This year’s hot holiday toys are more lifelike and interactive than ever before. Fuzzy robot puppies obey voice commands, animatronic ponies take you for a ride around the block and velociraptors snap and snarl in training exercises.
And they also have frequent bouts of flatulence. Or bowel movements. Because, you know… for kids.
Every year I track how tech changes the toy world. This year’s playthings are moving away from needing mom and dad’s phone screen (thank goodness, please don’t play with my $1,000 phone), instead they rely on sensors and robotics to keep kids immersed offline.
With STEM toys in growing demand — which are toys that promote learning in science, tech, engineering and math skills — we’re seeing more engaging approaches to learning that tie into the popular franchise worlds of Marvel superheroes and Harry Potter wizardry.
Here are some of the notable tech toys for young kids I’ve encountered this year:
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Zoomer Playful Pup
This is one hyper robot puppy. Spin Master’s toy can walk, shake and pounce around, but its big trick is understanding voice commands (in Spanish, French or English). It can even answer to a name you give it. This pup can perform more than 25 tricks, including shaking a paw, rolling over and even lifting a leg to “pee” on command. Rub touch sensors on the head and belly and watch his happy reactions. Rechargeable battery. Ages 5 and above. Retails for around $100. (£140, AU$150)
FurReal Ricky the Trick-Lovin’ Pup
Hasbro finds new ways every year to animate its line of robot critters. This fuzzy fella yelps, licks your face and has plenty of cute expressions with animated eyes. Touch sensors under the fur can sense when you pet him and shake his paw. He can balance a dog bone on his nose, and with a voice command will flip it into this mouth.
But the big trick? He’ll eat snacks and then toot them out his rear end. Batteries not included, ages 4 and above, retails for around $130. (£90, AU$130)
The Furby-like critters are still breeding and need your help to break free of their interactive eggs. This year’s twist is that they’re forever babies (born wearing diapers, how convenient) and the eggs wobble around in the hatching process. Kids won’t know if they have a boy or girl Hatchimal until it comes out of the egg.
And if unboxing surprises are your thing, several accessories are also hidden inside the egg. Kids will need to study up on the many ways to care for the critter, depending on the color of their eyes. (Purple eyes mean it’s hungry while orange eyes mean it has gas. There’s a cheat sheet for this vital parenting information.)
These babies respond to being fed, burped, tickled and hugged. You can also teach them to talk (by repeating what you say) and play various games. Batteries included, ages 5 and over, retails for about $60. (£60, AU$90)
Untamed by Fingerlings
WowWee’s finger-hugging monkey robot pets were one of the hottest toys in 2017. The company now adds some more ferocious dinosaurs and prehistoric beasts to the mix. The creatures respond to sound and depending on how you tap, pet or move the beast, it will act friendly or ferocious. Or it’ll fart. Batteries included, ages 5 and above, retails for around $15. (£17, AU$20)
Pomsies and Lil’ Gleemerz
The Fingerlings and Hatchimals craze has given birth to this hybrid category of furry wearable critters with secret touch combos to unlock and games to play.
Pomsies are legless feline things that you can hang from your arm or a backpack. The color of its eyes will clue you in on how to care for it. Press its nose and shake it up to play different games. Battery included, ages 4 and up, retails for about $15. (£18, AU$16)
Lil’ Gleemerz are Mattel’s twist on the trend (and more spunky than Pomsies). With their posable rainbow light-up tails, glowing eyes and quirky phrases, these toys respond to touch and sound and are packed with different games and light shows. Buttons on the tail and nose can be pressed in different combos to activate different modes. And yes, it also farts. Batteries included, ages 4 and over, retails for about $20. (£25, AU$37)
Jurassic World Alpha Training Blue
Mattel’s most advanced robotics toy yet is an interactive dinosaur based on the velociraptor Blue from the Jurassic World movies. Train this clever girl just like Owen with a remote control clicker. It’ll take patience and practice as you master the combos of clicking and hand motions — butto play with something so detailed and fluid.
Train Blue to improve her behavior and unlock new levels of control. Or switch to RC mode to drive her like a vehicle, with moving legs and swinging tail. A total control mode lets you puppet the beast by moving the eyes, mouth and head. It also has some preset responses to sounds and petting. Upgradeable firmware lets it gain capabilities. It’s the coolest robot toy I’ve seen this year. Rechargeable, ages 8 and above, retails for about $250. (Converts to about £193, AU$344)
Move over Power Wheels. Now you can cruise around the neighborhood on a lifelike pony robot that dances to country music. Kid-Trax makes every kid’s pony-owning dreams come true with this 70-pound, 12-volt interactive pet. It’s got a motorized head, eyes and ears along with wheels for feet. Take Scout for a walk or ride it at a max speed of 4 mph while music and sound effects play in the background. Hear munching noises when you feed Scout a treat or watch the ears move when you brush its mane. As if it couldn’t get any better, it also randomly passes gas. Rechargeable battery, ages 3-7 years, retails for around $400. (Converts to about £308 or AU$550.)
LittleBits Avengers Hero Inventor Kit
Kids can create, customize and code their own super powers to join The Avengers — with the help of the. Build your own hero gauntlet with wearable tech sensors that respond to light and motion, and create your own light designs on an LED matrix and invent super-power sound effects.
Of course this is all designed to make it fun to learn concepts of computer programming. Using an app, the Marvel Avengers guide kids with tutorials on how to code different super powers and encourage creativity. It includes sticker decals for kids to make their own hero identity as they run around with their new powers. Battery included, ages 8 and over, retails for about $150. (£150, AU$250)
The Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit
This STEM toy gives kids the ability toand learn to code with more than 70 challenges and games. Make an app on your tablet or computer respond to how you wave, flick and twirl the wand. It can detect more than 30 spell gestures.
The wand itself includes a circuit board with codable LED light, button and a step-by-step book to help you make feathers fly, goblets multiply and pumpkins grow. As you level up you’ll learn about coding basics such as loops, logic and variables. It’s compatible with iOS, Android and Amazon tablets, as well as Mac and Windows computers. Batteries included, ages 6 and up, retails for about $100. (£100, AU$150)
Hot Wheels Zoom-In with GoPro
as the two companies team up to create the first die-cast toy car that attaches to a GoPro action camera. That means you can capture video of fast-flying toy car stunts from the driver’s seat (so to speak).
The Zoom-In car is only a dollar, like most Hot Wheels cars, but the GoPro itself is sold separately for considerably more. The car works with the cube-shaped GoPro Hero Session ($150) or Hero5 Session ($200). The cameras sit snug in the center of the toy, locked in place by a bar that grips the top. It’s the most fun you’ll have with a GoPro mount. The catch: The GoPro car is too wide to work with Hot Wheels track launchers, so you’ll need to get creative to gain the momentum you need to pull off cool track tricks. GoPro not included, ages 3 and above, toy car retails for about $1.
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