as people lose interest, so dwindle your sales. For now of course none of this may be particularly relevant or critical, but I’d bet that in two years these things might become valid considerations.
This dichotomy can easily be observed in the overview image above. I have not bothered much with re-creating the proposed standard designs from the sets, but immediately ventured out on my own. For that I threw in a ton of elements from my own collection and only used the originally suggested pieces here and there. Now the point is of course that I could always have done that using my own stock already.
As such, I therefore consider Dots more of an enabler or expansion to what has been possible to some degree. Most importantly Dots introduces a bunch of pieces that have never been available before, meaning in most cases not having been available in sufficient quantities or specific colors, a few completely new items notwithstanding.
Now let’s address the other elephant in the room: Some of the sets use these large plastic trays as their on-shelf packaging. While I’m sure we’ve all gotten used to the gazillion tiny plastic bags in every box of LEGO (which of course are also present here and contain sub-sets of pieces sorted by specific colors), this really strikes me as one step too far in the wrong direction. You know, LEGO keep beating about the bush about trying to be eco-friendly and then this? I won’t pretend that I’m a green warrior and I sure do enough things that aren’t ideal for the environment, but this is one of those unnecessary little things that could easily have been avoided.
This is even more so the case as the above image perfectly illustrates how inefficiently the space is used. Once the larger parts packed into the center section of the tray have been used up, only thin layers of the smaller decoration pieces remain and cover the bottom of the tray. If at least those compartments were filled to the brim this might have been acceptable. However, in this current state most of the elements would have fitted just as well in a standard LEGO box and some small match boxes.
If nothing else, this seriously needs to be reconsidered for future products in this series. Point in case: It may be nice to have those trays around for building, but very few will hang on to them forever and throw them away at some point, latest when the “carpet monster” has devoured the last piece or the parts have been sorted in other storage boxes.
Moving on to the individual products, there is mostly not much to say. Predictably, they all follow the same template of being super simple, not particularly elaborate or sophisticated builds with the main focus being the “decorating” afterwards with the colored tiles. It’s for kids, after all. There’s really no particular challenge here. I must admit, though, that some of the choices have me shaking my head. A few connections are just too flimsy for their own good and overall stability is not great in places.
The silicon wrist bands/ bracelets are perhaps the least relevant for the serious adult LEGO aficionado except for the unique printed tiles they come with. In addition, the Cosmic Wonder (41903) includes a new type of 1×1 pieces by ways of the hexagonal pearl/ dome/ knob pieces.
The bands themselves are rather rigid for apparent reasons, i.e. they must not deform too much in order for the studs to retain their shape and volume, thus holding the elements firmly. This mostly works as long as the band retains its perfect loop form, but as soon as there is some form of internal warping or twisting, bits may still fall off. They are also sensitive to getting caught in the edges of sleeves and may shear off, too.
As far as the size is concerned, I am able to just wrap the bracelet around my wrists on the last notch. I’m neither particularly muscular nor skinny, so I would assume that for most people of average size and stature this works out just fine, allowing this to be an interesting accessory and playful distraction e.g. at parties. Naturally, kids should have it even easier.
The Jewelry Stand (41905) is at this point the largest build in terms of height and width, not the number of parts. However, its large dimensions come at the cost of not such a great mechanical stability. The two heart-shaped elements forming the “cloud” can easily be broken off if you’re not careful and the same applies to the multiple rounded plates forming the tray at the bottom. That is to say you have to watch where you are holding it when moving it around. The frame on the back is pretty robust, though, so that’s where you should grab it.
The unique sales point for many people of course are the glossy metal curved tiles. Together with the heart plates, that at this point are exclusive to this set, this will be the main reason to even buy this set for more technically minded MOC builders on the lookout for metallic parts. The rest will depend on how much you get out of Dark Pink and Lavender tiles, obviously. 😉
The Picture Holders (41904) aren’t actually that interesting if it wasn’t for the elements in “natural” colors, i.e. the ones in Tan, Medium Nougat and the grey tones. It’s certainly not for the 4×4 plates of which I have tons from dismantled Brickheadz and other sets already.
Of course LEGO wouldn’t be LEGO if they didn’t get this wrong, either. Unfortunately there are way, way too few of the elements in question in the sets, seriously limiting the options to create interesting animal faces. For instance there isn’t even three of the Dark Pink tongue-shaped pieces. Go, figure!
Construction of the cubes is as straightforward and simple as you might have guessed already – a bunch of 2×2 corner bricks built around some bricks with studs on the sides onto which the plates are plugged.
The actual image holder brick is a newly designed single part. No doubt it would have been possible to create the functionality with other pieces, but again it’s a matter of that you may not want kids of a certain age have to struggle with construction that requires them to create specific gaps or create mechanical tension.
On that note, I found the image holder to be a bit too tight when using thicker stock like the card shown in the image. If you value your precious family photos or collectible items, you may need to work the slot e.g. with a knife or screw driver or even actually sand down the small notches a tiny bit to loosen things up.
Finally, there are “Extra Dots” that come in small foil bags and what can I say? While the whole concept of Dots is at best questionable, this one takes the cake in terms of ridiculousness. okay, it gives you a bunch more of those desirable quarter tiles in funky colors and there are some transparent round tiles with a glitter effect, but the rest is quite frankly a joke.
The print quality of the emoji tiles is sub-par at best, downright terrible at worst. Most motifs are completely misaligned and not centered and the prints themselves are flat and dull. This is way, way below what people have come to expect from LEGO.
So what’s the overall verdict? While I’m sure at least some kids love some of the Dots stuff, I can’t say I do. I really wanted to like it and give it a fair chance, but ultimately I ended up doing what probably a majority of adults does – buying the sets just for the parts, in particular the colored tiles.
With that in mind my advice can only be to stock up while supplies last because I really don’t think this will be around for too long, given the circumstances.It’s just not a good product and chances are it will be outrun by the next “kids craft” fad soon enough, anyway. Anyone remember what happened to Looms a few years ago? Exactly!