For the 2010 holiday season, ShopSmart magazine (published by Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports) decided to take a look at some of the year's hottest tech toys for its December issue. The toys weren't formally tested in our labs, but some of our tech experts did get in touch with their inner children and gave them all a try.
ShopSmart wanted to feature toys "designed to foster musical talent, boost reading comprehension, or simply allow for self-expression, imagination, and discovery." And technology that's implemented in the right way can add a lot of utility and dimension to all of those goals.
The tech toys in this post are especially suited for little kids. We'll follow up with toys for bigger kids and toys the whole family can enjoy.
Fisher-Price Kid-Tough video camera: $60 list; for kids ages 3 to 7
Tired of the kids "borrowing" your expensive camcorder? The Fisher-Price Kid-Tough video camera is easy to use and rugged: It worked well, even after we dropped it. This colorful camcorder features a 1.4-inch color screen and an Instant Replay button, and you can upload your kid's video to your PC. You can use an SD card to expand the memory.
Fisher-Price iXL: $79.99; for kids to 6 years
Kids can use the multi-tasking portable Fisher-Price iXL as an e-book reader, game console, virtual notepad, art studio, MP3 player, and photo viewer. You'll need a PC or Mac with a Web connection, CD-ROM drive, and USB port to upload and manage photos, music, and software for the device. Its color screen is touch-sensitive, and the iXL comes with a stylus attached. Like the Kid Tough camcorder, the iXL has some built-in memory, but that's expandable via SD card. Thankfully, the iXL also has a headphone jack.
Vtech V-Reader: $59.99; for kids ages 3 to 7
The Vtech V-reader has a 4.3-inch, color touch screen that helps kids learn to read through stories that come alive with animation, narration, character voices, and music. It includes a dictionary accessed by clicking words in the stories; the definitions are read aloud, and little quizzes test kids' understanding. Six stories come free with the V-reader, and you can download more (some are free) at vtechkids.com. Accessories such as cases and a car charger are also available.
Vtech Submarine Learning Boat: $17.99; for kids ages 9 months and up
Kids can play both in and out of the water with this floating toy; while they play, they learn about colors, the numbers one through three, and animals and their sounds and characteristics. Play hide-and-seek with the animal characters, including the "dolphin captain." Press a button and answer a question correctly, and the reward is a surprising squirt of water from the submarine’s spout.
The December issue of ShopSmart is on newsstands now; pick it up for lots more family-oriented gift ideas.
Thinking of getting your child a slightly more sophisticated gadget? Take a look at our tips on buying your child's first cell phone. And if your kids are already clamoring to get on Facebook, find out how to protect children on social networks.