2017 Holiday Gift Guide: Tech Toys Worth Buying
It seems like everything these days must be “smart” or have Bluetooth, or connect to an app. But when it comes to toys, often those tech components seem a bit silly and/or unnecessary. That said, not all are duds. Here are a few of the best toys that are actually doing an excellent job using technology to really enhance the play and learning experience.
Best Hybrid Building/Tech Toy
With their new LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox Building and Coding Kit, LEGO is branching out from their popular Mindstorms robotics line, and has made a tech/building combo toy that is more accessible, and much less expensive. While Mindstorms has a focus on the coding and programming side of robots, LEGO Boost looks like it’s mostly about the building. It also costs almost $200 less!
With LEGO Boost, kids (7 to 12) can build multiple robots, and use the “LEGO Move Hub” and an app to make them come to life. The kit is compatible with regular old LEGO pieces, so there’s the option to really get creative and make the robots their own.
- MSRP: $160 / Lowest Price on Ben’s: N/A
Best Tech Toy You’ll Want to Play More Than Your Kid
Sure, some people are saying it’s overpriced, and that you’ll look like a dork playing it (is this really a surprise?), but I am still dying to try Lenovo’s new Star Wars: Jedi Challenges AR Set. This standalone augmented reality set works with iOS or Android devices and lets you battle it out in virtual Jedi duels. The set come with a lightsaber controller and a tracking beacon, and is being sold at Best Buy and directly from Lenovo (beware of Amazon listings; they are selling it for over MSRP).
Like I mentioned, early reviews are mixed, but Forbes is calling it “the $200 device that will define AR”. And, yeah, I just really want to play with it.
MSRP: $200 / Lowest Price on Ben’s: N/A
Best Invention Toy
If you’re on the hunt for a Star Wars toy with a little less lightsaber fighting and a little more learning, the new littleBits Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit looks like it may be the toy you are looking for. LittleBits has a reputation for making some of the best STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) toys out there, so of all the Star Wars collaborations out there (and there are so many), this one is really exciting to me.
The kit comes with everything kids need to build and customize their own R2 unit. Best of all, it’s all reconfigurable, so the toy is not “done” after they’ve completed the initial build.
In addition to being packed full of cool sounding features like Force Drive, which allows kids to control their creation with their hand, and a drawing mode where the droid draw secret maps and messages, the Droid Inventor Kit was recently chosen as a Platinum Award Winner by the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio (actually kind of a big deal in the toy world!).
- MSRP: $100 / Lowest Price on Ben’s: N/A
Best STEM Doll
I am not of the opinion that every building or STEM toy needs a “girl version” (because there are plenty of girls who would be totally excited about LEGO Boost, or the Droid Kit!), but I also think it’s great that they are trying to include STEM components in toys that are traditionally marketed to girls.
- MSRP: $100 / Lowest Price on Ben’s: N/A
Best iPad Add-On/Kids’ Tablet Alternative
If you don’t want to get your child their own “kids’ tablet”, the Osmo Genius Starter Kit will turn your existing iPad into a hands-on learning device. This highly rated set includes five games that teach math, spelling, visual thinking, problem solving, and creative drawing skills through a unique mix of on-screen tech and physical pieces.
Perhaps the best part is that this kit is designed to grow with your child, adjusting to their skill level through the age of 5 all the way up to 12.
MSRP: $100 / Lowest Price on Ben’s: $75
Best STEM Board Game
I don’t know if this one really qualifies as a “tech toy”, but I’m including it anyway because I think it looks really interesting. Circuit Maze Board Game has budding electrical engineers (8 years old and up) arranging tokens to create real circuits and win challenges. Looks a lot like the popular Snap Circuits toys, but in game form. Reviews are mostly positive, and the price is very affordable compared to a lot of STEM toys out there.
- MSRP: $30 / Lowest Price on Ben’s: N/A
Best Kids’ Drone
There are a ton of lower-end drones out there, with a huge range of prices. I went with the Drone Force Morph-Zilla for this list because a) it’s called the Drone Force Morph-Zilla, and b) it’s getting good reviews so far. It’s a 2-in-1 drone, meaning it can be controlled on the ground before it goes into flight mode.
On the even less expensive end of the spectrum, the brand Syma is a favorite cheapie among Drone enthusiasts (the Syma X11C model in particular is mentioned a lot as a good starting drone for kids).
- MSRP: $80 / Lowest Price on Ben’s: $60
Best Kid’s Camera
If you’re sick of your kid stealing your iPhone and saving 3988439 off-centered pictures of themselves, a digital camera of their own is a great gift idea. For toddlers and preschoolers, the VTech Kidizoom DUO Camera gets good reviews, and has both front end rear lenses so they can continue to perfect their selfies.
For kids a little older, the popular and well-reviewed Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 Instant Camera might be the way to go. There’s that special something about watching a photo actually develop that most kids these days haven’t gotten to experience! The film can be expensive, but Groupon frequently offers deals on it.
- MSRP: $70 / Lowest Price on Ben’s: N/A