Every year there are hundreds of new tech toys launched to excite and entertain young hearts and minds. However, they vary greatly in features, quality and value for money. Understanding what the top tech toys have to offer children can help you make an informed choice about what will be under your tree this holidays.
Having walked the toy fair halls and tested the best of these products with a wide variety of families, here are the tech toys that will be top of my children’s christmas list.
Battlebots is always popular but these tech toy versions from Hexbugs stand out from the crowd. Not only do they look identical to their large metal counterparts but they also have fully functioning weapons. In the ring the toys fight it out. When one has lost all its panels the opponent wins. Unlike the real thing though, all you have to do is clip them back together before going in for round two.
Last year Hatchimals were a run-away success. They combined the toy egg opening craze along with a Tamogotchi-style pet. Here though the virtual pet hatched from its own shell and then evolved from baby to toddler to child. This year’s Hatchimal offers youngster twins.
Hatchimals Surprise cost a little more than before, but with two pets to hatch it’s an ideal present to share on Christmas day. The combination of the hatching, pet care and evolution as well as different games you can play with the pair offers a lot of fun for youngsters of all ages.
Anki Overdrive Fast and Furious
Anki Overdrive Fast & Furious adds the petrol fuelled battles of the silver screen to Anki Overdrive’s robot racing cars. The car tech keeps them on the track and players control the action with a smartphone. This not only extends the classic slot car racing to a virtual world but rewards progress with upgrades and enhanced performance.
Star Wars Force Link
I remember collecting Star Wars figures for the original movies. The new range of Star Wars Force Link compatible toys adds a lights, sound and motion aspect to each of the toys. Once you have the Force Link starter set on your arm, simply holding the related figures and space ships triggers a range of sounds, phrases, and lights. There is a range of 3.75-inch figures including Kylo Ren, Rose, Rey and Luke. There’s also a huge BB-8 playset that opens to offer three activation areas with different sounds and phrases.
We’ve been enjoying them for some time in the family. What I like is how the tech aspect of the toy integrates well with how children naturally role play with these characters. It’s simply an extension of their imagination.
BB8 Hero Droid
We’ve tried out a wide variety of BB-8 toy droids but this large interactive version has been the favourite. Firstly he is radio controlled so can be easily driven around the house. At 19 inches high, he’s also close to full scale next to younger children. He also has a follow me mode which is really cute when he’s rolling around after the kids. You can also give him voice commands to control him too. He’s not the cheapest spherical Star Wars droid but he offers a huge amount of fun and value.
Dropmix takes rhythm action video games in a fresh direction. Played with a peripheral that connects to your smartphone, you must create the right mix of pop music to please the crowd. It combines this real music mixing with a card battle game. It’s simple and fun and turns anyone into a master music mixer.
Meccano is a toy I remember playing with for hours as a child. Back then it was more engineering than technology based, but the new MeccaSpider and MAX robot add in state of the art toy electronics to the nuts and bolts construction. MeccaSpider and MAX can both be programmed with a related app as well as extended with other Meccano kits. My kids particularly like the water shooting guard feature of the MeccaSpider to stop us parents going in their rooms without getting wet.
With Skylanders taking a year off and Disney and Lego departing the toys to life market, Lightseekers is perfectly placed to win new players to its role play battles. What’s new here, beyond the on-screen action, are large posable action figures that are as much fun to play with away from the game.
It’s an expandable experience with additional weapons and characters now being rolled out. There is even a fully fledged card game — with cards that also unlock special abilities back in the game. Currently this is only for tablets but don’t be surprised if you see it popping up on a certain tablet-styled console before too long. Fingers crossed in my family.
Dance Code Belle
It would be easy to overlook this coding toy, or be overly critical of its princess focus. However, for fans of Disney Princesses or the Beauty and the Beast movie this is a neat way to get them interacting and coding without even knowing it. The toy is supported by a related app that lets you interact and pre-program Belle with a variety of dance moves.
The app offers a range of challenges and ways to play with the animatronic princess and is a great gateway into more involved programming.
Lego Boost combines Lego’s universal building appeal with a wide variety of sensors that enable children to make a variety of different interactive models. This ranges from a robot cat to a guitar. There’s also an app to let you control how your creations interact with the world.
We’ve seen many robot toys in the past but none so convincing (or endearing) as Cozmo. There’s a real sense of personality and character to the little Smartphone powered robot. He comes with interactive blocks and games and could easily have been pulled from the pages (screen) of a Pixar film.
Lego Beauty and The Beast
Although not technically a tech toy, these Lego sets tick the boxes for fans of the Beauty and The Beast film. Not only do they offer a novel way to extend the story from the screen to the living room carpet but they also offer some unique Lego bricks not found in other sets. Lego Cinderella’s Enchanted Evening (41146) and Ariel and the Magical Spell (41145) make for a great gift for Lego or Disney fans in your household.
Lego The Last Jedi Advent Calendar
Also on a Lego theme is the LEGO Star Wars The Last Jedi Advent Calendar. Kids will like these because of the micro-builds and The Last Jedi minifigures. Parents will appreciate the efforts of Lego to make this more eco friendly. The packaging now uses more cardboard and is fully recyclable — whether that’s at the recycling centre or used in your children’s next craft and make session.
Furreal Roarin Tyler
This year’s Furreal toy comes in the form of a tiger. As we’ve come to expect from this high end animatronic line of toys, Tyler the tiger looks incredibly lifelike. However, it’s seeing him move and interact with children that really impresses. He’s not the cheapest tech pet on the toy shelf but the level of interaction and engagement ensure longevity of play and good value.
Sphero Lightening McQueen
Sphero made a name for themselves with a range of Smartphone controlled robots. This year they are branching out again with new film-related toys. Although the Star Wars robots will grab the headlines, the level of character and interaction in this remote controlled Lightening McQueen from Cars 3 is a delight. Not only does it have easy drive modes for younger players, but it has fully animated eyes and mouth. It really is your very own “speedy” as my son used to call him.
Fisher-Price Teach ‘n’ Tag Movi
This is the next in a successful line of educational robot tech from Fischer-Price. The diminutive little robot offers three games that teach actions, shapes and numbers. As he rolls around the floor a variety of interactive light up buttons invite young players to join in. He’s a real character with 60 different expressions, but’s it’s the focus on education that really stands out here.
PJ Masks Tech
There are a variety of PJ Masks tech toys but the PJ Masks Lights and Sounds cars and R/C cars from Just Play and the LeapFrog PJ Masks Math games are the top of the bunch for us. There are also games and apps you should keep an eye out for with version 2 of PJ Masks Time to be a Hero and Starlight Sprint being most popular.
Osmo Hot Wheels
Osmo’s latest game is the first to bring in a big name toy brand. The Hot Wheels Mindracer challenge uses real die-cast cars that slot into a special iPad holster. They then appear in virtual form on the screen for a token based racing game. It looks easy at first but there is more here than meets the eye. Another create way to learn strategic thinking and teamwork for young players.
Hanazuki is a YouTube cartoon series created alongside the toys by Hasbro. It’s unusual for industry watchers because of this two pronged approach. However, for families it’s interesting because of how the show helps children to understand and talk about their emotions. The Hanazuki Moodgleam Bracelet tech toy lights up when you plug different mood colours into it. It then connects to the game and controls what mood the terrain is in. It sounds a little odd, but the experience for children is surprisingly coherent and a unique way to talk with your kids about their moods.
VTech Kidi Super Star
There are a variety of Karaoke products on the market but this is one we’ve kept coming back to this year. Simply plug in your music via the jack or MP3 connection and it magically removes the main vocal. This leaves you (and your kids) to sing along to your hearts content. It can also apply a range of voice effects and has some surprisingly hard rhythm and tongue twister games.
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