Best smart tech toys for Christmas

Many of the toys that’ll be big hits this Christmas are smart or connected in some way.

They either connect to iPhone, iPad or Android applications, which enhance the experience somewhat, or use some other clever technology to take old toy ideas into the future.

Here are some of the best connected and smart toys that children will no doubt want under the Christmas tree this year.

And because they are safe and secure, not requiring a connection to the internet after each app is initially downloaded; these are all fun and friendly ways to bring tech into a child’s life.

Anki Overdrive

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Price: Starter pack £149.99

Anki Overdrive is a car track racing game where the vehicles keep themselves on course automatically so you can change your racing line and fire virtual weapons with a smartphone controller app.

A lot of the fun happens on the screen. Although the main action and excitement is on the physical track during races, this is complemented by audio and visual prompts on the app for everything that is happening.

Best of all, between races you can use the app to upgrade and customise the car’s weapons and performance, ready for the next race. There’s as much fun to be had in the app as there is in the cars.

Real FX Racing

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Price: £99.99

This is an interesting contrast to Anki. The cars are connected to a controller gadget but this is not directly online. However, the experience looks very similar as you control cars around a clip together track and they also offer an assisted steering challenge.

Unlike the Anki Overdrive, the main excitement is in the toy rather than the connected technology.

Players need to practice to get better at the physical driving rather than work on upgrading their cars. The vehicles here can go off course if you are not paying attention so more driving skill is required.

This toy is more suitable for an older child, this is highlighted further with the requirement to manage tire damage and pull in for pit stops.

The game also throws sounds of oil spills and other hazards at players to keep the action going.

PlayMation

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Price: Likely to be around £100

Another new take on the toys-to-life crossover, PlayMation moves the experience much more towards the toys themselves with its wearable smart technology.

Although we’re awaiting their release in the UK, the different Marvel-themed Repulser gloves and Activator targets create a fully-voiced Disney adventure.

The toys are all connected to a smartphone and tablet app (currently for iOS, although Android is also planned) that allows new missions to be loaded as well as progress to be tracked.

You can play the game without the app but the level of depth available by connecting the two is a great combination.

There is also a speaker in the toys that tells your child what is happening and what they need to do. Movement sensors, infra-red targeting and a range of other detectors define how they have performed.

Furby Boom

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Price: £64.99

Furby has been around for a long time. Furby Boom re-launches the cuddly companion with a range of new behaviours and a complementary app experience.

Although you can use the toy without the app, connecting it to a tablet give your child bigger range of things to do with the toy.

The app includes various care activities to get kids looking after their Furbies in new ways as well as progress towards hatching eggs for a virtual Tamagotchi-style animal.

This extends the physical play into a virtual space giving your child the chance to play with both the Furby and its virtual egg.

Sphero 2.0

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Price: £99.99

Sphero is an app controlled robot with a variety of functions. Although the initial experience is highlighted by the controller app, that allows players to steer and accelerate with the powered ball, it soon extends to a variety of different videogame-style challenges.

Sphero’s ability to both change colour as well as detect motion leads to a wider variety of connected play.

Apps that can be downloaded include a “grab the colour” challenge where players must shake Sphero when it turns a certain shade.

Additionally, there are programming tools and kits available to help would-be developers try their hand at programming Sphero. This starts along the lines of programming a Big Track toy from the 90s and evolves into a fully-featured interactive programming language.

There’s even a The Force Awakens version of Sphero styled after new Star Wars droid BB-8.

Osmo

Price: From £79.95

This is a much lower-tech approach to a connected app experience. The toy element here is a simple set of letter tiles or a pen and pencil.

This is combined with a mirrored cover that fits over the top of an iPad to cast the camera’s gaze down towards the desk.

This optical connection between the player and the app is instant and effective. A variety of educational games get players to arrange letters in front of the tablet to match the picture on the screen.

Another Osmo app enables children to scan in pictures and then trace them on the desk while carefully matching the outline on the screen. As with most good ideas, it’s more exciting to try than it is to explain.

Ubooly

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Price: £24.95

This is another low-tech toy in the connected toy sphere. Ubooly is a soft cuddly toy that houses a smartphone in the front. By using the Ubooly app a face appears on the screen in just the right place to appear to be the soft toy’s features.

The app engages players with a variety of interactions that range from simple voice detection to complex storytelling where children are encouraged to explore the house and garden as the tale unfolds.

Ubooly is a great toy because of the gripping stories and characterisation it creates. Simple interactions build a bond between the child and connected toy.

Being online also means that Ubooly content can change over time although it’s a closed ecosystem so there is no danger of outside influences.

Additional information

If you’d like to know more about other gadgets, please visit our Parent Tech Guide.

Top image attribution: Kenny Louie under Creative Commons License

Rik Henderson is a tech journalist at Pocket-lint.

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