Review: ZipBin Softie Playscapes

Photo of my daughter lying on top of a Zipbin Softie Train Depot Playscape and smiling.My daughter insisted on being photographed with her Train Depot Playscape.

This time last year we reviewed the ZipBin by Neat-Oh! International, a revolutionary new type of play mat, or “playscape.” Instead of a rug, it is a box that unzips into a mat. At cleanup time, you zip the sides up and your toys are already put away in the box.

Neat-Oh! hasn’t been standing still. They sent over a couple newer ZipBin Softies for review which my 3-year-old daughter has put through their paces for several months.

The Country Stable Playscape and Train Depot Playscape measure roughly 19×21 inches flat, but 32.5 inches at their longest point. They zip up to a 9×10.5×9.5 inch container with a curved top.

The Big Idea is to keep your toys stored with their play mat, and to make them easily transportable between rooms in your home… or for trips to Grandma’s house and such (all ZipBin products have handles). Now that my daughter is in preschool, and well versed in cleaning up, her ZipBins are a no brainer. She never forgets which toys belong with her play mats.

At 2-years-old she easily zipped up the box ZipBins. At 3-years she required a little training in learning the Softie closure which involves straight zippers as well as curved ones.

Like their predecessors, the artwork on the Softie mats is gorgeous with great attention paid to detail. Accordingly, the exterior of the bins also have theme artwork, with the country mat zipping up to resemble a horse stable and the train mat zipping into a roundhouse. Even the bottom panel and bottom folding portions of the Softie contain artwork even though they are rarely glimpsed in day-to-day use.

Locations on the playscapes have been packed in, with the Country Stable scene containing a training paddock, corral, two barns and a pond. The Train Depot has a roundhouse, and track winding around a barn, fire station, hospital, gas station, construction zone, river, a house and roads.

The Softies are noticeably smaller than their boxed counterparts, but easily contained our trains and farm figures with plenty of room to spare.

Like the original ZipBin boxes, the mats have slight height variations when laid flat due to their padded nature and that the corners get folded when the mat is in its closed state. A play mat purist might prefer a standard rolled mat if he insists his kid play on a near-perfect surface. Wooden train tracks might not line up so well, but the Train Depot mat has its own artwork track and, as is, the mats are quite usable and get flatter the longer they are kept open.

Unlike the original ZipBin, the Softies don’t stack (they aren’t boxes). The boxes also have a cardboard interior, while the Softies consist of polyethylene foam inside a polypropylene exterior. Greenpeace lists these two materials as safe alternatives to vinyl (vinyl contains phthalates). They are indeed soft, meaning if you step on a closed Softie, it dents inward like crumpled bag, but then can puff back out into shape.

I also tested four colors on the Softies for lead and they checked out okay.

All in all, ZipBins and Softies are a neat tweak on an old idea. If you would find it useful for your child to play and be supervised in the room you’re in, instead of the room where a play rug is located, give them a look. Likewise, if Grandma’s house is devoid of toys, *cough*, send her a link as a subtle hint because ZipBins and Softies allow toy storage without the mess.

Update: Neat-Oh! informed me (same day) of two great developments. First, the Softies now ship with some basic toys (three wooden train cars and 12 sections of wooden track, or Safari, Ltd collectible horses, jumps, a photographer and a dog). Second, Neat-Oh! publishes its safety test results for each toy, in this case, tests for flammability and mechanical hazards and a chemical analysis by InterTek.

Find ZipBin Softies at Amazon:

Photo of the Train Depot mat halfway closed.This Train Depot mat is zipped halfway closed. Now just zip the lid down and two pieces of Velcro will probably catch by themselves. Note that the mat corners fold inward.
Photo of the Country Stable softie next to two box-version ZipBins.

The Country Stable Softie (right) is slightly smaller than the ZipBin Farm (middle) and much smaller than the ZipBin Road & Rail Playscape (left). The large Road & Rail box is best for consolidating many types of toys for transport, while the Softies primarily fit the toys you’ll be using with the mat.

Overhead photo of the Train Depot Playscape laid flat.

The Train Depot Playscape laid flat.

Overhead photo of the Country Stable Playscape laid flat.

The Country Stable Playscape laid flat.

Close-up of the Train Depot mat.

Close-up of the Train Depot mat, toys not included.

Close-up of the Country Stable mat.

Close-up of the Country Stable mat, farm animals not included. Yes, my daughter considers it a farm, not a stable.

Close-up of the Country Stable mat.

Close-up of the Country Stable mat, horse not included. This is the underside of the Softie’s “lid.”


2 Responses to “Review: ZipBin Softie Playscapes”

  1. Jennifer says:

    The train depot shows tracks going off the mat, does this mean that it can be expanded with additional mats? Would things line up right? These are really cool for on-the-go times; or for those that live in small spaces…

    November 26th, 2007 at 7:41 am

  2. AJ says:

    Jennifer, the mats’ unusual shape has to do with how the mats fold up into carrying cases. The regular ZipBin boxes are a traditional rectangle or square shape. They don’t interlock (if they did, you’d have the same railroad scene repeating again).

    The railroad track runs off the edge either because that’s just how the designer created it, or maybe because you could conceivably add wooden track and extend the playing area off the mat. But, the point of the playscape is to play on the playscape, right?

    However, you bring up a great idea. After I photographed the mats, my daughter had all four sprawled on the floor. It would be spectacular if the edges fit together like a puzzle, but that might not jive with, say, combining a farm scene with a dinosaur landscape.

    November 26th, 2007 at 12:24 pm