USA TODAY columnist Marc Saltzman breaks down the best tech toys in time for the holidays.
Forget dollhouses, board games and jigsaw puzzles – kids today want tech in their toys.
Whether it’s electric skateboards, flying drones or app-controlled robots, there’s no shortage of products that include a heavy electronics element.
Today’s action figures have a computer chip and are designed to work with video games, with titles like Activision’s Skylanders: SuperChargers, WB Games’ LEGO: Dimensions, Disney Infinity 3.0, and Nintendo’s amiibo family.
Heck, even the latest Barbie doll has Wi-Fi and is part of the “Internet of Things” revolution.
The following is a look at what’s new and newsworthy.
Rev it up
REV can be summed up in five words: RC vehicles, built for battle.
Two app-controlled cars are in the box. If you’re alone, place both vehicles on the floor and take control over one of them via your iOS or Android device, while battling the other car’s artificial intelligence (A.I.). Your goal is to hunt down and shoot virtual weapons at your opponent’s vehicle and it’ll try to do the same. Along with various modes, you can unlock new weapons and upgrades in the process.
But if you’ve got someone to play with, the other person takes control of a REV to challenge you in this fight to the finish.
At $99.99, WowWee’s REV doesn’t require a special surface or track to play on, and it supports up to 16 cars — with any variation of A.I. and people-controlled vehicles.
Want some airtime? Optional REV “Smart Ramps” are sold separately.
Look ma, no hands!
Sometimes referred to as “hoverboards,” electric skateboards are one of the hottest tech toys of the year – but be aware of the many copycat brands out there with cheap materials and low-grade batteries.
The Swagway X1 ($399.00) is a high-quality zero-emission self-balancing electric board that only uses Samsung and LG batteries, and can last up to 20 miles on a single charge.
Go forwards and backwards up to 10 miles per hour by simply leaning in a given direction; steering and stopping are equally as easy thanks to its internal gyroscope and acceleration sensors that react based on your center of gravity. LED lights flash to indicate which direction you’re turning.
Unlike a Segway, you don’t need to hold onto anything with a Swagway. It takes about five minutes to get the hang of it.
Available colors are red, dark red, white, blue, green, black, and pink, and with support for optional decals.
I’m with the band
If you’re not a fan of the game Minecraft, you know someone who is.
Downloaded more than 21 million times, the hit indie game was bought by Microsoft for $2.5 billion late last year – and now it’s playable on your wrist.
Called Gameband + Minecraft ($79.99), this USB bracelet with integrated memory holds the game inside, so all gamers on the go need to do is plug it into a PC and you can play it off the device itself – including access to all your worlds, maps, texture packs, and saved data.
This is especially ideal for kids who don’t have their own computer, as it allows them to plug and play without installing the software on other computers.
And yes, it tells time, too.
Designed for kids age 3 to 9, the LeapFrog Epic ($139.99) is a 7-inch Android-based tablet with a number of exclusive features: a first-of-its-kind playable homescreen with daily surprises to tap on; preloaded educator-approved content, such as 20 games, activities and ebooks; and access to the LeapFrog Store for more than a thousand downloads and none with in-app purchases or third-party ads.
A LeapSearch Browser offers a protected online environment with curated websites, games and videos for your child.
Parents can also set time limits and manage content. And if and when the child is ready, mom and dad can unlock access to the Amazon Appstore and a full web browser.
May the droid be with you
You might’ve heard about a little ‘ol movie sequel coming out in December — Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – and with it will come some pretty cool merchandising.
Case in point: Sphero’s BB-8 ($149.99) is an adorable app-enabled Droid that recognizes your voice, responds to your commands, display a variety of expressions, and can patrol its surroundings autonomously. Or you can control it, too, of course.
While on the small side (it’s only 4.5 inches tall), BB-8 also allows kids or kids at heart to record and check out cool virtual holographic videos.
The rechargeable lithium polymer battery allows for one hour of drive time.
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