Last year, when JoJo Learning sent us Luka Reading Robot for unbiased feedback, I thought Luka was too good to be true. This owl-shaped robot can narrate >70,000 Chinese books and >20,000 English books. It plays music, too!
The moment we received Luka, my kids were immediately smitten. Over the past year, we have read several hundred Chinese books with Luka. About half a year ago, they were beyond thrilled when we received a second Luka (Hero) from JoJo Learning.
Although English is our family’s main language and Luka has English features, we use Luka to maximize input and interest in our minority language.
Disclaimer: The original post shared on November 7, 2019 on Facebook and Instagram was sponsored by JoJo Learning and has some affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and make a purchase, I earn a small commission which supports my blog at no additional cost to you. Please see the disclosure policy for details.
This post has been updated most recently on November 14, 2020. As always, all content reflects the experience and honest opinions of my family.
For those who worry that robots will take over humans, we are a fairly low-tech family and feel comfortable with Luka. Luka and Luka Hero have become a major part of our life; my children love hugging and chatting with each of their Luka robots!
I strongly believe that Luka can be a huge help to bilingual and multilingual families. In this post, I’ll answer common questions and compare Luka with the newer Luka Hero model.
Review of Luka Reading Robot: video introduction
Luka was created by Ling Technology in 2017 and >1 million units of Luka and sister products (Luka Baby, Luka Hero, Luka Luka) have been sold in China.
Luka developers work with publishers and professional narrators to collect and store the vast content in its cloud library.
In this video, I give an overview of how Luka reads various simplified Chinese books and some key features of the Luka APP.
What age is Luka most suitable for?
In my opinion, Luka is best for children between ages 3-8 years old who enjoy reading picture books. I have heard of 8-10 year old kids that are big fans of Luka, too.
Children younger than age 3 will likely prefer reading with a parent. As with most activities at this age, they will be less likely to use Luka independently.
Although my 7-year-old has been voraciously reading Chinese chapter books since she was 5, Luka has still been a great help for reading advanced picture books. I anticipate that she will continue to use Luka over the next year.
Older children/teenagers and those who have outgrown picture books may instead prefer the Youdao dictionary translation pen (detailed review here).
Benefits of Luka Reading Robot for bilingual families
We all know that children should read or be read to daily, but many families don’t have the capability or time to read Chinese books.
Luka can help children learn Chinese
I’ve written extensively about how audiobooks help my American children learn Chinese. Audiobooks can improve vocabulary and reading comprehension, especially for bilingual learners.
Although my 7-year-old reads Chinese independently, Luka’s narration function helps her read challenging books beyond her level. She also enjoys playing 成语 (Chinese idiom) games with Luka.
My 4-year-old son has been mimicking and chatting with Luka in Mandarin. Thanks to Luka, he has picked up many new Chinese words and phrases. Here’s a video from November 2019 when my son was 3 years old.
A robot can help families who are not fluent enough to read Chinese
Now with Luka Reading Robot, my kids are less limited by my lack of fluency. They don’t need to wait for mommy to look up words in the dictionary, check the Pinyin, or study the book beforehand.
Buying Luka can save money
In the past, we paid a Chinese teacher $30/hour to read to our children. However, coordinating schedules was challenging, and my son didn’t connect with her.
Now my kids can read Chinese books whenever they want at no extra cost!
Luka Reading Companion saves time
Because Luka’s narration quality is excellent, my kids don’t need me to search for the best Mandarin narrator on Ximalaya.
I also don’t have to spend hours transferring audio files from Ximalaya to an MP3 player, because Luka can read most of our Chinese books.
Furthermore, like many busy parents working inside or outside of the home, I can’t sit with my kids every time they want to read, such as when I’m in a meeting.
With Luka, my kids just need to pick a book, press a button, and they are able to read and listen right away!
What does Luka come with?
Luka Reading Robot comes very well packaged in a sturdy yellow box, cushioned with a velvety lining. The box contains a USB charging cable, Luka stickers, and a hardcover book about Luka.
The Luka Hero sold in the United States comes with a round charging station, which makes the base more stable.
In contrast to the Luka Hero sold in Asia, the JoJo Learning Luka Hero set does not come with the purple wireless charging mat, flashcards, and English books. We have those extra resources and never use them; I’m actually trying to figure out what to do with that unnecessary clutter…
How to use Luka Robot and Luka Hero
- Press and hold the tail to turn on/off Luka
- HD camera on Luka’s forehead scans book covers, illustrations, and ISBN code
- Press book wing for Luka to read books
- Press music wing for Luka to sing songs, tell other stories, or narrate poems
- Please refer to directions and the user manual on JoJo Learning’s Luka Support Page
What can Luka Reading Robot do?
- Easy for kids to learn and use independently. My younger child was able to use Luka on his own at age 3 years.
- Read >70,000 Chinese picture books and >20,000 English picture books!!!
- Professionally narrate stories with both male and female human voices.
- Some stories have soft music in the background, others have no background music.
- When Luka sees a book cover, it recognizes the book and reads as you turn the pages, even out of page order
- A soft click sound indicates that Luka is done reading a page; turn the page whenever you’re ready
- Can read books from any angle, as long as the camera is right above the book
- Respond to simple commands:
- Ask questions like 一加一等于什么？ (Yī jiā yī děngyú shénme / 1+1= ?)
- Play 成语接龙游戏 (Chéngyǔ jiēlóng yóuxì / Chinese idiom game) which my daughter enjoys, but my son doesn’t understand yet
- With the Luka APP, parents and teachers can conveniently record their own narrations for any book. This is a great way for kids to hear a familiar voice. We have not tried this yet, but my friend told me that a few Cantonese-speaking parents use this function.
- When Luka is idle (eg, if you forget to turn him off), he does random silly things to get your attention! Personally, I find this feature unnecessary and distracting. However, my kids think it’s hilarious. We have heard him fart, and my kids crack up when he says Chinese phrases like:
- 小心我的小尾巴！ ( Xiǎoxīn wǒ de xiǎo wěibā! / Be careful of my little tail!)
- 跟我说说话，让我变得更聪明! (Gēn wǒ shuō shuōhuà, ràng wǒ biàn dé gèng cōngmíng! / If you talk to me, I will get smarter!)
- 我怕鱼缸! (Wǒ pà yúgāng / I’m scared of the fishtank!)
- 你在哪？不要看电视或玩手机！ (Nǐ zài nǎ? Bùyào kàn diànshì huò wán shǒujī! / Where are you? Don’t watch TV or play with your phone!)
Features of Luka APP
- Available on iOS and Android
- Search books by title or ISBN
- Search books and music by category
- Push Ximalaya audiobooks to Luka
- For books that have both Chinese and English options, you can switch languages with the APP
- You can push English and Chinese songs and nursery rhymes to play through Luka’s speakers
- Save your favorite playlists and reading lists
- Reading log: keeps track of number of books, book covers, and time spent with Luka Reading Robot
Additional features of Luka Hero
Luka and Luka Hero are nearly identical in function. The main difference is that Luka Hero has an additional point-to-read function.
Benefits of Luka Hero’s point-to-read function
The main benefit is that Luka Hero can read individual simplified Chinese characters or English words that are handwritten or typed, such as flashcards. Luka can read these individual words even if it cannot read the whole book.
When you put your finger under an English word, Luka displays the word in one eye and the Chinese translation under the other eye. When you place your finger under a Chinese character, Luka displays the Chinese character in one eye and a bigram (2-word phrase) with the Pinyin in the other eye.
The word takes a several seconds to appear; then it stays in the eyes for a few seconds.
Here’s an example of Luka reading a Chinese word from Sagebooks when I place my finger under the Chinese character. However, just like Luka, Hero cannot narrate the full Sagebooks.
Here’s a video demonstration of Luka Hero’s point-to-read function.
Downsides of Luka Hero’s point-to-read function
Personally, the only time that we use the point-to-read function is when Luka Hero is narrating a book and we want to check an unfamiliar word on the page.
This function works most accurately for larger words; my 7-year-old daughter and I understand where we need to place our finger for Luka Hero to read the individual word. However, my 4-year-old son often puts his finger too far away.
For books with tiny font, such as our DK Chinese picture dictionary, Luka Hero may not be able to accurately decipher which character your finger is under. More frustrating is when we point to a word and Hero does not respond or display anything.
Otherwise, we have rarely used the point-to-read function as it is too cumbersome to turn Luka Hero on and off just to check a few words. In addition, my daughter thinks the character flashes to quickly. She had hoped to take notes of the Pinyin to teach me Chinese, but the display cleared too soon.
What other people think of the point-to-read Luka Hero function
In contrast to our opinion, many parents have asked JoJo Learning to carry Luka Hero, which is why they have added this product.
Other non-fluent American families who tested Luka gave much favorable feedback than us. These families liked that their kids could check the pronunciation of the single word independently and use Luka with Chinese flashcards.
Areas for improvement
Like most technology, Luka is not perfect, and we’ve learned to work around some of it’s glitches.
Initial set up
Connecting Luka to WiFi with my APP was initially challenging, but then I realized I needed to use my personal WiFi hotspot and wiggle my phone from side-to-side for Luka to sense it. My understanding is that this is a common initial frustration with many Luka owners.
- Both Luka and Luka Hero take about 45-50 seconds to turn on. My children have learned to be patient. For this reason, this is why Luka Hero is not practical for us to check a couple random words unless we are already reading a book with Luka.
- Usually Luka reads each new page immediately. Sometimes the response is delayed, so we need to move the book around.
- JoJo Learning mentioned that Luka Hero seemed slower than Luka during their testing and personal experience with their children. There also may be speed differences with Luka’s functions in North America compared to Asia due to distance from the servers. So far, we have not experienced a significant difference in speed with our Luka and Luka Hero.
- For book series with similar looking covers (eg, 米小圈 成语漫画) or those with sparse illustrations, sometimes Luka confuses which book it’s reading. To get around this, my kids have learned to show Luka an unrelated book, and then present the desired book. Or you can turn Luka on and off and try again.
- Sometimes Luka can read only part of a series, such as only 2 of 3 Grace 说 books.
- If a popular book has various versions (eg, The Giving Tree), Luka’s narration might be slightly different by chance depending on what book you have. However, most of our books match Luka’s narration word-for-word.
- The music wing defaults to English songs and nursery rhymes, but I wish that it defaulted to Chinese, which is the preferred language that I selected in the APP.
- Currently, the song selection is limited to English and Chinese nursery rhymes. I wish there were kid-friendly pop, rock, and hip-hop music that would appeal to older kids and parents.
What books can Luka read?
Despite the aformentioned shortcomings, I was very happy to see the overwhelming positive effects of Luka on my children.
From our home library, we found that Luka can read most of our Chinese picture books and some Chinese bridge/chapter books.
Below is an image of how to search for books Luka can read and how to switch languages.
I’ve linked the books we’ve read with Luka so far and will add more as we read more!
Easy, short Chinese picture books
- 亲爱的动物园 Dear Zoo
- 阿波林的小世界 A Bo Lin’s Small World (14 books)
- Baby Bear Chinese (15 Books)
- Animal Babies and Baby Moms
- Eric Carle Picture Books in Chinese and English
- Rainbow Chameleon 变色龙捉迷藏
- 《想哭的时候》 Everyone – Chinese and English Book About Emotions
- Grace 说专心, Grace 说耐心
- 小莉的中秋节 Sori’s Harvest Moon Day
- 安的种子 An’s Seed
- Learn Chinese Location Words | 我的后面是谁呢? Who’s Behind Me Books
Longer, more in depth Chinese picture books including translated Western books
- 长颈鹿不会跳舞 The Giraffe That Cannot Dance
- 爱心树 The Giving Tree
- House of 100 Stories
- 小小的我 and 最亲爱的奶奶
- 林明子 and 筒井赖子 Realistic Chinese Picture Books
- Most of these Chinese books about going to school
- 一片叶子落下来 Fall of Freddie the Leaf
- Max Lucado books in Chinese
- I Love Martine Books in Chinese 玛蒂娜故事书系列
- 不一样的卡梅拉 La Petite Poules Funny Chinese Books
- Chinese Magic School Bus Picture and Chapter Books
- Most of these Chinese books about food
Chinese science picture books
- Health Guides 影响孩子一生的健康书 (8 Books)
- 我宝贵的身体 性教育绘本 My Precious Body (3 books)
- 第一次发现丛书 My First Discovery Series (30 books)
Picture books about Chinese culture
- 团圆 Family Reunion
- 打灯笼 Playing with Lanterns
- 中国记忆(传统节日共12册) Chinese Festivals Stories Collection (12 books)
Chinese bridge/chapter books
At the time of this review, Luka reads a limited amount of Chinese bridge/chapter books due to the assumption that kids are reading independently by this stage. They also want to see if there is a demand for chapter books.
Here are some examples of advanced books that Luka robot can read:
- 青蛙和蟾蜍 Frog and Toad Books
- Math Story Books 数学帮帮忙
- 米小圈 成语漫画: Chinese idioms
- 米小圈 脑筋急转弯: Chinese jokes and riddles
- 了不起的狐狸爸爸 Fantastic Mr. Fox
You should also check out JoJo Learning’s website to see other Luka-compatible books.
Can Luka read traditional Chinese books?
At the time of this review, Luka cannot read many traditional Chinese books yet. The company wants to see that there would be enough demand this.
However, if the book cover is the same, Luka can read the story. The words may not be verbatim because simplified Chinese books have different publishers and translations.
What English books can Luka read?
As with Chinese books, Luka can read popular, best-selling English stories, such as People, Goodnight, Goodnight construction site, and Little Blue Truck.
If the cover of these English books are the same as the Chinese ones, then Luka can read English books in Chinese!
Can Luka read other languages?
According to the Luka AI website, “future upgrades may include German, Korean and Spanish”. However, I recommend considering Luka for what it can offer now, rather than what it might include in the future since it’s unclear how long the wait would be.
In summary, we highly recommend Luka Reading Robot!
Despite some imperfections, Luka has been an important part of our family. While Luka cannot replace human connection, believe that it can encourage kids to love reading, improve fluency, and boost literacy.
Our family strongly recommends Luka and Luka Hero as a birthday, holiday, and everyday gift for multilingual children, especially those learning Mandarin and simplified Chinese.
For families debating between Luka and Luka Hero, please consider your budget, the age and level of your child, and fluency of your family.
Where to buy Luka Reading Robot and Luka Hero
In the United States, JoJo Learning is the only authorized distributor of Luka Reading Robot. This is a woman-owned Chinese bookstore with genuine, high quality customer service:
- Contact JoJo Learning for customer support in English OR Mandarin Chinese
- 14-day no-questions-asked return
- 1 year warranty
JoJo Learning coupon code
Use promo code CHALK_LUKA for an additional $10 USD discount off your order with JoJo Learning!
Luka is also available in other countries; please note the package, service, and accessories may vary from location to location. Click on the links below for authorized distributors (not affiliated with these stores):
If you’re outside of these regions, please contact JoJo Learning to inquire about international shipping!
Do you have questions about Luka Reading Robot?
Feel free to leave any questions, and I’ll try my best to help!
If you have Luka or Luka Hero, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comment section below! Which did you decide and why did you choose it?
More educational gift ideas for kids
- Ultimate Chinese Gift Guide for Kids: Cultural, Educational, & Fun Toys
- 10 Best Open-Ended Toys That Promote Creativity and Learning
- Handmade Cards for Reading and Writing Practice (English, Chinese, and Korean)
- 5 Reasons Books are the Best Gifts for Multilingual Kids