If you’re looking for gift ideas, it’s hard to go wrong with toys. That said, you still want to get the most value for your buck. You want toys that are durable, fun, refreshing, and even educational. There’s no shortage of great stuff out there—which can make shopping for a neat toy even more confusing. This list highlighting 10 great toy picks should take some of the muddle out of your decision-making.
Sbyke S-16 – Frankly, the Sbyke looks like the product of muddled love between a skateboard, a bike, and a scooter, but it’s a hot toy—and it’s also a great in-between vehicle for younger bike/scooter enthusiasts who still need a little practice with balancing. Older kids will have a good time attempting to pull off tricks, too.
Switch & Go Dinos – Dinosaurs are always a popular toy pick. Robots and cars are safe bets, too. So you can imagine why VTech’s Switch & Go Dinos, which transform from cars into robot dinosaurs, will completely make any robot-crazy kid’s day. Each dinosaur is also equipped with a screen that tells dinosaur facts.
FurReal Friends – The FurReal Friends line of stuffed toy pets is a warm and fuzzy alternative for kids that love animals, but suffer from allergies. Popular picks include GoGo My Walkin’ Pup, the Hop N’ Cuddle Bunnies, Baby Butterscotch pony and the Walkin’ Snuggimals dog breeds.
Imaginext’s Samurai Castle – This samurai-themed playset is a good choice for kids enthralled with tales about warriors and swordfights. The Samurai Castle is packed with fun secrets, including a hidden exit, a zipline, and a firing canon. The playset comes with everything a kid needs for an epic battle, including armed samurai and ninja warriors.
Barbie Mega Bloks – Barbie has so many playsets, it makes sense that she’d eventually opt-in for a fixer-upper. Mega Bloks’ Barbie line has tons of accessories kids can assemble themselves, including the Build ‘N Style Convertible, the Build ‘N Style Beach House, and even a Build ‘N Style Ice Cream Cart.
Apptivity – Apptivity blends the tactical and the digital by letting kids using specialized toys to interact with iPad applications (included with purchase). Real Hot Wheels cars run along tracks that are generated on-screen, WWE wrestlers tussle in virtual rings, and the guys and ghouls from Monster High socialize in digital hallways. Don’t worry—Apptivity toys are screen-safe and won’t scuff up your iPad!
Monopoly Zapped – Few board games have undergone an overhaul as often as Monopoly, so it makes sense that the classic game of buy-and-sell would be re-outfitted for the digital age. Players utilize the game board and an iPad app to buy, sell, and auction property. iPad not included.
Angry Birds – The Angry Birds franchise has a robust presence at retail. What, you thought those temperamental birds would let themselves remain cooped up behind a tablet screen forever?
Jake and the Pirates Musical Ship – Between scurvy and an assured death at the end of a rope, the lifestyle of a pirate was anything but glorious. But the nice thing about being a kid is that you don’t have to know about any of that. This music-playing pirate ship is chock full of secret passages, and is equipped with a working canon.
LeapFrog LeapPad 2 – The LeapPad 2 is a great in-between step for young kids who may not be ready for their own tablet just yet. It’s durable, and is able to download exclusive learning and entertainment apps from the LeapFrog Connect App Store. Also see handheld educational video game system the Leapster GS, great for portable learning and entertainment.
Looking for other great options? Target’s got a great deal on Disney’s Ultimate Princess Doll collection; Hasbro Games is offering 21st century versions of Star Wars, Twister, Monopoly and more, as well as low-tech tabletop versions of Angry Birds; Imperial Toy’s Kidz Bop musical microphones and guitars rock; and Playskool’s Spider-Man toys are fun for boys as well. The good news: Whichever way you turn, there are tons of great options to please kids, and kids at heart.
A smarter way to play: Video games industry analysis, reviews & insight.
It’s remarkable how quickly smartphone and tablet games shot up into mainstream relevancy. Specifically, games for iOS (Apple’s iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) are holding their own in the video game market alongside consoles and handheld gaming systems like the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita.
But iOS games are downloadable. Can they still make a good gift? Sure! A $25 iTunes card can buy tons of great games, especially since iOS games tend to go on sale frequently. Just hand over a card, plus this list of 2012’s top ten iOS games (or you can memorize it).
Rayman Jungle Run – Rayman Jungle Run is currently one of 2012’s top-rated iOS games, and for good reason. This endless runner/platforming hybrid challenges you to tear across tons of levels at top speed while still keeping an eye out for enemies, pits, and secrets. It looks great, too. Good luck.
Angry Birds Star Wars – This is the iOS game you are looking for. Angry Birds Star Wars puts Rovio’s famous fowl into the robes of various Jedi and Rebels. On the other side are the ever-nefarious Pigs, serving the Empire’s whims like the scum that they are. In the end, the battle between Good and Evil comes down to a lot of flinging, flying, and screaming—more or less what you’d expect from an Angry Bird game.
Symphonica – Symphonica is a different kind of rhythm game that lets you sample what it’s like to be a concert conductor. Unfortunately, your orchestra is on the verge of collapse and you need to build it up. It’s like the movie Mr Holland’s Opus, but with more cute anime-style visuals.
Punch Quest – Punch Quest is a retro-style arcade beat-em-up that knows how to have fun. Use your fists to break your way through walls of enemies, or just take the easy way out by hopping on a dinosaur that shoots lasers from its mouth.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted – Most Wanted is a bit pricey for an iOS game (currently, the normal asking price is $6.99 USD), but what you get in exchange is a racing game that’s pretty darn close to a full console experience. Need for Speed: Most Wanted looks good, moves smoothly, and lets you race, race, race with over 35 customizable cars.
Girls Like Robots – Adult Swim’s Girls Like Robot is one of the cutest, most unique puzzle apps you can nab for iOS. You’re in charge of seating arrangements, and you need to make everyone happy if you want to advance to the next level. Remember: Girls like robots, but they don’t like nerds. Nerds like robots, but man, they can’t stand each other. Ready to get to work?
Arc Squadron – If you miss Nintendo’s Star Fox space-shooter series, Arc Squadron might help fill that fox-shaped gap in your heart. Fly, blast your way through asteroids, bomb enemies into oblivion—and, of course, perform barrel rolls to your heart’s content.
Bad Piggies – Okay, okay—maybe the Pigs from Angry Birds have their own reasons for being bad. Hunger is a strong motivator, after all. In Bad Piggies, you take the role of the Pigs and build all kinds of crazy contraptions in hopes of stealing the Birds’ eggs. Can’t make an omelette without breaking a few bones, right?
Splice: Tree of Life – Splice is an artistic puzzle game that demonstrates iOS titles don’t just have to feature mindless tapping. Your goal is to re-arrange strands of DNA via splicing until you morph into a target structure. It’s original, it’s addictive, and the soundtrack is very, very pretty. Beware though: Splice only works on the iPad.
Chrono Trigger – Chrono Trigger was released for iOS at the tail-end of 2011, but for the love of all space and time, don’t deny yourself the chance to play this wonderful classic RPG by Square-Enix. Originally released for the SNES in 1995, Chrono Trigger is still one of the most beloved games of all time. Its iOS re-release demonstrates that its story, characters, and time-ripping mechanics have all held up very well.
While the kitchen may still be the physical hub for the family, more and more families are taking advantage of the power of smartphones to help them stay on top of their family life.
According to the mobile security experts at Lookout, nearly 2/3 of parents with 5 or more in the family consider the smartphone to be the mobile command center of the family. Nearly half use it to coordinate grocery lists and entertained, as well as keep their kids entertained.
As fun as they are, Angry Birds and Words with Friends won’t get everyone to soccer practice on time, so here’s our list of five essential apps for parents to help them stay in control of their family.
Cozi – Cozi’s an app that can do a little bit of everything for your family. With calendars, shopping lists, to-do lists ad more that sync across all your family devices, there’s no excuse for anyone to say they didn’t know where they supposed to be. This means that if you add to the shopping list from your device at home, your husband will have it updated in real-time, even if he’s at the store. You can also log onto your Cozi account on the computer to update and track information from there. Cozi can also send out e-mail and text reminders for any event, if you want them.
Kik Messenger – A program like Kik Messenger or another messaging program is great for families to be able to stay in touch without worrying about racking up the texting minutes. What sets them apart from using your phone’s regular messaging capabilities is the ability to easily add other people to conversations as well as add photos directly to a dialogue. Kik Messenger also works across all different types of devices, so it’s especially handy for families in which not everyone has the same type of phone.
Find My iPhone – While ostensibly designed to help find lost smartphones or remotely erase data in case it gets stolen, Apple’s app (and an equivalent Android app such as Andriod Lost) is great for giving parents piece of mind that they can track their kids by using their phones. With these apps installed, you can make sure your kids are where they say they are by viewing their location on an app. The safety feature
A Family Matters – While it’s tempting during downtime for everyone to get lost in their own devices, the A Family Matters app makes using a smartphone a family affair, with games and activities designed for everyone to participate in. So whether you’re at a restaurant waiting for food or at the theater waiting for the movie to start, A Family Matters is an app that can actually bring your whole clan together, and for that we think it’s essential.
Lost Kidz – Heaven forbid something should happen to your kid, but if it does then the Lost Kidz app can act like an APB to everyone else in your vicinity running the app. If your kid disappears, you can send out an immediate alert to all users in the area to notify them. A second alert will go out even wider. It’s horrible to think of worst-case scenarios, but if something bad does happen, an app like Lost Kidz can help make sure you’re prepared.