The world's toy manufacturers are currently gathered in London for Toy Fair 2017, where they're showing off the toys that your kids will pester you for over the next 12 months. We've spent the day looking for the best tech and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) toys on offer at the show, and here are our highlights.
A striking feature of Toy Fair 2017 is that there aren't quite as many tech toys as we've seen in recent years. Don't get us wrong, there's still lots of great tech waiting to be played with, just not as much as 2016 when it felt like almost everything was connected to an app or the internet. With its internet-connected dinosaur robots, toucans, and an iPad loom, maybe 2016 was the moment of the peak connected toy.
And while there were plenty of drones at Toy Fair last year, this time around the offerings seem better considered. Revell had a prototype of its upcoming pocketable C-Me selfie drone (top left), which will shoot 8-megapixel stills or Full HD video of a user, and is GPS-controlled from a smartphone app. The C-Me will launch later this year. Meanwhile, Vivid was showing off the Sky Viper range of drones, with the £130 (that's around US$165) Vibe selfie drone (bottom left) looking like a direct rival for the C-Me.
Extreme Fliers was also back at the show, after impressing us last year, with its latest Micro Drone developments. These include a new camera gimbal (top right), which offers smoother video footage than rival cameras (it's normally only much bigger drones which have gimbals) and a carbon-fiber racing model. These are due to be available later this year. If you want your drone to be more of a toy, we liked the look of the Hot Wheels R/C Bladez Quad Racerz which can fly or drive, and are due to cost £40 ($50) from September.
VTech used Toy Fair to update its line of child-friendly cameras. This included Star Wars-branded versions of its camera and camera watch (top left and right). In addition to snapping photos, the Stormtrooper-faced camera lets users put themselves into images with Star Wars characters, and play augmented reality games like shooting down spaceships in your living room. The camera watch also features built-in games, though not AR ones.
The Kidizoom ActionCam also got a much-needed update and the new ActionCam 180 (bottom left) is much sleeker than previous models, and features a better LCD monitor. It also has a rotatable camera which makes it better for selfies, and comes with a waterproof case and various mountings. VTech also introduced a new camera with the Flix (bottom right), a tripod-mounted "Alien" which has expressive eyes on its LCD display. As well as shooting snaps, the camera can detect you with eye-recognition, and will repeat phrases you say in a funny voice. There's also a "Bedroom Keeper" mode which will take photos of sibling intruders. All of the cameras will be available later this year.
We all know by now that kids don't have to miss out on the latest trends just because of their age, and AR and VR tech are no exception. We were impressed by the Mardles storybooks (top left) which are a modern take on the popup book and use augmented reality to bring the characters on a page to life when a smart device running the companion app is pointed at them. Five of the £7 books, which are aimed at younger readers, will be released in June.
On the VR front, we've seen ViewMaster give kids a taste of virtual reality, but now it could have some competition. Vivid used Toy Fair to show VRSE, a VR system aimed at users aged eight and up. After inserting a smartphone into a kid-tough VR viewer (Batman and Jurassic World styles will be on offer) a Bluetooth-connected motion-controller is used to control play. It's no Oculus Rift, but at £70 ($90) it's a more affordable entry into VR gaming.
Last year it was impossible to walk around Toy Fair without tripping over the countless two-wheeled hover-boards which were everywhere. This year that trend seems to have all but disappeared with scooters once again being the dominant ride-on. Of those, our pick was the Razor Power A (left) which brings lithium power to offer users speeds of up to 10 mph and a 45 minute run-time from the replaceable battery. It will cost £230 (about $275) when it's released in the summer.
We also liked the RazorX Cruiser skateboard (right), which is also lithium-powered and offers the same 10 mph top-speed, though it felt much faster than that when we tried it out in the halls of the show. The RazorX Cruiser will also cost £230 (around $275) when it's released in the summer.
There were far fewer kid-oriented tablets on show this year than there have been at previous Toy Fairs. However, Kurio looks like it has still got something to offer with its Tab Advance tablet (botton left) which uses Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) and features some of the best parental controls we've seen on a tablet. It also comes with STEM and coding apps, along with other games (including motion-controlled ones). The 7-inch, 16-GB tablet will cost £100 (about $126) when it launches.
If you are looking for a child-friendly tablet accessory, the Coco Color Stylus (right) is a £30 ($37) Bluetooth-connected stylus which lets users select different pens, pencils, brushes and colors, by clicking buttons on the stylus. We also couldn't stop ourselves from having another game of Beasts of Balance (top left) which was called Fabulous Beasts when it launched on Kickstarter. The £70 ($90) game sees you build balancing towers of creatures to create digital worlds, and is a great example of how to merge physical and digital play.
Building toys were as popular at the show as they have always been, with brands like LEGO and K'NEX showing off their latest kits. However, it was a couple of other building kits which stood out for us this year. The £40 ($50) 3Doodler Start pen (top right) - which we first got to play with at Toy Fair 2016 - continues to impress and gives kids the freedom to draw what they want, or use mold kits to create specific objects.
We were also quite taken with the MeccaSpider (bottom right) from Meccano which is a giant robot spider that you build yourself and can then control via a smartphone app. It has an interactive personality and plays games such as a "Venom Attack" where it scuttles around and squirts peoples it sees moving near it. The MeccaSpider will cost £100 ($125) when it launches later this year.
Other toys which impressed us at the show included a £10 ($12) Maglev train model (top left) from 4M, which teaches users about Maglev tech, and Magformers (top right) magnetic building kits which now include all sort of vehicles. Another pocket-money-friendly toy which can also provide a surprising amount of fun are the StikBot figures which can be positioned in situations to create stop-motion videos. You can even get a green-screen studio kit for £20 (that's $25) to make chroma key videos and photos.
We had great fun at London Toy Fair 2017, and not just because it's one of the few places it's socially acceptable for grown adults to spend an hour battling toy tanks. There were plenty of interesting toys on display, and it's good to see how the use of technology in toys is getting smarter, not only in terms of what it can do, but also how it can add to a child's experience of play.
London Toy Fair runs until January 26 at Kensington Olympia London.