Being connected has a different meaning for grown-ups and kids. Today kids of all ages want to plug in and tune in with the latest devices and STEAM toys that work their minds and keep them entertained. Here are a dozen of the hottest items this holiday season for the geeks on your gift list who get their jollies from smart play things.
High (tech) NOON
Let kids explore the world around them, in a fully immersive virtual reality 95-degree field-of-view, with the NOON VR Headset ($89). Developed by South Korea-based tech company Nextcore, this lightweight headset can be paired with any smartphone with a 4.7-inch or larger screen. Using the NOON VR app, wearers can browse and watch IMAX-quality videos stored in the device and enjoy a virtual reality experience, such as virtual roller coaster, a volcano erupting or even a flight through outer space. Features include advanced head tracking, an easy-to-use interface, adjustable lenses for varying eyesight and eyeglasses, long-life battery, and high-frame-rate VR rendering for a stable viewing experience. Available at Amazon.
Build it and it will run
Engineering enthusiasts of all ages (grades 4+) will love making a new friend, literally, as they become better builders with the RiQ ($229) easy-to-build-and-program robot kit with building components, sensors, and a microcontroller. The hands-on kit is an engaging after-school activity that will enhance STEM or engineering education and serve as a fun introduction to science concepts such as mechanical engineering, structural engineering, physics, gear ratios, and other STEM concepts. Available at edventures.com.
Kids will fly high, controlling their own Sky Viper Drone ($89) from Skyrocket Toys, makers of amazingly lightweight, durable and high-performing drones for under $100. The 12.75” Sky Viper Video Drone V950 features the ability to record video and pictures in full 720p high definition with one-touch custom camera moves in autopilot mode and can pivot a full 130 degrees. Its long-range 2.4 GHZ transmitter can be adjusted for beginner, intermediate or advanced flying experience. Ages 12+. Available at skyrockettoys.com.
Move over Minecraft, ARCKIT is as exciting and creative as the addictive building video game app, but in real, tangible life. These model building kits come with components that professionals, hobbyists, design fans and budding young builders age 12+ can use to create realistic models to scale of any kind of structure, from their own future home to classic architectural monuments, where builders can form the outside as well as the interior of their creations for a true 3D model. The pieces can be dissembled and reused, and the system is compatible with 3D computer modelling programs. The kits come in various sizes, starting with the ARCKIT Go kit, or the next level the ARCKIT 60 with 220 pieces, up to the ARCKIT 620-pioece AR240 Kit, all which can be expanded with component packs. $69 to $399. Available at Barnes and Noble.
Do you see what I see?
Forget those relic mini table-top microscopes, olloclip’s New Macro Pro Lens ($69) is the new microscope for kids in the digital age. It is compact and portable enough to put in a backpack or on a keychain, and it quickly affixes to an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus to turn the front- or rear-facing camera into a powerful high clarity microscope for discovery and photography with 7x, 14x, 21x macro magnification. The included InstaFocus hoods make taking macro photos easy by collecting and diffusing light and automatically setting the focus. The applications are endless, from examining insects, flowers, and innumerable small objects, for learning and fun. Available now at olloclip.com and major retailers including Apple and Best Buy.
The family that sings together can harmonize together with the pitch perfect Singtrix Personal Bundle, by the makers of Guitar Hero, brings voice correction to your living room, or your next karaoke party, so that bad singers sound good and good singers sound great. This next-generation portable karaoke machine works with any smartphone, tablet, PC or other audio device, for listening with headphones or a speaker system. The Personal Bundle features a studio unit with more than 300 quality vocal effects and a control that creates instant four-part harmonies, so that anyone can sound like a rock star. Available at TOYS “R” US and other national retailers, $229.00.
Thinking inside the box
Lots of box subscriptions promise surprises inside, but the Cooper and Kid box delivers, with curated products full of wonder and excitement for kids, with a focus on activities designed to enrich parents’ quality time with children. While the marketing bewilderingly plays up the kits as ideal for “Dads with kids ages 5-9,” these kits full of activities, games, tools, crafts and rocket-propelled accessories are great for quality time with moms, grandparents, babysitters and anyone who loves to imagine, create, build and have fun. Even the shipping box converts into a toy. Subscriptions start at $59 per month for a box every quarter. Available at ccoperandkid.com.
Smart is the new cool
The Project Mc² is a new line of toys and activities aimed at teaching girls about science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) through play. The collection includes smart stylish dolls ($24.99) that each come with a real-working experiment, allowing girls to create their own lava light, volcano eruption, blueprint skateboard and a glow stick. Other products include the Rock Sugar Jewelry ($9.99) kits for making fashionable accessories through kitchen chemistry, and a Mckeyla’s Ultimate Lab Kit ($49.99) full of science experiments, and a Soda Can Robot ($14.99) construction kit. Available at Toys R Us, Target and Amazon.
They may be too young to have their own phone, but children 3 and up can still get messages, direct from the cloud and delivered to them through CloudPets ($29.99 + $6.99 shipping and handling). These connected plush toys pair with Bluetooth devices and use BTLE technology – the same technology that powers the Apple Watch and Nike FuelBand, so that children, family and friends can record and send messages by pressing the toy’s right or left paw to send or receive. Designed as a cute and cuddly way for long-distance family and friends to keep in touch, the toy can also be used as a sleep machine with downloaded lullabies to help baby doze off. Available at cloudpets.com.
Sky, land and sea play
While video games can be mindless fun, top-seller kid’s console video game franchise Skylanders offers imaginative and fantastical exploration of a fictional world populated with an array of characters that players place into the game using physical action figures. Players can engage in exciting racing and battle interaction in Skylands. In the latest incarnation of the game, Skylanders SuperChargers, Skylands is in peril. Kaos has unleashed his most evil weapon yet – the Doomstation of Ultimate Doomstruction aka the Skyeater. A special team called the SuperChargers equipped with an unstoppable fleet of incredible vehicles must embark on epic adventure to stop Kaos and save Skylands. The starter kit ($74.99) includes the video game, Portal of Power, Spitfire and Super Shot Stealth Elf characters, Hot Streak Skylanders vehicle, and a poster featuring the complete set of Skylanders SuperChargers and their vehicles. Available at Toys R Us and wherever video games are sold.
Teens will be the envy of their classmates with the keyless Master Lock No. 1500eXD hanging from their locker. This hi-tech combination padlock has an electronic directional interface for ease of use and can be programed with multiple personalized codes. It features a vault enabled permanent Backup Master Code so that the combination is never forgotten; and just in case anybody gets any ideas, this lock is made of boron carbide for maximum resistance to cutting and sawing. Comes with replaceable CR2032 five-year-life battery installed. $39.68. Available at Amazon, Home Depot, Target and other national retailers.
This changes everything
For the kid that loves him or her some educational TV, and maybe sometimes some G-rated binge-worthy TV, no more juggling remote controls and blindly changing channels to find favorite programs. The palm-sized Pronto ($49.99) hub, paired with the free Peel Smart Remote App, turns an iPhone or iPod Touch into a smart universal remote that controls more than 3,000 home entertainment devices, even streaming video players. This remote is so smart it makes viewing recommendations based on the user’s interests and viewing habits, and it includes an optional IR extension cable, allowing users to store away multiple entertainment devices and still control them. Available at Newegg.com and BestBuy.com.