Toy Fair 2019 in New York City had just about everything we could have hoped for - between STEM toys that help kids become the next generation of NASA engineers, to AR toys that offer a new level of interactivity, there was a treasure trove of toys to entertain us throughout the conference.
That said, the only thing it didn't have was Avengers: Endgame toys, which Marvel refused to let the press see. Sorry, no spoilers here!
We ran up and down the halls of the Javits Center looking for the 2019 toys that your kids will be begging you for, the toys that the whole family will enjoy, and the ones that the pop-culture nerd in your life will love - that way, when their birthday rolls around, you'll know just what to buy them.
LEGO Hidden Side
LEGO Hidden Side, due out in August, is an 8-set series that is meant to combine physical play with an augmented app experience for "holistic fun" for kids. Like the LEGOs of yesteryear, each set will cost between $19 and $129 (£15-100, AU$26-179).
Half of the sets are locations—a haunted school, a graveyard, etc... —that they must essentially exorcise via their app; the other half are controllable vehicles that kids can drive around in the app.
Unlike other connected LEGO sets like Lego Boost or the Lego Batmobile, Hidden Side isn't as dependent on the app for kids to enjoy it. The primary school set, for example, is rife with moving parts that transform it from a regular building into something much more sinister—with no phone required.
If your kids do open the app, though, they'll find some cute minigames to enjoy: Hidden Side essentially makes them ghostbusters as they track down possessed objects by physically interacting with the set's moving parts, drawing out the ghosts, and then battling them in a rail shooter.
Once they've defeated the ghost, they'll add them to their collection.
You only need one set to use the app, but each one will allegedly have unique ghosts with different personalities and animations. And the vehicle sets will have entirely different AR games involving moving them around—though we weren't able to test that one out at the show.
Hot Wheels TechMods
Launching on Indiegogo this April, TechMods are smart racing kits that you will construct yourself. With the free iOS/Android app, you can either drive it around like a regular RC car or use it as a motion-sensitive controller for a variety of video game experiences. It will retail for $50 (around £38, AU$69) and ship to backers in mid-2019.
TechMod has an 8 mph max speed, which gave it plenty of zip as we drove it around the Mattel show floor. But inside the app, its virtual speed only grows as you play. You choose from a variety of modes—survival, race, and treasure hunt—and drive around a small arena, trying to collect points and dodge an increasing number of deadly obstacles.
Our initial impression is that TechMod has much more replay value than Hot Wheels' more expensive Augmoto AR set we covered at last year's Fair: Augmoto's real-world track limited you to the same path, while your virtual TechMod car is only limited by the number of levels and maps in the app. (As of now, they have 20 survival challenge maps alone.)
We tried out one of the early challenge levels, which truly was a challenge. As you drive around the obstacle-ridden map and pick up collectibles, each collectible becomes a new harmful obstacle. The TechMoto tracked our motions well, making it seem a bit like a bulky Wiimote or Move controller with wheels.
Star Wars Lightsaber Academy
Kids have been whacking each other with toy lightsaber replicas for decades in their quest to reenact their favorite Jedi vs Sith duels. Now, parents will be thrilled with Hasbro for making lightsabers that virtually dual with one another—though, let's be honest, kids will hit each other with them anyway.
Lightsaber Academy launches later this year 2019 for $50 (around £38, AU$69), plus $8-$20 for each additional lightsaber. Each hilt has an accelerometer, gyro, barometer and bluetooth tech built in, to track movement and send the data to the iOS/Android app.
In the app, Jedi instructors like Yoda, Rey and Vader teach children various sword techniques, grading their accuracy up to 100%. We found the tracking of the sword in the app to be impressively accurate, especially with the app surrounded by so many other competing signals.
Kids can then dual one another in what the Hasbro rep called a "rock-paper-scissors type battle": blocking motions beat attack motions, force focus beats defense, attack beats focus. Winning duals or completing tutorials will improve the kid's rank until they become a Master.
It sounds cerebral in theory, but in practice children will likely just swing wildly until the app names a winner. Of course, if your kids ever grow tired of the app, they can just use the lightsabers as regular toy swords.
Giiker Super Cube
Rubik's Cubes can be incredibly intimidating for people who haven't tried them. But Xiaomi is trying to demystify learning how to be a Rubik's pro with its new Bluetooth-enabled Super Cubes.
Already for sale in China and due out in the United States sometime in mid-2019 for $50 (around £38, AU$69), the Super Cube tracks the movement of the blocks in real time in the connected app. Within the app, newbies can take different tutorials, starting with getting one side to be the same color and progressing in difficulty from there.
As I followed the app's instructions in the first tutorial, the screen showed the exact real-time location of each color—though there did seem to be a bit of delay between moving a row and seeing it move in the 3D replica.
The app will also record your stats and best times, let you compete against or chat with other Rubik's fans, and complete other Rubik's mini-games beyond just matching all the colors.
Take the Pictionary you know and love, add a light-tracking pen and an AR app, and use the air instead of paper for a canvas. That's the simple premise behind Pictionary Air, which comes out in late 2019 for $20 (around £15, AU$28).
The set comes with 112 double-sided cards, ten clues each, for you to draw and your friends and family to guess. You simply hold down a button on the pen while you're drawing in mid-air; one of your friends, meanwhile, holds up a phone or tablet camera that tracks the movements; and then your sketch will appear on the screen. After each round, you can record the drawer's terrible creations for posterity.
Despite what it sounds like, the Pictionary Air pen was intuitive to use but difficult to master. Without being able to see what you've already drawn, it's difficult to draw straight lines or improve the picture if you forget where in the air you left off.
Also, if you're facing the person with the tablet, your drawing is a mirror image of what you want the person to see. I tried to draw the United States for a clue, and California and Florida ended up flipped, making it pretty hard to guess. The Hasbro rep cheated and gave me the same clues he gave the woman above, so I don't know how legible I actually was.
The best option would probably be to cast your tablet to a larger TV, and have the drawer face the TV (and tablet-holder) and see what he or she has created thus far. So if you want to give this to your non-tech-savvy family, you'll probably need to set it up for them. Once you get things rolling, though, it's quite fun.
Carpool Karaoke, the Mic
Fans of James Corden's Carpool Karaoke, or anyone who loves to let their vocal cords loose on family road trips, will find a lot to love about Singing Machine's Carpool Karaoke, the Mic, which will be available later this year for $50 (around £38, AU$69).
Essentially, this Bluetooth-enabled microphone connects to your car's speakers, either via your phone or tablet or via your car radio's Aux port, and then lets you hear your voice over the speakers as you belt out your favorite ballad.
You're not restricted to any proprietary music app with this Mic: you can simply hook up to the radio and sing along to your local broadcasts. Or, you can find an unoccupied FM channel, then pair the Mic to your favorite app—Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, etc.—and sing along to the road trip playlist.
With the Mic itself, you can adjust the volume or echo of your voice through the car radio, and the Mic's lights will flash in time with the music.
Since 2013, PowerUp Toys has been Kickstarting smartphone-connected paper airplanes that you fold yourself, then fly via app, since 2013. Sometime later in 2019, they will launch a new Kickstarter for the 4.0 version.
This $60 (around £45, AU$80) plane, which you will once again have to fold yourself, features two propellers for double the power and more maneuverability; an autopilot-controlled flight feature that makes flying in windy conditions ultra-easy, and new on-board sensors that collect real-time flight performance data.
Tetris Micro Arcade
Super Impulse has made a name for itself selling tiny arcade cabinets of classic games like Pac-Man for your desk or tiny-handed toddlers. Now it is releasing business card-sized arcade emulators of classics like Tetris, Missile Command, Centipede, Pac-Man and Pong. They'll be out later this year for $20-25 (around £15, AU$30).
For kids too young to use the more advanced coding and robotics toys, Pai Technologies is launching PaiBotz, aimed for kids 4+.
These beginner kits, priced at $99 (around £75, AU$140), come with 150 physical blocks for constructing and customizing your bots, so young kids won't spend their entire playtime staring at a screen. Once the bot is built, your kid will use the free iOS/Android app for 30 AR coding puzzles, designed to instruct them in Block-based coding languages and techniques like sequencing and looping.
A STEM toy that bridges robotics and art, the Artie 3000 opens up to let kids insert their favorite markers, then use remote controls or coding to draw.
The SLOW MOTION RACE game
As a runner, nothing will ever be more challenging than a race where you're forced to slow your roll. But that's the amusing premise behind the Slow Motion race game by Hasbro, due to release towards the end of the year.
For $20 (around £10, AU$28), you get two headbands that track your movement via accelerometers. Move too quickly, or make too jerky of a motion, and the headset blares and turns red. You're then required to stop and watch your opponent inch ahead, until the color dies and you're allowed to move again.
During our "race", we were able to slide forward agonizingly slowly, just ahead of our opponent, only activating the alarm once when we lost our balance. But kids will likely eschew any caution and see how fast they can move while keeping their motion as fluid as possible.
It's a simple premise, and one that may not keep your kids entertained for too long before they move on to the next toy. But at least it's one of the few tech toys we saw this year that doesn't require kids stare endlessly at screens.
The LIE DETECTOR Game
Sitting across from the Hasbro rep, he asked us solemnly if I had ever picked at a scab and then eaten it. I nervously answered "no" and waited, heart pounding, while the Lie Detector beeped cryptically for a few seconds, and made a positive beep. I had told the truth.
My pounding heart, thankfully, wasn't tracked by Hasbro's new Lie Detector game, which costs $35 (around £25, AU$50) and hits shelves this August. Instead, the device focuses entirely on your voice. And the one time I did lie, it somehow knew from a simple "no" that I hadn't been truthful.
Hasbro says it uses "Layered Voice Analysis technology" to gauge "emotional reactions" in your voice, and determine whether or not you're hiding anything. You score points every time you tell the truth—or disguise your emotions well enough to convince the machine you've told the truth.
While the box comes with 64 cards with embarrassing questions to ask your friends, you can obviously branch out to whatever horrible line of inquiry you want, which could make this a hilariously ill-advised, friendship-breaking party game of choice.