The best toys not only are fun but also build skills. And if you can find products that make the whole family want to join in, well, you’ve found toy nirvana.
Our sister publication, ShopSmart, chose the best tech toys of this holiday season, and we also had one of our in-house electronics experts give them a try. (We did not formally test them.) You can find them at toy stores, mass retailers like Target, and websites such as Amazon.com and YoYo.com.
Check back tomorrow, when we'll list toys for the older kids on your list. And don't miss our review of tablets made just for kids at Consumer Reports Online.
Fisher-Price Kid-Tough See Yourself Camera ($70, ages 3 to 7)
We liked the previous version of the toy camera, but this one (above right) is even better, with smarter locations for the USB port and shutter button, for example. Best of all, it has a cool swiveling lens, so kids can take their own pictures easily.
There’s no flash, but pics taken in indoor lighting came out well. The sounds are annoyingly loud, so it could use a volume control. It includes a 1.8-inch color screen; 4x digital zoom; and special effects, like borders and stickers, that you can add to images.
B. Toys’ B. Meowsic Music Keyboard and Microphone ($26, ages 2 to 6)
Kids can channel their inner Elton John or Lady Gaga by playing freestyle or jamming and singing along with 20 included songs on this electronic keyboard. To change up your sound, you can switch from piano sounds to banjo, bells, organ, or "meow," which gives each key a kitty sound with a different pitch.
You can change the tempo of your music—and thankfully, the volume, too. And here is a holiday bonus: When you buy a toy from B. Toys product, 10 cents goes to Free the Children, which helps educate kids.
Tetris Link ($20, ages 6 and older)
We’ve seen lots of old-school games turn into video games, but here’s the opposite: a tabletop version of the long-lasting, popular video game. This is a fast-paced stacking game—the average match time is about 15 to 20 minutes—that the whole family can enjoy.
To play, you choose your color and try to link three or more Tetriminos (those iconic Tetris playing pieces) together by dropping them into the tower, while trying to block other players from doing the same. This game is for two to four players.
Hot Wheels Video Racer ($60, ages 5 and older)
This version of the beloved toy race car has a front-view video camera, just like a real race car! Send it zooming on your track (sold separately) or around the house, then view what you just shot on the LCD screen on the bottom of the car. Or you can upload the video to your computer and hear the audio, too.
You can also strap the car to a helmet, bike, or skateboard, and it then becomes a live-action camera. The battery can charge within an hour, but we noticed that it runs down fast.
Techno Source 20Q ($13, ages 6 and older)
20Q started as an online game and has morphed into a toy, too. Just try to stump this trash-talking mini gizmo that uses artificial intelligence to guess what’s on your mind. If it guesses your object in 20 or fewer questions, it wins. If it doesn’t, you win.
When we tried it out, we were shocked that it beat us about nine out of 10 times! Let us know if you can do better.