Top tech toys of 2012: Apps enhance gadgets
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 11:52 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 11:52 a.m.
If you’re thinking tech for the kids on your holiday list, this roundup is for you.
After serving as a nominating judge for several of the Toy Industry Association’s categories of the Toy of the Year (TOTY) awards, I found that many of the tech toys stood out above the others (voting is now open to the public at www.toyawards.org).
In this roundup, some of the most exciting tech toys have an app component. The kiddie tablets by Leapfrog and VTech that made last year’s roundup are back again, just better. There’s a flying orb, and a way to create art on a 360-degree domed surface with a light stylus.
Tablets: iPad mini stands out
(iPad mini; from $329, best for all ages, from Apple)
After attending Toy Fair last February, I thought this column would be dedicated to explaining the slight differences between the many Android tablets for kids, including Vinci Tab II ($199), Nabi 2 ($199.99), Kurio ($149.99), MEEP! Kids Tablet ($149.99) and Tabeo ($149.99). But then in October, Apple surprised the world with its new iPad mini.
While the least expensive version (16 GB Wi-Fi model at $329) of the 7.9 inch iPad mini is more money than any of the kid-specific 7-inch tablets running the Android operating system, it is worth the extra cost because the iPad mini connects to the iTunes app store. Unlike the Android app marketplaces, the iTunes store is easy to navigate, and it has over 275,000 apps optimized for the iPad mini. Since Apple curates its store, it isn’t filled with riff-raff. And most kid app developers start in the iTunes store, so parents will find the most innovative apps there first.
The resolution of the iPad mini isn’t as high as the newer full-sized iPads (3rd and 4th generations), but kids won’t miss it. I ran an experiment and played “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” an outstanding children’s book app, side-by-side on a 3rd generation iPad and the iPad mini; and I didn’t notice a difference.
The smaller size and lighter weight of the iPad mini makes it a perfect fit in kids’ hands. For games that require them to tilt the screen, it is now easy instead of being challenging. And the iPad mini operates in a super-fast, crisp manner, with a battery that lasts 10 hours. As with the bigger iPads, iPad mini comes with dual cameras (these are better than the iPad 2’s), Facetime (a fabulous way to video chat with grandma), Siri (kids love to talk to this virtual know-it-all lady) and offers robust parental controls.
Other fun tech toys
($99.99, best for ages 3-9, from Leapfrog)
If you aren’t ready to splurge on the iPad mini, a less expensive alternative is the LeapPad2. With a 5-inch touchable screen, two cameras, an accelerometer (so kids can play motion-based games) and a library of over 325 educational games, downloadable apps, ebooks, music and videos, it’s a great starter tablet for kids. It connects to your computer for downloading content, and comes with a service that makes it easy to figure out what to try next. But its add-on content gets expensive quickly; so gauge your child’s appetite for content. If it is high, bite the bullet and buy the iPad mini.
($99.99, best for ages 3-9, from VTech)
A worthy competitor to the LeapPad2, the InnoTab 2S is another 5-inch tablet made specifically for kids. It too has a touch-sensitive screen, plays motion-based games, and has a large library of over 200 educational games, apps, music, ebooks and videos for kids. Instead of two cameras, its camera swivels. The InnoTab 2S has an SD card slot for expanding the memory. But unlike the LeapPad2, you don’t have to plug it into your computer to download new content. It uses Wi-Fi to connect to its store and its recommendation service. The add-on content can get pricey; so only choose it if you don’t think you will burn through a ton of content.
Crayola Digital Light Designer
(49.99, best for ages 6-14, from Crayola)
This domed plastic surface allows kids to draw, using LED lights. As they touch the 360-degree surface with the light stylus, colored light appears under the surface of the dome. You can spin your drawing and add special effects.
Animal Planet Wildlands
($1.99 for pack of 3 cards, or $3.99 for 7 cards + free app for iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, best for ages 7-14, from Nukotoys, Inc)
These collectible animal cards come alive when they are tapped into an interactive game found on the iPad (the app is free). Kids get to take control of any animal they introduce into the game by tapping it and then tilting the iPad to control its running. This open 3D world filled with animals is a joy to explore. The card sets make perfect stocking stuffers.
The Game of L(AT)ife zAPPed Edition
($24.99 + Free app for iPad, best for ages 8-up, from Hasbro)
With this edition of the classic Game of Life board game, an iPad is set in the middle of the board to provide extras. Movie clips from “America’s Funniest Home Videos” play, your peg people show up accessorized on the screen, and you get to play mini-games when you land on special spaces. This iPad-enhanced version may be better than the classic.
($49.99, best for ages 8-up, from EB Brands)
This remote control (RC) alien space vehicle will delight any kid who loves RC cars. With stylish oval lines, this flying machine is unbelievably light weight and encased in cool-looking green foam rings. The “Auto-Upright” technology lets it lift straight up from an outstretched hand. The Orb is an impressive UFO that looks like it’s out of this world.
Gudmundsen is the editor of Computing With Kids magazine (www.ComputingwithKids.com). Contact her at email@example.com.
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