Although my kids are no longer kids, one of my favorite posts of the year is the one where I take a look at the year’s best tech toys. For this post, I’m drawing on ZDNET’s 2023 roundup, which covers a broad age range, and, interestingly, has many picks “that are screen-free, so you don’t have to worry about your loved one staring at a screen 24/7 into the new year, and can feel better about gifting tech.”
With that, I give you the ZDNET Top 15.
First up, the Wishouse Walkie Talkies for Kids. Is there a kid (or an old guy) who hasn’t used (or at least wanted to use) a walkie talking. So what if most kids, after a certain age, have a smartphone. These look like a lot of fun. They’re geared for kiddos as young as 3, come in bright colors, and – as a nod to more current tech than the walkie-talkies of yore – can be charged via USB.
Sure, most photographs these days are taken via smartphones, and few are ever printed out, sometimes you want something for your album or scrapbook. The Kodak Printomatic Digital Instant Print Camera prints out 2”x3” shots and uses Zero Ink technology. No print cartridges. No film. No toner to worry about. The paper is sticky-backed, so you may need to prepare for peeling your kid’s pictures off the woodwork. But another fun, non-screen based gift option.
The Vtech Kiddiezoom Smartwatch 3DX is screenier, but it lets your kids (4+ years) take pictures and videos, and add a range of special effects. Kids can also play games on it, and exchange “preset messages” with other kids with the same watch. Parents can stay in control by setting reminders and letting their kids know when screen time is up.
The Hover-1 Electric Self-Balancing Scooter can go up to 7 mph and travel 3 miles. It’s for kids 7 and up, so you’ll need to keep an eye on things for younger kids. It’s considered entry level, but beware of it for older, bigger kids – or for yourself, if you’re tempted to give it a whirl – as the weight limit is 160 pounds. (The light-up LED wheels are a cool look.)
Nintendo Switch Lite The operative word here is “lite.” The Switch Lite has fewer features than the original; on the other hand, while still pricey, it costs considerably less, and might be a fun starter gaming option for younger kids (six and over) who aren’t seriously into gaming. It’s handheld-only so, since it can’t be used on a TV or console screen, screentime might be somewhat self-limiting.
Fisher Price DJ Bouncin’ Beats is for the real little ones – 9 months to 3 years. Prepare to be a tiny bit annoyed. Or prepare for your kids to be a tiny bit annoyed if you’re buying this for the grandkids. But this looks like a really fun one. Lights, movement, and “more than 75 songs, sounds, and phrases that teach the alphabet, counting, colors, and more. There is also a mic button that kids can press to record and play back with fun remix effects.”
Toniebox Audio Player Starter Set More screen-free entertainment for kids 3 and up, “with stories, music, and educational content told by the character at the top of the box.” There are a lot of characters available: Disney, Blue’s Clues, PAW Patrol. Perhaps the best feature is that there’s a headphone jack, so your kids can listen away while the annoyance factor is minimized.
Sharper Image Remote Control Gravity Rover Wall-Ceiling Climber Remote control vehicles are usually a big hit with kids, and this one gets the vehicle up off the floor and climbing the walls. It can also rove along the ceiling. Gravity defying at its very best. Just hope that it doesn’t run out of juice and clunk your kid on the head.
Leapfrog Academy Tablet Comes with a variety of “educator-approved apps that explore math, reading, writing, coding, problem-solving and creativity skills” for kids 3-8. There’s also access to a huge content library of games, apps, videos, and music. There’s a kid-friendly web-browsing feature, with parental controls. Parents can also set screen time limits.
Pixicade Mobile Game Maker For kids aged 6 up to 10 (and beyond) who have an early interest in coding and gaming, this toy lets them design a game. They draw their own characters, create the obstacles that those characters will need to get around, and decide what makes for a win. The kids then “snap a pic of [their gaming concepts] and play an animated version of the game they created on a smartphone or tablet.” The kids aren’t actually doing any coding, but they’ll be able to learn about design flow.
With the Purrble Interactive Plush Companion, psychology meets robotics. This is a stuff animal, but it comes with seven embedded sensors that “respond to touch, fidgeting, and movement” with sighs, giggles, grunts, and a dynamic heartbeat. When you give it a hug, it starts purring. Has been proven to alleviate stress and anxiety.
For the pre-iPhone set (4 to 9 years old), there’s Vtech Kidibuzz. It’s smartphone-ish, with a camera, educational apps, and kid-friendly website access. There’s a free chat app through which kids can send text messages to “parent-approved contacts to other KidiBuzz devices and iPhone or Android smartphones.” Looks like enough features to stave off clamoring for a full-featured smartphone – and a lot cheaper.
I don’t know how the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Rocks & Fossils Kit made it onto the tech toy list. It’s definitely old-school. Almost prehistoric. In includes a good-sized rock collection with more than 200 stones, crystals, geodes, minerals, and fossils, as well as a magnifying glass and guide. It’s obviously a pre-fab collection that may spark an interest in further learning and collecting.
Other than being battery powered rather than relying on fossil fuels, the Razor Pocket Mod Miniature Euro-Style Electric Scooter isn’t all that high-tech either. And it’s definitely pricey. But if you can get your heart out of your mouth long enough to be comfortable with your 13- year-old zipping along at 15 mph, this one might be for you. (And before you hop on, keep in mind that the weight limit is 170 pounds.)
The final item on the ZDNET tech toy list is the CoComelon 2-piece ELA (English Language Arts) Set With this one, we’re back in toddler territory. This “laptop” helps kids learn the alphabet, numbers, shapes, and animal sounds, and has a lot of buttons to bash on to “activate lights, sounds, and popular educational songs.”
Thank you, Allison Murray of ZDNET for some great gift ideas. Interesting, even if I’m not doing any kid tech shopping of my own.