Skip to main content

Best toys: smart toys for kids of all ages

Included in this guide:

When searching for the best toys 2018, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. Lucky for you, we've spent hours playing with some of the best smart toys on the market, all in an effort to help you make the right decisions for play time. 

Testing toys is a hard job, but someone's got to do it.

While we could spend all day diving into the most advanced, very grown-up tech out there, there’s something special about covering technology that exists for one purpose: to have fun. 

Tech and toys are mingling in ways never before imagined, which boils down to a whole lot of fun, no matter how old you are. 

But what's the best toy out there? We’ve created a list of the best toys you can buy in 2018, all fantastic connected contraptions that have brought out our inner child.

[LEGO blocks, you probably had some when you were growing up, right? We doubt you had LEGO sets like the ones coming out later this year, however. 

We got an early look at the new LEGO kits you'll find on store shelves beginning in August, with many featuring connected smarts that take the staid plastic blocks to a whole new level. Keep a careful eye out for the new LEGO Batman App-Controlled Batmobile that you can maneuver with your phone.]  

To the LEGO Batmobile!

To the LEGO Batmobile!

Just like a toy box, there are tons of great toys to choose from on the market, with many growing smarter by the day. 

There are RC drones that you can pit head-to-head against each other, awesome Star Wars drones that you can control remotely, and even robots that you can build on your own and hold a conversation with. There really has never been a better time to let your inner child take control.

If you're feeling a bit lost with all the choices and unsure which toys are really the best out there, don't worry, because TechRadar has you covered. 

We’ve taken the time to put together this list of the best connected toys you can buy in 2018, each one tested and used extensively by us, in-house. 

Click the video below to watch our review of the Anki Overdrive: Fast & Furious Edition

So, if you’re looking for a gift for those younger family members, or even if you want to treat yourself to something special – do yourself a favor and check out this list of the best connected toys for 2018.

Sphero R2-Q5

This limited edition 'bot is one of the best-looking Spheo's around

Connectivity: Bluetooth connection (with up 100 foot range)
Battery: USB charging (once charged you should get 1 hour of play)
Dimensions: H17cm/ W10.8 cm/Weight 370g
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic looking+Brilliant smart features
Reasons to avoid
-For collectors only-Not as fun as the ball-shaped droids

Everywhere you look there is something Star Wars and that is a trend that is set to continue, thanks to Disney making sure that there will be a new Star Wars movie every single year. With this comes some toy tie-ins. Usually they are of something that's found in the movies, but the Sphero R2-Q5 is an anomaly and because of this limited edition. 

The Sphero R2-Q5 isn't a droid that's been in any recent Star Wars film but it is canon - it can be seen, if you squint, in the background of some scenes of Return of the Jedi and was also present in deleted scenes. 

In short: it's an evil version of Artoo. It has the same look, albeit with a black and gold makeover, and does similar bleeps with an added sinister twist. Those who have played with Sphero's R2-D2 will be right at home here and maybe that's an issue for some. This is definitely a droid that's for collectors, those who want to complete a collection rather than start it. We loved our time with Q5, but if you are after something a little bit more recognisable to watch the Star Wars movies with, then look elsewhere. If you already have those, then this is for you.

Merge Cube

Fantastic AR accessory that doesn't break the bank

App: iOS and Android compatible
Connectivity: Merge VR headset is optional
Other information: games and apps available from the Miniverse platform
Reasons to buy
+Great value for money+A lot of fun
Reasons to avoid
-More content needed-Glitches do happen

The Merge Cube is the latest gadget from Merge, a company fully invested in VR and AR. It's a soft spongy cube that transforms into a fantastic AR accessory when you load up a compatible app and view the content through a smartphone or Merge VR headset. It's been out in the US for a while now and there’s a very good reason it’s been flying off the shelves in the US: it’s cheap and really does open up AR, making the experience malleable.

When Oculus brought its controllers to the Rift, it completely changed the way you interacted with VR. The Merge’s AR Cube does the same thing for AR -
it enhances the augmented reality experience, giving both adults and children alike to come back to AR time and time again. 

Here’s hoping that Merge’s app push will bring some fantastic new ways to use the Cube because, at the moment, as fun as it is there's not enough content. But at this price, we have little to complain about.

  •  This product is only available in the US and UK at the time of this writing. Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Sphero Mini 

Sphero Mini

A tiny toy you can drive with your face

What’s in the Box: Sphero Mini Robot, Micro USB Cord, 3 Mini Traffic Cones, 6 Mini Bowling Pins
Tech Specs: iOS 10+ & Android 5.0+ compatible, Gyroscope & Accelerometer, LED Lights, Bluetooth connection, Micro USB charging (almost 1 hour of play on a full charge)
Dimensions: Height: 42mm / Width: 42mm / Weight 46g
Reasons to buy
+Great fun to use+Many different functionalities
Reasons to avoid
-Battery life could be better-Maybe too small?

The Sphero Mini seriously impressed us when we got it into the office to test. It may not be a known character as some of the other Sphero products, but it more than makes up for it in terms of how fun it is to play with. It’s easy to control, and moves at a satisfyingly fast speed.

The sheers scope of driving modes, games and educational elements make this a far more multi-faceted device than you’d assume it to be, and for the price, we highly recommend the Sphero Mini. 

Mekamon AR fighting robot

Never before has augmented reality felt so fighty

Smartphone Compatibility: iOS and Android compatible
Weight and dimensions: 2.2lb, is 11.8in x 11.8in x 5.9in
Connectivity: Bluetooth and infrared
Reasons to buy
+Robust build+Great design
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Works best as a pair

Let's get straight to the point: Mekamon is one of the best robots we’ve ever played with. It's that good. The way it moves feels a little Metal Gear Solid, a little spider-like, and genuinely gives the impression that there is life in those robotic limbs. 

However, and this could be an issue for some, it’s sold as an AR robot, but the AR element doesn’t feel as developed as the robot itself, which means it’s at its best when fighting in a pair. And if you were to buy a pair then this could become a pricey present indeed. Brilliant, mind, but oh-so pricey.

  •  This product is only available in the US and UK at the time of this writing. Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit 

Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit

Building your very own Artoo is a whole galaxy of fun...

Item Weight: 1.8 Kg
Product Dimensions: 30 x 15 x 40 cm
Manufacturer recommended age: 8 - 18 years
Reasons to buy
+Superb introduction into electronics+Nice, informative
Reasons to avoid
-Once built, it's a little limited-DIY ethic might not be for everyone

In the Star Wars universe it was always C-3P0 that was being dismantled and put back together again. Now it’s the turn of R2-D2, thanks to the incredible connected toy from littleBits. The Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit is a fantastic 3D jigsaw puzzle of a toy, that comes with its own moving parts. Comprising 23 Droid parts, 6 Bits (the connectors that make everything work) and a whole host of stickers, the idea is that you build your very own R2-D2 and then code it to do things, thanks to the accompanying app. 

Much like the Sphero R2-D2, this is very much official Star Wars merchandise, so the droid - once you put the thing together - has more than 20 Artoo sounds and will roam around your house self navigating itself. You can also control it to do a number of missions and activities. And while it plays like a toy, there’s a decent amount of education hidden within the fun. This is a full-on masterclass in teaching electronics without feeling like you are at school. In our tests, it was fun and not fiddly to put together, thanks to the little magnets that mean the blocks snap together effortlessly, and the little Star Wars flourishes are a joy. 

With a new coding feature based on the Scratch Books platform launching in mid-April, there will be even more ways to customize and play with the Droid Inventor Kit than ever before. If you've been holding off buying a DIY droid, consider this Artoo to end your search. 


Cards and music mix to offer up a fantastic, original experience

Product Dimensions: 2.6 x 23.5 x 10.2 inches
Includes: 60 DropMix cards featuring music from top artists and popular songs
Mobile app: The mobile app controls the game and makes any mix sound incredible
Reasons to buy
+Great, original game+Really easy to pick up and play
Reasons to avoid
-It’s quite expensive-Could get even more costly with extra packs

DropMix is one of the most original games to grace this Best Toys list. It’s made by Harmonix, the folks behind Rock Band, and is a card game of sorts where you can make music with your friends. The DropMix Bluetooth-equipped board consists of five color-coded spaces (similar to the fret on a Rock Band guitar) and the idea is that you ‘drop’ NFC-enabled cards onto the relevant slot to make sweet music. The only thing you need to do this is your phone and the accompanying app. 

DropMix comes equipped with 60 cards and depending on how you put the cards down, you can mashup myriad songs or remix hits. It’s good, addictive fun and the best thing about it is that it’s been designed so you can’t really make a bum note, regardless of how tone deaf you actually are. There’s three modes on offer. There is a freestyle section of the game where you can play on your own but it’s much better with two playing, where the game turns into a competitive musical version of snap. If you do grow bored of the mix of cards - to be honest, we haven't yet - more packs are on offer but if you go down that road, you may end up paying princely sum for the game. 

  • This product is only available in the US and UK at the time of this writing. Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Sphero Mini 

Nintendo amiibo

Add new content to your games with these NFC-compatible toys

Compatible platforms: Switch, Wii U, New Nintendo 3DS (older models require separate NFC reader)
Size: 20 cm (7.9 in)
Connectivity: NFC
Reasons to buy
+Great build quality+Add new items to games
Reasons to avoid
-Isn’t compatible with Nintendo DS-Some amiibo are very rare

Nintendo’s inevitable reaction to the astronomical triumph of Activision’s Skylanders franchise and the now defunct Disney Infinity franchise, Amiibo have become some of the most popular NFC toys on the market. Often launched to support major titles (such as Super Mario Odyssey or Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle), these small toys work with built-in NFC readers in the Nintendo Switch, Wii U and later editions of the 3DS/2DS and can be used and reused daily to add more content to certain games. And while they’re usually not as expensive as Skylander toys, collecting the entire set can be a headache as Nintendo notably failed to make enough units for prior releases. 

Star Wars Propel Battle Drones

Bring the galactic fight to your home with these flying SW toys

Top speed: 35Mph
Size: 19 x 5.5 x 33.5 cm
Speed Settings: 3 (Plus T-Mode training mode)
Ages: 14+
Battery: 6-8 minutes
Charge Time: 15 minutes
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Reasons to buy
+Easy to control and fly+Fantastic attention to detail
Reasons to avoid
-No on-board camera-Batteries difficult to remove

Beginning in 2015 when the series returned to cinemas, a plethora of Star Wars drones have launched, but it’s the line from Propel that’s reliably been one of the best. From the extraordinary packaging (where a model of the vehicle itself as used as clasp to seal it tight), to the phenomenal attention to detail, these toys are great for collectors and hopeful star pilots. The series includes a 74-Z Speeder Bike, a Star Wars T-65 X-Wing – which we reviewed for this very list –and the TIE Advanced X1. Each comes with a user friendly controller, one button 360-degree tricks and a selection of three speeds.  

  • This product is only available in the US and UK at the time of this writing. Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit 

Skylanders Imaginators

Create your own virtual platforming hero

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Wii U, PS3, Xbox 360
Reasons to buy
+Supports all previous models+Lots of customization options
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive outlay for entire collection-No physical customization

The sixth and most recent version of the influential ‘Toys to Life’ series, Skylanders Imaginators is all about allowing its young players the tools to build their very own swashbuckling hero via an remarkably deep customization feature. These heroes can then be stored in NFC-compatible ‘crystals’ and transferred into the series’ Portal Of Power peripheral (which reads the models or crystals placed on it and generates them on-screen.) While it may not be the most innovative idea of the series (2013’s Swap Force still has that claim), Imaginators still offers a level of creativity that’s unheard of in the genre.  

Anki Overdrive

Race these smart toy cars for a supercharged showdown

Starter Pack contents: Two robotic supercars, six curved track pieces, four straight track pieces, a four-car charging platform, two riser pieces and one tyre cleaner
Dimensions: Size H30.4, W60.2, D15.3cm (Starter Pack)
Reasons to buy
+Easy to use and set up+Nine different AIs to battle
Reasons to avoid
-Need smart device to play-Expansion packs are pricey

With the newest version of Anki’s smart toy racing concept, Anki Overdrive, they boast one of the most original connected toy experiences on the market. The idea is super simple – build a physical track (full of sharp turns, elevations and quick straights), place your connected Anki cars on the track and let the Anki Overdrive app do the rest for you. With nine AI personalities that change with how you play, it’s just like a racing video game you can customize, Scalextric style in your living room. Thanks to a regular flow of updates, the game is now better than ever with the need the scan the track before every race now eliminated if you’ve made no changes to it since the last race.

We're going to get the Fast & Furious edition of Overdrive reviewed soon, too. Once we do, we'll update this list with our thoughts.

Anki Overdrive Fast & Furious Edition

Movie tie-in offers up some surprise additions to the racing game

Pack contents: 1 Dom’s Ice Charger, 1 Hobbs’ MXT3 straight pieces, 1 NEW Power Zone track piece, 6 90-dgree curved track pieces, 12 guardrails, 2 riser pieces, 1 4-car charging platform, 1 tire cleaner.
Reasons to buy
+A lot of fun+Great movies noises and nods
Reasons to avoid
-A little fiddly to set up

Well, this is a lot of fun. Even if you're not a fan of the Fast & Furious franchise, there is a lot to like about Anki's latest release. The cars are fantastic, the effects and track are superb and there is a real 'game' feeling to the whole thing. Be warned, though: it's a little fiddly to setup. 

There were three tech journalists scratching their heads at some points of the setup but this was mainly due to connecting up the cars with the accompanying app. It eventually worked but we did have to follow the 'reset' instructions to get the cars moving. Once done, though, it's an exhilarating ride, one you can have on your own (competing against and AI driver) or with friends.

The pack comes with two cars, Dom’s Ice Charger and Hobbs’ MXT3 but you do get the choice of upgrades, as well as weaponry that will put even the hardiest driver into a spin. In fact, it's when the virtual weapons come in that you can have a lot of fun - it really adds to the drive and takes away the 'car that's on the inside will always win' problem that you sometimes get with racers.

As for track, there are eight to choose from out of the box (all easy to set up, with magnets clicking everything into place) and there is the option to shift things up a gear and expand the track and cars - but this will cost you extra. As movie tie-ins go, though, this is an absolute blast.

Star Wars Sphero BB-8 + Force Band

Control your new favorite droid like never before

Charge: USB charging
Wristband Weight: 23g
Battery: 60 mins
Dimensions: H11.4 cm/W7.3 cm/Weight 200g
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Reasons to buy
+Accurate motion control+Decent battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Needs smooth, flat surfaces-Long-winded setup

Sphero brought the ultra cute BB-8 to life back in 2015, but back then we had to use our smartphones or tablets to control the little droid dude. Thankfully, you can now buy a special wristband that uses hand gestures to send him rolling around your home, and it’s proved to be one of the best and most responsive control designs we’ve ever used. Throwing your hand forwards like a real-life Force Push will send BB rolling forwards, while moving it side to will change direction, and up and down for speed. It takes around an hour to set up, which is annoying at best, but thankfully you only have to endure it once.

Recently, an alternative to Sphero BB-8 was released - the Sphero BB-9E, a bad droid that's set to make its debut in The Last Jedi. It's equally a lot of fun to use!

  •  This product is only available in the US and UK at the time of this writing. Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit 

Mass Effect: Andromeda RC Nomad ND1

Explore a new solar system (and your home) with this trusty RC

Scale: 1:18
Charging: Built-in rechargeable battery with USB charge cable
Connectivity: Bluetooth, app enabled
Reasons to buy
+Six wheel drive / front, rear steering+Built-in camera
Reasons to avoid
-Smartphone app can lag-Doesn’t include copy of game

It might be a little disappointing that the Nomad ND1 doesn’t actually contain a copy of Mass Effect: Andromeda – even if it was marketed as a collector’s edition of that game – however, that shouldn’t distract you from how great this RC car is even on its own. With a special six-wheel drive, the Nomad ND1 offers extremely fine control, thanks to a flexible pair of front and rear axles, a robust suspension that allows it to hit small jumps and built-in LEDs so you don’t lose it in the dark. It also comes with its own in-built camera, which you can use while controlling it from your phone/tablet. Even if you’re not a fan of the game, this RC car is one of the best licensed products that we have seen in a long time. 

  •  This product is only available in the US and UK at the time of this writing. Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Anki Overdrive 

Star Wars Sphero R2-D2

This is the droid you are looking for

Connectivity: Bluetooth connection (100 foot range)
Battery: USB charging (over 1 hour of play on a full charge)
Dimensions: H17cm/ W10.8 cm/Weight 370 g
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic replica model of R2-D2+Mannerisms, controls are great
Reasons to avoid
-Pricier than other Sphero drones-Up against many other R2-D2s in the market

The Sphero R2-D2 is an impressive, most impressive, connected toy. It is a superb replica of the best-loved Star Wars droid and one that comes to life with the more droids you have. 

Whether you are controlling it through its easy to use app, watching Star Wars with it (you can watch all the prequels, Rogue One and A New Hope and it will interact) or admiring it on your shelf, you'll enjoy the company of Sphero's latest droid.  While we would like to have seen a bit more interactivity when we weren't actually using the droid, it's the smartest Star Wars toy we've ever played with.

  •  This product is only available in the US and UK at the time of this writing. Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit 

Anki Cozmo

The small smart robot that's full of big ideas

Included in the box: Self-aware Cozmo Robot, Charger, Interactive Power Cubes
Battery: 30 minutes for 1.5 hours of play time
Reasons to buy
+Cozmo is really fun to use+Code Lab is simple and addictive
Reasons to avoid
-Setup isn't as smooth as we'd like-It's a pricey bit of kit

You will laugh, smile and fist-bump along to Anki Cozmo and the 'bot will follow you every step of the way. Cozmo is an intelligent, fun toy - one you can program and play with - that may look simple but its cute exterior hides a complex AI brain that you tap into thanks to the updated and easy to use app. 

All of this fun does come at a price, though. But this is one toy that's only going to get better with age - and if the latest app update is anything to go by, Anki will be making significant upgrades as and when it can. 

Although the box says from 8 years and up, Cozmo had this 30-something smiling time and time again - it's a connected toy that truly connects.

Ubtech Jimu Robot TankBot Kit

What's in the box: Six Robotic servo motors, Intuitive programming via an app, 190 snap-together pieces
Connectivity: Bluetooth, iPhone or iPad app
Reasons to buy
+Fun coding mechanism+Great to control
Reasons to avoid
-Take a long time to create-Instructions are quite daunting

The Jimu Robot TankBot Kit is part toy, part coding king. It comes in the box ready to assemble and while this will take some time, it's worth the wait. Yes, the instructions seem a bit daunting at first - it's more like a CAD file than a LEGO set - but once you get the hang of clicking all the 190 bits into place, the installation process of Jimu Robot TankBot is a lot of fun. While you are creating your TankBot, an accompanying app shows your progress through a 3D model of the thing you are creating. We recommend you using the app on a tablet rather than a phone, though, as the bigger screen lets you more easily see and manipulate the interactive instructions. 

Once construction is completed, there's an array of pre-programs you can use to control Jimu, ranging from making it lift things to it following a set path. It's also endlessly programmable, too, which means you'll have a lot of fun with what is essentially an educational tool.

Sphero Ultimate Lightning McQueen

It’s like an RC car on steroids, the top gear of toys

Connectivity: Bluetooth, OS, Android, Kindle & Chrome App compatible
Battery: 40 minutes per charge (1 hour charge time) **Speed:** 6Mph
Dimensions: L8.2cm/W25.1cm/Weight: 916g
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic range of app functions+Some superb animations
Reasons to avoid
-Very pricey-Only suitable for indoor use

Taking advantage of another Disney license, Sphero's Ultimate Lightning McQueen toy, based on the star of Pixar’s Cars franchise, is a fantastic connected toy and one of the techiest we've seen. Designed by a team of 40 people (with help from key Pixar staff), it’s a perfect recreation of the character. McQueen isn’t just a remote controlled car (though he’s a very good one at that), but an animated, speaking, expressive one as well. 

Squeezing a respectable 40 minutes of play time out of a two hour charge, he’s got a 30 meter range and a top speed of 6Mph. Controls take the form of a digital thumbstick through your phone or tablet’s touchscreen, meaning he’ll be easy to steer for anyone that’s picked up a console game pad before. Yes it's pricey, but you can see where every penny goes. 

  •  This product is only available in the US and UK at the time of this writing. Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Anki Overdrive 

Mover Kit

Brilliant DIY smart wearable for kids

In The Box: Rechargeable battery, LED unit, case, micro controller, strap
Battery: 5 hours on a single charge
Reasons to buy
+Fun to assemble+Decent price
Reasons to avoid
-A little too DIY for its own good-Computer needed, no app

Part wearable, part coding platform, Mover Kit is a fun device from the folks that helped designed the BBC micro:bit. Mover Kit comes in parts and takes around 15 minutes to assemble, then the real fun starts. The idea is that you can program the wearable to do a number of things - with the hope that it will get kids up and active. On board are LED lights, an accelerometer and a compass - and the ability to program these features any which way you want. All you have to do is plug Mover Kit into a computer, install Bolt, and start the achingly simple process of coding.  

It would be good if there was Wi-Fi/Bluetooth on board, so you don't have to use a computer but an app for a smartphone or tablet instead, but this niggle aside (and we know that would ramp up the costs) it's a fun and inventive device that makes it cool to code. It's all a little DIY but don't let this put you off - it all adds to the entertainment.

Marc Chacksfield

Marc Chacksfield is the Editor In Chief, at DC Thomson. He started out life as a movie writer for numerous (now defunct) magazines and soon found himself online - editing a gaggle of gadget sites, including TechRadar, Digital Camera World and Tom's Guide UK. At Shortlist you'll find him mostly writing about movies and tech, so no change there then.