8 top techie gifts for kids this Christmas

19 Nov 2014

Clockwise from top left: VTech Kidizoom Smart Watch; Lego Benny's Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP!; My Friend Cayla; littleBits Arduino Coding Kit; vinyl Steve from Minecraft figure; Osmo game system with iPad

With 2014 set to be the biggest year for toy sales since 2010, here’s our guide to the best gadget gifts for tech-savvy kids, from tots to tweens.

From Saturday, the nine-day Christmas Toy Show will take over the RDS in Dublin and, before you know, the nation will be sitting down to watch The Late Late Toy Show, making sure that we’re all well informed of the toys expected to dominate children’s wish lists this Christmas.

Of course, it comes as no surprise to us at Silicon Republic that tech-based toys are becoming more and more popular with young folk. They are a generation of digital natives, after all.

That said, some of our favourite toys on offer for Christmas 2014 are a fantastic blend of the modern and the traditional.

“Toy trends develop and change every year and, although tech is now given a heavy focus, toys based on more traditional themes, such as arts and crafts, are a phenomenal trend this year,” said Linzi Walker, chief toy buyer at Argos.

“In many cases, the more innovative and technologically advanced toys, like Cayla, are built upon the simple classics, such as the toy doll.”

My Friend Cayla interactive doll

The Cayla Walker refers to is My Friend Cayla, a doll from Vivid that’s expected to be one of the most in-demand toys for Christmas 2014.

My Friend Cayla and Cayla's Best Friend Chloe

Vivid’s My Friend Cayla (left) and Cayla’s Best Friend Chloe, €56.99 each, Argos

Cayla is like the doll equivalent of Siri, the know-it-all voice from Apple’s mobile products. She can tell stories and play games with kids, but she’s also a font of information if they want to ask her a question.

Cayla’s knowledge is powered by Google SafeSearch technology, ensuring that unsuitable words and feedback are kept at bay. Parents can even add words and phrases to Cayla’s filters using the My Friend Cayla app, which is available in a number of languages from the App Store and Google Play. And, if Cayla doesn’t float your boat, there’s also Cayla’s Best Friend Chloe.

Osmo iPad games system

Like Cayla, the Osmo Game System – which was invented by ex-Googlers – blends classic toys and games with modern technology.

With the iPad slotted into the Osmo dock and the Reflector piece snapped over the front-facing camera, any surface can become an interactive playing field.

Ages six and up can use the colourful block shapes, lettered and numbered tiles, or even good old pen and paper to interact with the virtual challenges, with an added dimension of fun. They can even add more games to the mix from the App Store.

Osmo game system for iPad

Osmo Game System, US$79.99, Osmo

There are three Osmo kits available, costing US$79.99 each with free international shipping if you buy three or more.

Kano DIY computer kit

Kano’s build-your-own computer kit is suitable for ages six to 14, but I can see many a mam and dad getting to grips with this one. The kit comes packed with a Raspberry Pi computer board and a plastic case, speaker, colourful keyboard and HDMI cable to connect to a monitor or TV screen. Once the DIY element is taken care of, kids can start the fun of learning by using Kano’s Python-based computer language, which uses the concept of jigsaw pieces to teach kids to code.

Kano DIY computer kit

Kano’s DIY computer kit, €150, Kano

The full kit costs €150, with free shipping to many international destinations, including Ireland.

GoldieBlox books and puzzles

Despite what a lot of toy packaging and advertising would lead you to believe, not all budding engineers are little boys. Thankfully, for future female engineers aged six to nine, there’s GoldieBlox.

Each GoldieBlox set comes with an illustrated book following Goldie as she builds machines and solves problems with the help of her animal friends. The puzzles included then give kids the chance to bring Goldie’s machines to life themselves, with figurines, a pegboard, tools and materials. All the while, the kids are picking up basic engineering concepts, such as tension, force and friction.

GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine, €31.50, Cogs The Brain Shop

GoldieBlox doesn’t currently ship to Ireland from the official website, but the toys launched in stores in the UK, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Singapore and the Philippines this autumn, while Amazon maintains a varied collection.

LittleBits electronics kits

When we met littleBits Electronics CEO Ayah Bdeir at the Web Summit in Dublin, we were wowed by these modular, magnetic electronic pieces and inspired by their potential. With a just a dash of imagination added, littleBits kits can be used to build all sorts of electronics, such as synthesisers or light switches or cloud-controlled doorbells.

LittleBits Arduino Coding Kit

Arduino Coding Kit, US$89, littleBits

The library of littleBits modules is still expanding but beginners can start with the basic Arduino Coding Kit (US$89), which comes with eight popular modules and can be used to build an electronic Etch-a-Sketch or an analogue game of Pong.

All of the kits are worth exploring, though, and more variety equates to more fun kids can have combining pink inputs and green outputs as they please. They could even smarten up the family home with the new littleBits Smart Home Kit.

Minecraft merchandise

Minecraft mania will likely have set in on many a household by now and there are plenty of worthy gifts for fans of the pixelated block-building video game.

From costumes, collectibles and Lego Minecraft kits, to foam tools, Creeper hoodies and even a ‘diamond’ necklace, the Minecraft store has dug up all manner of game-related merchandise available across the web at a range of price points.

Minecraft toys

A selection of products from Minecraft’s online store

Of course, if your young one hasn’t caught the Minecraft bug yet, you could always pick up the game itself.

Benny’s Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP! from The Lego Movie

Another franchise that’s enduringly popular with kids – and for which Minecraft has a lot to thank – is Lego. There are few children young and old who don’t get excited by these brick-building kits, and if your kids are even a fraction as excited as 1980-something spaceguy Benny is about building spaceships in The Lego Movie, then this is the kit for them.

Lego Benny's Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP

Benny’s Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP!, Lego

Priced from €79 on PriceSpy.ie, this particular Lego model is fit for a Master Builder and, when complete, you can push the middle exhaust to extend the wings, unleash hidden spring-loaded cannons, fire stud blasters, raise the satellite dish and detach the wing flyers.

VTech Kidizoom Smart Watch

Apparently, kids catch on quickly to new tech trends as the Kidizoom Smart Watch from VTech (available from €31.19) is tipped to be a popular toy this Christmas. There’s also a lower-cost Leap Band from Leap Frog available from €26.76.

VTech Kidizoom Smart Watch

VTech Kidizoom Smart Watch, Argos

While not fitted with activity trackers, the Kidizoom Smart Watch does come with all the other mod-cons we’ve come to associate with wearable tech, such as a touchscreen interface, a built-in camera for photos and video, and a rechargeable battery.

Kids can also edit pictures they take by adding stamps and effects and there are three playable games loaded on the device. My favourite feature, though, is the recorder which can add silly effects to voice recordings.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.