The best tech toys of 2017
Everybody wishes they were a kid again sometimes, and that feeling only gets stronger when you look at how cool toys are nowadays. New Atlas rounds up some of the best and most high-tech toys to get the kids building, reading and racing this festive season (or yourself – we won't tell anybody).
Hot Wheels Osmo MindRacers
The classic Hot Wheels cars have had a 21st century tune-up, thanks to the Osmo platform. After the MindRacers kit is hooked up to an iPad, players launch their cars "into" the screen to race or battle each other. The game plays out both on- and off-screen at the same time, with the kids controlling their cars by slapping down tokens in front of the camera, boosting themselves or attacking their opponents, Mario Kart-style.
The complete MindRacer kit will set you back US$80, but if you already have the Osmo iPad base you can grab the game itself for $60.
Another classic toy updated for modern youngsters, Meccano's (or Erector's) MeccaSpider starts off as a regular old construction set, complete with all the fun that brings. The difference is that once it's finished, this app-controlled robotic spider is programmable, and can be made to guard the room or play games with the kids who brought it to life.
That combination of construction and coding make the MeccaSpider a perfect STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) toy, and it's currently available for $72.
Sphero R2-D2 & BB-9E
With The Last Jedi just about to hit cinemas, kids (and big kids) will be clamoring for Star Wars toys, and Sphero's app-controlled droids are right at the top of the wish list. This year's versions include BB-8's "evil twin" BB-9E, and the iconic R2-D2, in what we thought was the coolest toy version the little robot has ever seen.
By way of a smartphone app, the robots can be driven around, programmed and can play games. And with both of them currently on sale for about $130, these are definitely the droids you're looking for.
If your kids are more into superheroes than Star Wars, Sphero's chatty Spider-Man toy might be a better choice. This 8.5-in (22-cm) figure expresses his emotions through big, animated LCD eyes, but the main draw is his voice functions. Spidey can tell jokes and stories, play games, and take kids on voice-guided interactive missions, or just be left to guard a room from snooping siblings with his motion sensor and quick wit.
Running on iOS and Android devices, you can currently catch an app-enabled Spider-Man for $150.
Super Nintendo Classic Edition
Nintendo is taking fans down memory lane again with its newest old favorite, the SNES Classic Mini. This retro rerelease is a palm-sized version of the must-have home console of the early 90s, preloaded with a greatest-hits list of games that includes the likes of Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, Kirby, Metroid, Street Fighter and Mega Man. Plus, the long-lost Star Fox 2 is playable for the first time ever.
Nostalgia sells, and the Super NES Classic Edition has sold out in a lot of places, but Amazon still has some available for about $140.
VRSE is a kid-friendly way to let the young-uns dive into virtual reality without getting their grubby mitts all over your Rift or Vive. The VRSE system is powered by an iOS or Android smartphone, which slides into the headset and connects via Bluetooth to a motion-sensing controller. Although the hardware comes in two different versions, Batman and Jurassic World, the differences are all skin-deep, so both of those VR games are playable on either headset.
The best part is that once the kids are done being Batman or running from dinosaurs, the VRSE becomes a budget VR headset that can play other games, 360-degree videos and even fly FPV-enabled drones. It's a steal for under $70.
Mardles AR storybooks
Here's one for the younger kids. Storybooks nowadays may have a hard time competing with iPads, so why not combine the two? The Mardles Stories That Come To Life series can be read like a normal picture book, but those pictures leap off the page when you view them through a phone or tablet running the companion app. The 3D scenes pop up in animated augmented reality, so kids can tap on the screen to interact with the characters and objects, performing actions like opening gates, shaking trees or moving animals around.
The app is free to download on iOS and Android devices, and the books themselves won't break the bank, at just £5.99 (about US$8) each. For more creative kids, Mardles also has AR stickers and coloring books.
Extreme Fliers Micro Drone 3.0+
While DJI's lineup dominates the high-end of the market, smaller drones are a great way for young pilots to earn their wings. Touted to be the smallest drone with a mechanical gimbal, the Micro Drone 3.0+ from Extreme Fliers crams a lot of tech into a small package. It's loaded up with a 720p camera, an FPV option and a sophisticated corrective system that lets it fly in winds of up to 45 mph (72 km/h).
The Micro Drone 3.0+ is currently on sale for $153 in a combo pack, which includes the drone, camera, handset controller, battery and charger, VR headset and an extra set of props. It's not for really young kids, but it could make a great gift for the tween or teen in your life.
NASA Apollo Saturn V rocket Lego set
Lego has released some amazing sets this year, but the one that caught the eye of this particular science and tech website was the Apollo Saturn V kit. The rocket was used by the Apollo missions to ferry the first astronauts to the moon in the 60s and 70s, and this faithful Lego replica contains 1,969 pieces (a nod to the year of the first lunar landing) and when finished, stands one meter (3.3 ft) tall.
Other highlights of the 2017 Lego catalog include a set honoring the influential women of NASA, the majestic Taj Mahal, and a reconstruction of the recently-opened Lego HQ building in Denmark, which itself was designed to look like it was made of the plastic bricks.
The Lego Apollo Saturn V kit is available for $120.
RazorX Cruiser electric skateboard
After trying it out at the London Toy Fair early this year, the RazorX Cruiser is our pick of electric skateboards for the kids. Powered by a 125-watt motor, the board can get up to 10 mph (16 km/h), although in our experience it feels much faster. It's kick-started, and once you get going you can adjust the speed with a handheld remote.
This is probably something for kids with a little skateboarding experience under their belts already, with Razor suggesting ages of nine years and above. The RazorX Cruiser is currently available for $142.