Fall is just starting to unfold in many parts of the country, but we’re already hearing predictions from retailers on what will be the hottest and hardest-to-get toys by the time Christmas rolls around. To help you sift through all the holiday hype to come, we started testing the latest high tech toys months ago, with a focus on physical toys that blend technology in really interesting, educational and super fun ways.

For snap-happy youngsters, WowWee’s Snap Pets ($34.99) are all the rage. These cute little critters double as a digital camera that connect to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. Kids can click away, snapping photos to their heart’s content, and photos upload automatically to the free app. Once the pictures pop up, kids can push their creative desires even further by adding effects like text and filters, and then share them with friends right from within the app. It also works as a remote shutter button, and it’s way cooler than a selfie stick!

Wonder Workshop’s Dot & Dash ($229.99) are a high-tech family favorite that is easy to grasp and a ton of fun. Dot & Dash are a pair of tiny smart sensors disguised as colorful, big-eyed robots. Kids can dictate how they act using a super simplified app based on a Google-designed programming language, adding sounds and movements to the bite-sized bots behavior.

Kids can build elaborate forts for the bots to navigate, teach them how to chase the cat, or even build entire mini-apps that give Dot & Dash all-new abilities. The really cool thing is that they grow along with your kids, and as your kids get older there’s always more things to learn. Dot & Dash is recommended for kids 5 and up, but save the programming stuff and app building for kids 8 to 12 and older.

Puzzlets ($99.99) is another new sneaky toy and app combination that teaches kids how to program using real-world puzzle pieces and a connected Android or iOS app. The package consists of the Puzzlets play tray and various tiles which can be used to tweak how games in the Puzzlets app act and play.

The Puzzlets team is hard at work building more and more games for kids to customize, and the games can be downloaded for free. It’s the ultimate mashup of low-tech toys and high-tech apps, and it’ll get your kids planning, solving, and playing all at the same time.

Even if your kiddo isn’t old enough to start dabbling in programming they can still enjoy the high-tech smarts of Fisher-Price’s Smart Toy Bear ($100). It’s a downright adorable stuffed toy that packs some serious smarts. It learns from your child’s play habits, and remembers stuff like their name and favorite color. It even suggests kid-friendly games to play based on their tastes. And as a parent, you’ll love that you can control and customize how the bear behaves right from your own smartphone or tablet.

Okay, okay, I confess: I’m going to recommend the latest Anki Overdrive robotic racing set (starting at $199.99) for your kids, but in all honesty I think this one a ton of fun for parents as well. Anki’s kits consist of customizable race courses and app-connected cars that are controlled from your iOS or Android phone. It’s the future of remote controlled cars, and they’re perfect for your fast-paced, action-oriented teenagers.

Using the add-on track sections, your kids can craft a course as long or short as they want, and challenge their friends to the ultimate showdown. And even if they want to race solo, the cars themselves have built-in AI (artificial intelligence) that can put up a pretty serious fight of its own.

What are some of the toys your kids are already working extra hard on chores to earn come holiday time? Be sure to let us know in the comments section. We’ll do our best to take them for a test drive and let you know what stands up to our real life fun tests.

Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech contributor and host of USA TODAY’s digital video show TECH NOW. E-mail her at techcomments@usatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferJolly.

Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/1RHXGqY