Best toys 2017: smart toys for kids of all ages

The best connected toys are unbelievably varied, from Star Wars droids that you can control remotely, robots that you can hold a conversation with or drones that you can pit head to head against each other, 2017 truly is the ideal time to finally let your inner child take control, if at least for a little while. That’s why TechRadar has taken this opportunity to create a list of the best connected toys that we have played around with in 2017. So, if you are looking to buy a gift for the younger members of your family (or simply treat yourself with a neat little gadget), you are in the right place – there are just so many great connected toys and smart gadgets included here that you will want to get your hands on. 

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

Just like any of TechRadar’s buying guides, we’ve taken extra care to have this last span as many of the categories in the connected toy world as we could. A few will require a game console to play with (such as the Skylanders Imaginators game or Nintendo’s Amiibo, which use NFC-friendly figures to summon in game characters and items) while some – like the delightful Star Wars Battle Drones from Propel – can be used without any extra equipment or devices. There are also some more idiosyncratic gadgets on this list, such as a modern take on the toy racing made popular by Scalextric back in the ’80s and a wearable that you can program to do amazing things.

The toys on this list didn’t earn their title of ‘the best connected toys’ for nothing though, every single one has either been extensively played with or thoroughly tested. With that in mind, sit back, get your wallet ready and prepare to let your inner child out  with TechRadar’s list of the best connected toys.

One to watch

It might be small for a Stormtrooper but the upcoming toy from Ubtech Robotics is prime to be a must have. It’s an app-enabled Star Wars First Order Stormtrooper Robot, which has AR features (through a companion app), voice command, facial recognition, and sentry patrolling. What this basically means is that the Stormtrooper will patrol around an assigned area and alert you if any intruders come close. 

You can speak to it, too, and it will also recognise your face. There might be a lot of Star Wars toys out there (see below) but this one may well be the most interactive yet. We can’t wait to play with it.

The The Star Wars First Order Stormtrooper Robot by Ubtech is available for pre-order at starwars.ubtrobot.com.

Toys included

  • Nintendo amiibo 
  • Star Wars Propel Battle Drones 
  • Skylanders Imaginators
  • Anki Overdrive
  • Star Wars Sphero BB-8 + Force Band
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda remote control Nomad ND1
  • Star Wars Sphero R2-D2
  • Anki Cozmo
  • Jimu Robot
  • Mover Kit
  • Sphero Ultimate Lightning McQueen

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. 

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.  

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.  

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.

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.

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!

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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