This smaller Bigtrak is only 20cm long by 13cm wide but just as much fun as the bigger version.
When first out of the box you need to attach stickers to the Bigtrak, and insert 3 AA batteries. Once this is done, and the 6 moon craters that come with the junior set out, the Bigtrak is good to go. The toy is programmed, just like the original, via the keyboard on its top. Getting the Bigtrak to move around will require some simple programming - hence the age 8 guideline, though I've found my 5 year old is more than capable of inputting commands to the Bigtrak with a little guidance. You can put in up to 16 commands at once which will make the machine move forwards, backwards, rotate or fire a phaser. There's a "test" button to get you started, but really the joy of the toy is getting it to follow your commands.
They've made the controls easy, so distance forwards is measured in length of the toy - if you press the forward button and "5" it will move forward by five lengths of the toy; you can input up to 99 lengths forward or backward. To get it to rotate you press the left and right arrows and then minutes of a clock - so to do a 360 rotation you input 60. This is actually simpler to do than explain, and further eased by the use of a x2 button, and by the manual which explains everything with pictures of the buttons you need in a clear and logical manner. That's not to say you have to spend hours learning how to use it and, anyway, there's a "test" button to press which sets the Bigtrak off by itself and show you what it can do with the right instructions. Once you have input everything you press "go" and hope for the best. We've found the Bigtrak follows commands flawlessly, though it struggles to turn on carpet as opposed to a veneer surface. On the Bigtrak junior only the middle wheels are actually motorised (I have no idea if this is the case with its more expensive and bigger brother), so it doesn't cope that well with rough surfaces and sometimes it doesn't rotate quite as expected.
That said it's great fun trying to get it to negotiate a course of moon craters (the craters themselves are pretty poor quality to be honest but do the job), or to carry an object to another family member - you can actually buy an add on can holder and rocket launcher. The Bigtrak makes very 1980's computer noises (think Vic20 if you are old enough) at the start and end of the manoeuvres, not too loudly on the scale of modern toys. All in all it's a great exercise in nostalgia that seems to appeal to modern kids too. It's not the most robust of toys, though it does seem to be fairly well built on the scale of plastic toys and it certainly stands up to play pretty well. The keyboard is quite small but easy to use and I like the fact that they've kept the Bigtrak's eighties looks and not tried to change it. It doesn't travel at a huge speed but trundles along - for the price you can't complain really, we have had hours of fun with it. I like the fact that it turns itself into sleep mode if you stop playing with it - there is also an on/off button under the unit. The toy doesn't seem to drain batteries too badly at all.
Overall the Bigtrak does not disappoint at all, it's still a great toy with great play value that should appeal to adults like me who didn't have one, and a whole new generation of kids who may be more used to using software than simple programming but, if they are anything like my daughters (blame it on being the offspring of an IT bod), will quite enjoy working out how to input basic commands. Recommended - it's just a shame I didn't have one in 1981...