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11/11/2014
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Jeff Bertolucci
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10 Smart Tech Toys For Kids

It's holiday toy shopping season. Please the budding coder, architect, robot-builder, or drone pilot in your life with these cool choices.
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10 tech toys that won't disappoint
The holiday shopping season has arrived, and whichever cultural/religious/atheistic tradition you follow, it probably involves an exchange of gifts. Unless, of course, you celebrate Festivus. Sadly, many of us aren't fond of the season's gift-buying rituals and the stresses they bring. A 2013 survey commissioned by Staples Canada of more than 1,500 Canadian adults showed that 89% of holiday gift buyers admit to having problems buying presents for at least one person on their shopping list. And half of gift givers find it hard to buy presents for a very basic reason: they run out of ideas.

Well, don't get too bummed out. Perhaps there's some tinsel to this annual ritual. Online shopping has eased the gift-buying burden a bit by allowing us to tap and click our way through a shopping list rather than braving brick-and-mortar congestion. A positive attitude helps too, as does the wherewithal to cover a month or so of unbridled consumerism and a January hangover of supersized credit card bills.

When it comes to children's toys, there's another layer of shopper's stress, particularly if your goal is to find items that both entertain and educate the youngsters in your life. Do you go with the Dragon Ninja Weapon Set -- plenty of exercise, sure, but not really educational -- or choose something a bit more cerebral? Should you select Mattel's Disney Frozen Sparkle Princess Elsa Doll -- one of Amazon's most popular toys this season -- or search in vain for a sparkly princess doll that also teaches girls to program? You won't have much luck finding that in the doll aisle, but GoldieBlox does offer stereotype-busting toys and kits for girls who love to build, as does Lego.

Whatever you choose, it may incorporate digital technology. Touchscreens, for instance, are playing a larger role in kids' activities. A February 2014 survey by the Michael Cohen Group, a research and consulting firm, shows an emerging mashup of touchscreen devices and traditional toys. Toy makers, for instance, may offer a smartphone or tablet app that adds extra capabilities to a traditional board game or building kit. And today's children (12 and under) are more likely to play with a touchscreen device than with blocks, puzzles, board games, and other traditional toys, the survey found.

It's not uncommon for new toys to blend the physical and digital worlds, a merger that ideally inspires kids to think, move, and still have fun. We've selected 10 gift ideas that span a wide range of children's interests and ages, each with a decidedly tech focus. Most, but not all, have an educational component, because sometimes it's OK to simply go out and play. Play is an important part of the early childhood learning experience. We hope you like this assortment of gift-giving ideas (and let us know in the comments section if we missed one of your favorites.)

Jeff Bertolucci is a technology journalist in Los Angeles who writes mostly for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, The Saturday Evening Post, and InformationWeek. View Full Bio

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Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Ninja
11/20/2014 | 11:31:50 AM
I'll take an Ozobot
The Ozobot seems like a neat toy for curious kids (at a reasonable price). Does anyone have experience with it? What kind of coding does it actually teach?
freespiritny25
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freespiritny25,
User Rank: Ninja
11/14/2014 | 10:15:29 AM
Re: Smart Tech Toys For Kids
I would say the Leap Pad is better suited for 2 to 4 year olds. They have it listed as 3 to 9 year olds. That's a stretch! The robots look interesting, the prices are very high though. I think the kids will love the drone with the camera.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
11/12/2014 | 3:35:55 PM
Re: 10 Smart Tech Toys For Kids
Plenty of kids did without a leapfrog and survived, yes. Thanks for chiming in here, readers.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
11/12/2014 | 3:02:12 PM
Re: 10 Smart Tech Toys For Kids
Some of these, like the helicopter and the speaker are fine and cool gifts in their way. To be honest,  though, I consider most of the toys on this list to be a mixed bag (or worse). On the one hand, we have devices that seem too one-off for their pricetag - for 350 you'd be better of shelling out a little more and getting the child a brand-new PC than some lego robots, and don't get me started on that 'smart' watch - and on the other hand you have gimmicky stuff that, as Chris says, seems like it won't really get kids into STEM while boring them at the same time. The orb robot is cool in theory, but I wonder how much mileage you can really get out of it, and again, you have no idea what the interface and functionality is like until you get the box open and it's already too late.

For me, nothing says it better than the Leapfrog VS Amazon Fire shown here. You can get a child something chintzy that they'll likely hate (leapfrog was the stamp of crap even when I was young enough to be excited about things in Toys R Us) for a hundred dollars (what a steal!) because it's 'educational', or for just fifty more you can get them something top of the line, that will continue to teach and inspire (not to mention be useful to) them for years to come.  Chris & others have the right idea - if you have a child that's really into tech stuff for their age, don't be afraid to get them the serious stuff, and if you don't... don't force it.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
11/12/2014 | 11:43:28 AM
Re: Amazon & stuff
"I thought the basic reason was to be out of money. Who knew?" LOL @Mak63. I believe you're right. If they just run out of ideas, they can give cash or its inferior substitute, a giftcard.
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
11/11/2014 | 11:48:21 PM
Amazon & stuff
If the tablet breaks within two years, Amazon will replace it for free -- no questions asked.

I'm glad some companies here are caching up to the European counterparts; where 2 years warranty is the norm.

half of gift givers find it hard to buy presents for a very basic reason: they run out of ideas.

I thought the basic reason was to be out of money. Who knew?

@Laurianne

I really like the Sky Viper Camera Drone, not for a kid, but for me. Looks neat and affordable.
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
11/11/2014 | 6:31:21 PM
Re: Interested in Sphero for my son
I think the sooner we get kids to get into robotics the better.  Since robots will be managing all of manufacturing in the future.  The toys that I liked the most are the tablets.  Ipads really take a pounding by kids.  Amazon new tablet is great, if it breaks, you get a free one. Next time, computer companies realease a new tablet, give it to a bunch of kids for a month, if it doesn't break, it good to go into the market. 
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
11/11/2014 | 5:48:45 PM
Re: Interested in Sphero for my son
It's worth noting that Raspberry Pi is not open source hardware, due to its reliance on a Broadcom ARM processor.
Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Ninja
11/11/2014 | 4:56:20 PM
Re: Interested in Sphero for my son
I think it would be a good gift for a kid interested in robotics. There are plenty of interesting arduino projects for robot enthusiasts (http://www.adafruit.com/blog/2012/12/17/new-product-make-lego-and-arduino-projects/).
LHayze
IW Pick
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LHayze,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/11/2014 | 4:31:16 PM
Re: Interested in Sphero for my son
Arduino, and it's many variants, are good at interfacing with hardware (sensors, LEDs, small motors, etc.). While a Raspberry Pi is good for teaching the software side of things and has limited hardware connections. They can actually be made to work together with just a USB cable connecting them.

There are some downsides to each. For Arduino there's a slew of other components that are needed to accomplish any project, the most important being a breadboard otherwise everything would need soldering. Arduino is fairly open to canibalizing whatever AC adapter you have laying around though. Raspberry Pi doesn't cost much, but the things that are required (monitor, keyboard, mouse, AC adapter, SD card) quickly add up unless you've got an old computer you're not using and the SD card will need a bit of work to get the Pi OS on to it.

Raspberry Pi has the Python programming language running on it which is very easy to use though a bit slow. While Arduino uses a subset of C/C++ which is less readable but a core language for future programming.

For a 12 year old? I don't see any reason not to. Either one could set them off on a financially secure path.
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