Top tech toys for Christmas
Image credit: Pixabay
Looking for something for the children that’s entertaining and educational and will keep them coming back for more? Look no further. We’ve compiled a list of the top tech toys that will keep the kids entertained, informed and active - and all without a screen in sight... well, almost.
Aura Drone by KD Interactive
KD Interactive has made drones fully child-accessible while adding a touch of magic by replacing fiddly controllers with a simple glove.
Using technology previously limited to the military, intuitive hand gestures control the flight of the drone – even allowing a cool 180-degree flip. And this isn’t the only thing that makes it so suitable for children. It is adapted for indoor flight and has a safety cage to protect the user from the rotors. Automatic take-off, hover and landing also keeps the handling simple, while height lock and headlock modes provide stability and control.
It’s expensive but the hours of fun might just be worth it. Although the safety features are impressive, it might be worth stashing away the fine china when the children are playing with this one.
£69.99 - £99.99 (depending on seller)
Circuit Maze by ThinkFun
ThinkFun’s Circuit Maze is an ingenious way to teach children electrical engineering in the appearance of a puzzle game.
Children place the various tokens including switches, resistors and beacons into slots in the board to form simple electrical circuits. There are 60 different challenges, ranging from beginner to expert, enabling children to create a range of configurations from basic series and parallel circuits to more complex arrangements like series with parallel circuits in bypass and combinations of circuits with switches.
Cards provide clues and instructions on how to complete each logic challenge and beacons light up to show when the circuit is complete. All in all, this provides a satisfyingly tactile and fun way to teach STEM, although the limited number of challenges means it does have a shelf life.
£20 - £30 (depending on seller)
Cozmo by Anki
Cozmo is marketed as the interactive toy with a big personality. Personality really is the key that sets this AI-powered robot ahead of the competition. The OLED panel that makes up its face creates an ever-shifting range of expressions and emotions that give a – sometimes unsettling – sense of sentience. The toy looks and sounds like a robot that popped straight out of a Disney Pixar movie, which makes sense when you learn some of the designers came from Pixar.
It’s the emotional reactions that make Cozmo endearing but games, tricks and learning activities should keep children interested. Children can teach the robot new faces, phrases and objects and can interact via games. And the more time they spend with the toy, the more abilities they unlock. They can even learn basic coding and program the robot themselves. A lot rides however on Cozmo’s ability to keep kids interested in the long term because the hefty £180 price tag is too much to fork out for a here-today-gone-next-week gadget.
Creative Coder Kit by Tech Will Save Us
Combining coding education with a wearable device is a clever way of making STEM learning approachable to children. That’s what Tech Will Save Us has done with its award-winning Coder Kit that comes in the shape of a watch.
Children assemble the product themselves then connect it to the app to code it using visual intuitive block-based coding. The result, instead of being rather dry screen-based programs, is a wearable that reacts to different movements with flashing lights and sounds.
Basic coding is limited to flashing lights but a bit more experience and imagination can conjure up all sorts of things like a toothbrushing timer, a headlight for your kid’s scooter or even a lightsaber.
The toy comes with free access to an online stock of projects, but without sufficient motivation the initial thrill might wear off pretty quickly.
Droid Inventor Kit by littleBits
This DIY toy robot has one huge draw for children of most ages: it looks and sounds like R2D2 from the Star Wars franchise. But there’s much more than surface appearances to convince you that this really is the droid you’re looking for.
Designed to encourage STEM development in kids, the Droid Inventor Kit not only involves the basic assembling of the droid but also teaches them coding via an easy-to-learn block-based system which they can access through an iOS or Android device.
Their very own R2 unit can be coded to do some cool things like navigate obstacle courses, draw pictures, maps or messages, and respond to the power of the force (it moves when you wave your hand at it). It even does that cool 360-degree head-spinny thing.
Price again is an issue, coming in at around £100. You might also consider that if your age-eight-or-over child doesn’t have a smartphone, it might get a little annoying to never have access to your own, as nearly everything about the droid is controlled through a mobile device.
Around £100 (depending on seller)
Galaxy Zega Battle Toy Starter Kit by XSMART
A toy that brings video games to 3D life inside your living room, the Galaxy Zega enables you to battle real-world tanks using smartphones as controllers.
With the starter kit you get two battle tanks with charging pads and cool lights that indicate when you are firing, getting hit and energy levels. What’s more, they spin around in a satisfying fashion when hit. You also get the battlefield, which has easy-to-fit magnetic bases as well as moveable walls, so you can configure multiple battlefield scenarios.
Taking its cue from video games, Galaxy Zega allows you to acquire power-ups to boost yourself or frustrate your opponent. But as with many of these types of game, it is the extras that hit the wallet hardest. Power-up X-Bases cost an extra £30 and an Expandable Battlefield kit costs a cool £100. Also, unlike Anki’s Overdrive battle racing game, there is no option of an AI opponent, meaning that if no one comes around to play, the game is defunct.
£183.23 (Amazon UK)
Gravitrax Starter Set by Ravensburger
Tipped to be a big seller this Christmas, Ravensburger’s Gravitrax Starter Set is a kind of mash-up of dominoes, Lego and marbles with a bit of Scalextric thrown in. Children create their own complex and cool-looking tracks which send ‘gravity spheres’ (essentially marbles) racing around and performing various tricks using only the force of gravity.
Hidden within this is a clever way of illustrating basic mechanical principles such as kinetics, magnetism and gravitational potential energy. Added extras like loop-the-loops, catapults and even a magnetic cannon make the set-up more fun and interesting but, as so often, cost extra money.
The results can look spectacular but the complexity and fiddliness of construction could outdo the patience quota of all but the most dedicated children. Especially when weighed up against the ultimate pay off – no matter what tricks are involved, it is still just watching a marble roll downhill.
£39.99 - £44.99 (depending on seller)
Nerf Laser Ops Pro Alphapoint 2-pack by Hasbro
Now you can take out opponents in pretend shoot-outs without having to pick up loads of annoying sponges before reloading. Hasbro’s Nerf Laser Ops Pro brings the nerf gun into the 21st century with an electronic laser version. It’s a bit like paintballing meets Star Wars.
The guns can target opponents up to 65 metres away and produce satisfying shooting sounds when firing. They also have ammo and health counters that tell you when you’ve been knocked out or need to reload and can be configured into team or free-for-all modes.
Even more impressively there is an AR component so if your child is playing on their own they can strap a smartphone to their nozzle and battle aliens that appear to be floating around in the real world. Phones can also be strapped to arms with special holders and the accompanying app can be used to chart in-game progress, earn power-ups and even track opponents using radar.
At around £30 for a two-pack of the smaller Alphapoint guns this is in the affordable range but the sensibleness of letting an excited gun-toting youngster strap a smartphone to the barrel is questionable at best.
£24.99 - £29.99 (depending on seller)
Overdrive Starter Kit by Anki
Bringing old-school Scalextric to a new generation is Anki’s Overdrive Starter Kit. Unlike Scalextric, there are no fiddly and frustrating grooves for the cars to run in or – more frequently – fly out of. Nor did your Scalextric ever take you out with a plasma cannon.
In fact, Overdrive is more like a sci-fi battle racing video game that has magically been brought into real life. You can race up to four friends or, just like a video game, play the computer – here an AI-powered opponent. You can mix and match race games with battles and other scenarios and even play multi-game campaigns. The AI and robotics-powered technology includes infra-red sensors on each car scanning patterns encoded in the track and adjusting steering and power 500 times a second to stay on course.
The downside is where it hits the wallet. At £150, the starter kit only comes with two cars and eight pieces of track. Extra cars come at £50 each and additional track kits at £20 which means expanding your race options could become a long and costly experience.
For more tech toy ideas, check out E&T’s previous Christmas wish list for gifts to to inspire children.