10 tech toys to bring out your inner child
The Toy Fair at London's Olympia is always a fantastic way to see what the toy industry is up to. This year's show revealed that the toy world is continuing to embrace trends in mobile tech, develop ever-cleverer apps and invent some of the most fun gadgets we've seen since, well, this time last year.
Much of the technology on show at this year's Toy Fair is evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, with a few particularly interesting developments in drones, augmented reality gaming and 3D doodling tech that are worthy of mention.
So we've been sidestepping the Teletubbies and sifting through the mountains of licensed plastic tat that clutter up much of Olympia's exhibition space to select a few of these in our round-up of 10 tech toys to watch out for later this year from Toy Fair 2016.
The resurgence of trad tech
If there was a tech toy trend to be spotted at Toy Fair this year, it was retro gaming and the resurgence of what we might call "trad tech" toys – with some awesome new Meccano robots revealed and Wooky Entertainment's i-loom bracelet maker and Vivid Entertainment's PIXL emoticon creator both nabbing the coveted Toy Fair Best New Tech Toy awards.
Amazingly, the British toy industry is valued at £3.2 billion, according to the NPD Group, with an astounding 58,000 toys released in 2015. Much of these are products based on predictably profitable major film licenses such as Star Wars, Minions, Avengers and Jurassic Park.
But there is still a healthy amount of invention and innovation on show at Toy Fair, as our round-up clearly shows.
1. i-loom bracelet maker
A "trad tech" product picked up a coveted Tech Toy of Toy Fair Award this year, with Wooky Entertainment's i-loom bracelet maker and app being billed as "the next generation of bracelet making".
Simply design your bracelet using the i-loom app on the iPad, which lets you create, edit and view i-Patterns with the minimum amount of fuss. It's dead easy to create patterns and words, by dragging and dropping i-Motifs and letters on the iPad.
It may well be traditional, but it's a massively clever use of a well-designed iPad app and a solidly-built bracelet maker that's bound to be a massive hit with younger girls this coming Christmas, we confidently predict.
Get it from: Style Me Up
2. PIXL: make your own emoticons
Capitalising on the retro trend, Vivid Imagination's new PIXL also picked up a Tech Toy of Toy Fair Award this year, as it cleverly managed to mix together three things that youngsters love - creating personalised emoticons, animating them in funny ways and then being able to immediately share them with their mates in the playground.
Seriously, PIXL ticks every tech toy trend box possible, yet its impossible to be cynical about it once you've seen it and played with it. It's incredibly more-ish, and the ability to bump characters together to swap and share them with friends and family is genius!
For a penny under a mere ten quid, this is also one of the best value tech toys we saw at Toy Fair 2016 this year. Could well become the next massive playground craze this summer, if the marketing department at Vivid plays all its cards right...
There are six characters to choose from, each with different personalities and mini-games; Mash, Fluf, Yolo, and Flow (RRP £9.99 each) plus O and Flop Twin Pack (RRP £19.99).
Get it from: Vivid Toy And Games
Price: From £9.99
3. Meccano Micronoid
Meccano's huge Meccanoid robot was the star of the show last year, with the retro toy brand launching a cuter and much cheaper range this year, called Micronoids.
Kids love construction toys and robots, so combining the two in a nicely affordable package is a no-brainer for a seasoned brand such as Meccano. And if there was one sample product that we really wished we could have taken home from Toy Fair this year, then Meccanoid was it!
This latest release in Meccano's robot tech range is available at a pleasingly lower price-point Robot of £39.99, with three different characters to choose from, each equipped with a scary-sounding 'Meccabrain'!
Get it from: Meccano
4. Kidizoom Selfie Cam and Smart Watch DX
Not one to miss out on the latest tech trends, the kids' tech toy specialists over at V-Tech were proudly showing off the new Kidizoom Selfie Cam and the latest model of its youngster-friendly Smart Watch DX.
Both are reassuringly robust and will be available in a range of colours to appeal to 4 years old and upwards. Some parents might tut-tut at the very idea of a selfie-stick or a smart watch for a 4-year old, but after a few minutes of playing around with both prototypes, we realised that they work remarkably well as fun toys.
The Kidizoom Selfie Cam has a twist lens, so you can take front and rear-facing pics, and also has built-in selfie-apps for creative and engagingly fun photo play, whilst the Kidizoom Smart Watch DX is a new and notably nicer design than its predecessor, with 8 built-in games, a motion sensor and tons of extra content available at V-Tech's online Learning Lodge.
Get it from: VTech
Augmented Reality gaming was a big deal at Toy Fair 2016, with one of the highlights being Kazooloo, a new product from Mookie Toys.
A cross between a 3D shoot-em-up and a traditional board game, Kazooloo sees kids use their phone or tablet as a means of opening up the Kazooloo world, via the game board planted on the floor in front of where they are standing. The gameplay is fairly standard, but incredibly well designed, "shmup" fair, in which you collect gems to unlock bigger weapons to take on hordes of ever-bigger enemies.
If anything, this is more of a 'mixed reality' game, than a pure AR game, as the augmented reality aspect of the Kazooloo galaxy blurring the lines between the real and the virtual, with 3D baddies appearing to launch at you in the real-world environment directly from the game board. Plus, at £15, it's quite a bargain!
Get it here: Mookie
6. Oriinokards: AR dino pets
The second AR game that really stood out at this year's Toy Fair was an augmented reality dinosaur card-collecting game called Oriinokards, which is already something of a hit in Asia and launches in the UK later this year.
Bound to be a hit with younger boys and geekier dads alike, the fact that you can see your dino character come to life in front of you – by pointing your mobile or tablet at a range of collectible cards – is pretty impressive.
What's more impressive is the fact that the augmented reality aspect of the game just works. Really well. There were no glitches or dropping-off of character issues with the version of the game we played at Toy Fair, which bodes well for its success, we think, as many AR products to date have been blighted by poor tech and shonky game design. Also, who doesn't want to adopt a dinosaur?!
Get it here: Oriinokards
7. R-C Hover Blade
A cheaper, easier and fun alternative to the many drones currently out there on the market, this awesome 360 Hoverblade boomerang can launch from the ground or from a balancing position on your little finger.
Providing your finger isn't too fat (like ours was!) the 360 Hoverblade starts to spin very fast and soon takes off from a standing start. The slider controller takes a few minutes of getting used to, but you'll soon be mastering the control and performing all manner of impressive stunts with it. You can keep your expensive drones, we want this one to play with in the park this summer!
Plus, being priced at £26.99 and being made of a rugged, almost unbreakable hard foam-like material, this is cheaper and more durable than most other R=C flying toys out there.
Get it here: Spinmaster
8. X-Water underwater drone
Flying Gadgets have outdone themselves this year, with a sub-£50 drone that you can actually take onto (and slightly under) water, as you're flying it around your local boating lake!
It's a rugged little beast, that does what it says on the tin quite nicely, so if you're after a fun, low-frills, tough and well-built mini flying machine to have fun with on the beach, at the lake or in the park this summer, then the X-Water hits the spot!
Get it here: Flying Gadgets
9. Mardles AR stickers
Why should young kids be excluded from all the action in augmented reality gaming? And what would be the best 'format' of AR marker to use, to give these youngsters something to play with and collect, that will provide them with easy (and cheap) virtual fun to keep them entertained on long car journeys or for creative play at home?
Easy! It's stickers, isn't it? Imagine if an enterprising young British developer were to make great collectible stickers that also launched a range of augmented reality rockets, dinosaurs, unicorns and racing cars into the real-world environments to amaze and delight kids? Well imagine no more…
Mardles stickers could well take playgrounds across the nation by storm in 2016, if these £4.99 sticker packs start to capture the imagination of the kids as much as they captured ours at Toy Fair 2016 this week!
Get it here: Mardles
10. Space Hawk
Ravensburger Toys' latest Space Hawk game has certainly taken a leaf or two out of Disney Infinity, Skylanders and Nintendo Amiibo's game design books – as it cleverly mixes a 3D space game app on a smartphone, with an impressive looking physical spaceship that is going to immediately appeal to boys of a certain age.
The clever part of the game design is the fact that you don't have to touch or interact with your touchscreen on the smartphone in any way, as all the movements and shooting you are required to do is activated purely by moving the spaceship itself.
The idea being that the boy's imagination is triggered more by traditional methods of play, than by activating a game on a screen by using a touchscreen control. You need to play it really, to get it. But trust us, it works! And we want it!! Stay tuned for more news on the launch plans later this year…
Get it here: Ravensburger Toys