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Tis the Season for Tech Toys

With our youngest just off to college, we’re well beyond Santa at our house, but I still like to do a bit of virtual window shopping for toys, especially to see what’s out there that appeals to my techie, gadget sense. So I was happy to see a write-up on gizmag in which Simon Crisp picked his Top Ten Eleven tech toys for the 2015 holiday season. (No, I’ve never heard of a “Top Eleven” list either.)

As a car buff, I liked the look of Anki Overdrive, a slot-less car track on which you control the cars via an Android or iOS device. Lego Dimensions is video game, but – as that word “Dimensions” implies – it also includes Lego bricks and figures that work with it via a physical portal. I like that it combines the virtual with the physical.

Anyone old enough to remember the old Mattel ViewMaster needs to know that this is not the static slide viewer of yore. There’s now a VR edition that’s a virtual reality viewer.  (You can’t expect kids today to be all that excited by a 3D picture of Old Faithful or Mount Rushmore now, can you?)

For Star Wars fans, Sphero has a robotic ball of BB-8 from The Force Awakens. Like many other techie toys, you’ll need an iOS or Android smart device to control it. (I guess those are now household givens for kids!) I can see that this one would captivate the kids, but drive the dogs crazy. If you prefer your robots to resemble dinosaurs, there’s the WowWee MiPosaur. This has the advantage that, while it requires a smartphone app if you want to operate it with any degree of precision, you can actually get it to do plenty through track ball and gesture controls. This makes it seem rather old-fashioned and quaint, doesn’t it? With Meccanoid, Mecanno has moved from the realm of the mechanical to the realm of the robotic. Wish I’d had one of these when I was a kid. If you’re sensing a robotics theme in this list, you’d be right. Dash and Dot will help younger kids learn about coding and robotics. The i-Que Intelligent Robot is “intelligent” enough to recognize your speech and answer questions. (It sounds a bit like “Embedded Barbie,” which I wrote about a couple of months back.)

Back to toys that require a smart device (in this case, an iPad), there are educational games – spelling, drawing, math, physics – from Osmo. As with Lego Dimensions, the games (most of them) need a physical playset in order to work. LeapFrom Epic is a tablet for kids too young (ages 4-8) for an iPad or other Internet-enabled smart device.

And then there’s the Parrott Airborne Night Mini-Drone. Easy enough to imagine that, for all the potential hazards we hear associated with them, there will be plenty of drones under the Christmas tree this year. And they probably won’t last that long under the tree: they’ll be out in the backyard, or in the park, in the field or on the beach. This one is on the low end – you can’t fly it that long or that high, and the pictures it takes aren’t great. (Not to mention that the only review on Amazon that I saw is one-star.) But tell me that people aren’t going to be having fun with drones this Christmas.