Best smart tech toys for Christmas 2016

By Andy Robertson on

With only a couple of sleeps before Christmas Andy Robertson of Pocket-lint gives a great round-up of this year’s best smart tech toys that kids will be hoping to find under the tree.

These days toys are either connected to the internet, come with a related app or leverage some intelligent technology. Beyond the band wagon jumping of some toy makers there are a few toys this year that really stand out.

Where technology is used appropriately it can extend the creativity and the magic of play for children. Not only this but it can help them to share their enjoyment with the all the family as well as get the most use out of a particular plaything.

Getting tech gifts set up safe

Whether it’s a tablet, smartphone, VR headset or connected toy that you’re gifting your child this Christmas, it’s always good idea to get their gadget set up safe beforehand. See our checklist for support.

If you’ve not settle on what to buy here are some of the best connected and smart toys that children will no doubt want under the Christmas tree this year.

Anki Supertrucks

Slot car racing for a video-game generation

Price: Starter pack £99.99 Supertruck £59.99

This year Anki update its Overdrive racing game by adding large articulated trucks. The cars and trucks automatically keep themselves on the track. This enables players to control the racing line, acceleration and trigger various virtual attacks.

The action happens on the carpet but is augmented by the readout and controls on the smartphone controller app. This enables Anki Supertrucks to add lots of different game modes ranging from classic Racing and Battles to more video-game style experiences like King of the Hill and Truck Takeover.

Whether you race with just the cars or add in trucks Anki Overdrive continues to be a great way to update slot car racing for a video-game generation.

Sphero BB-8 Force Band

A robotic toy for the young developer at heart

Price: £169.99  Force Band £59.99

Sphero uses robotic technology to recreate the BB-8 character from Star Wars The Force Awakens. The robot rolls along the floor and is controlled via a smartphone app. The toy makes all the sounds and noises from the film while also completely looking the part.

This year the Force Band adds another level of control and creativity to Sphero. This is worn on the wrist of the player to control BB-8 with hand motions. A variety of movements are detected so that players need to learn force push, pull and drive.

Where Sphero goes above and beyond other robotic toys is with its programming tools and kits that enable young developers to experiment with programming the robot.

Hatchanimals

Interactive toy creatures that come to life

Price: £59.99

This is a lower tech toy but leverages features in new and creative ways. Front and centre is how each Hatchimal starts its life. Get it out the box in its large plastic egg you must care for the creature by keeping it safe, warm and well through different motions and interactions.

Then after an hour or so of play it starts to hatch itself. The egg is designed to break up as the plastic creature inside mechanically taps away and eventually breaks out. It’s a unique experience and one that has required both materials and engineering tech to work.

Once the Hatchimal has emerged it offers a variety of games and interactions as it develops from baby to toddler to child mode. It’s fun to play with, but what really creates a strong connection with children is how it hatches in front of their eyes.

Hotwheels AI

Radio controlled cars for the tween generation

Price: £79.99

Hotwheels Ai is an upgraded version of last year’s Real FX. This is another take on slot car racing — but without the slots. The cars read the track to offer assistance in steering.

It’s fun because it combines the enjoyment of radio controlled cars along with autonomous driving. Players need to learn how to steer and react quickly to corners to stay on track but if they do go astray they can simply reverse up, get back on track and keep racing.

The technology is in the cars rather than on the screen and this creates a strong connection between the racing and the player. You can also switch bodies and wheels around in Hotwheels style. 

Finally there are a range of different attacks that can be triggered against your opponents. These can cause oil slicks, missed gears or even engine failure and need to be used tactically through the race. Like Real FX this tech toy is one for a slightly older player with a bit of patience, but a lot of fun once you’ve learned the driving.

Furby Connect

Digital spin on the much loved talking toy

Price: £79.99

This is an updated version of the Furby toy that has existed in many different versions through the years. Furby Connect takes the interactive creature online in a safe and secure way.

The latest toy connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth to deliver new content to Furby on a regular basis. This keeps the interactions with the toy fresh even a long time after opening the box.

The toy itself has also been updated with a new light up antenna that signals when new content is available. Along with 1000 different phrases, Furby also has animated eyes that flash up icons for new video content that can be viewed in the related app.

Child-friendly curated content

This serving of video content via a child’s toy is a new idea and Hasbro has been careful to ensure all content is suitable and safe by partnering with KidzBop and Jukin Media to curate music and videos.

This year Furby also comes with a sleep mask that when affixed to the toy puts it to sleep. This feature will be popular with parents.

Osmo Pizza Co

iPad game system teaches real-world math, money and social skills

Price: From £79.95

This year Osmo has grown significantly. It’s been around for a while and uses a clever red lozenge and stand to cast the gaze of your iPad towards the table in front of it. Then, using a variety of different play things it offers educational experiences for all ages.

In addition to classic Word, Maths and Logic games this year Osmo Monster introduces a white board that invites children to create animations with Pixar style characters.

Then there’s Pizza Co. that introduces kids to how a company works. Children have to place the right ingredients on each pizza for the customers on the screen before taking the money and giving the correct change.

Osmo is a perfect example of technology used correctly. Its unobtrusive tech lets children engage directly with the games on the screen and encourages strategic thinking, creativity and learning. It’s also fund for a wide range of ages.

Additional information

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

Top image attribution: gardener41 under Creative Commons License

Any Roberston is a tech journalist at Pocket-lint.