The best tech toys you can buy

The Insider Picks team writes about stuff we think you’ll like. Business Insider has affiliate partnerships, so we get a share of the revenue from your purchase.

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The Insider Pick:

  • In a world where kids are constantly exposed to electronics, tech toys for kids need to be fun to play, provide a bit of a challenge, encourage problem-solving skills, and do something cool to grab their attention. The Osmo Genius Kit does just that by merging the best features of an iPad with physical game pieces and drawing tools.

If one of your favorite sayings is, “Youth is wasted on the young,” first, it’s time to update your lingo. Even though there’s plenty of truth in that saying, using it means you’re going to be labeled a “get off my lawn” type of person for the rest of your days. Nobody needs that.

Second, we’re willing to cut you some slack based on the context of how you’re using that saying. If you were the kid who received socks, sweaters, and Slinkys for the holidays, you may use that saying because you’re jealous of the cool tech toys the kids receive these days. In other words, kids don’t know how great they have it today. (Ugh, now I’m doing it.)

The best tech toys for kids can do some pretty amazing things. They also have an educational aspect to them, but they’re so much fun to use, kids may not even realize they’re learning. Best of all, you can feel young again by playing with these toys yourself. The best tech toys also entertain adults.

Benefits of tech toys

If you only think of a tech toy as something the child sits and stares at all afternoon, think again, writes Consumer Reports. Tech toys can motivate your kids to learn and develop new skills.

Some tech toys will require your child to follow a specific set of directions to accomplish the finished product. Others will give your child plenty of freedom in how the toy is enjoyed to spark your child’s creativity. Don’t automatically dismiss a tech toy because it fits in one category or the other. Both the ability to follow directions to reach a goal and to explore a problem creatively are important skills to have.

There’s often an educational aspect to kids tech toys as well, according to BBC News. When you’re looking for a tech toy that will enhance the educational experience for children, a couple of buzz-worthy acronyms to know are as follows.

  • STEM: Tech toy manufacturers often will highlight their toys as promoting STEM skills, which is short for science, technology, engineering, and math.
  • STEAM: If a toy manufacturer adds an art aspect to a STEM toy, it becomes a STEAM toy.

Ultimately, though, finding a good educational tech toy requires the toy to properly merge the education with fun and entertainment, explains The Genius of Play. Kids have to love the time they’re spending with the educational tech toy, or they’ll just choose to spend their time elsewhere.

Features of tech toys

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When looking for a great tech toy, you need to pay attention to a few different features, as WikiHow explains. Sure, you will be tempted to challenge your child as much as possible. But if the tech toy is too challenging, your child will become frustrated and not enjoy the toy.

  • Age appropriate: Manufacturers tend to give an estimated age of children who will have success with their toys, so pay attention to this recommendation. But also think about your child’s skills, as every kid is different. If your child has shown an aptitude for building kits, he or she may be ready for a kit that’s aimed at slightly older children, for example. On the other hand, if your child becomes frustrated easily, you may want to stick to the recommended age until he or she becomes more confident.
  • Encouraging movement: If you don’t like the idea of your child sitting still in front of a tech toy’s display screen for hours at a time, look for a tech toy that encourages physical movement along with the high-tech fun.
  • Lights and sounds: Sometimes, a tech toy will flash with bright lights and use loud noises, and that can be cool for the kid (even if it’s annoying for the parent). Whatever it takes to motivate a child to have an interest in science and technology is well worth it.
  • Reading level: Some tech toys require a lot of reading to understand the instructions or concepts. If you pick a toy that is beyond your child’s reading level, you’ll probably have to help.
  • Safety: Many tech toys have small parts or run from electrical or battery power. Be sure your child understands the importance of being careful with these toys. Set up rules regarding where and when the child may use the toy and how the child must clean up after using the toy. For example, if your 9-year-old isn’t careful with the little parts in his or her tech toy kit, his baby brother or sister could choke on a part. Tech toys can also help kids learn about responsibility.

With all that in mind, read on to see which of our tech toy picks is best for your child. We’ve included several different types of toys to satisfy various age levels and interests.

Although the Osmo Genius Kit is our top pick, for various reasons laid out in the slides below, you should also consider the LeapFrog LeapBand Activity Tracker, the Kano Computer Kit, the Anki Cozmo, and the ThinkFun Circuit Maze Board Game.

View As: One Page Slides

The best tech toy for kids overall

The best tech toy for kids overall

Osmo

Why you’ll love it: The Osmo Genius Kit brings together the best of virtual gaming and physical play, giving your kids a fun tech toy that involves more than staring at a screen.

You’ll need an iPad to make use of the Osmo Genius Kit, but this tech toy does an excellent job of merging on-screen activities with physical world activities. This tech toy works well for children ages 5 to 12, and the game content is adjustable to the age of the child with three skill level settings.

The Osmo Genius Kit consists of five different games, and it’s easy to set up and use. You can strengthen your kid’s math, spelling, visual thinking, problem-solving, and creative drawing skills with the different games. You get the pieces for the Numbers, Words, Tangram, Newton, and Masterpiece games. Osmo also has a number of other game kits you can buy to supplement the kit.

In its review, Pocket Lint says the game collection in this kit provides a clever way of using the iPad. One Amazon customer speaks for many others with the comment that Osmo is perfect for kids who like puzzles because it allows the child to move back and forth between the pieces and the screen.

Tech Advisor says it’s an interesting idea to merge physical objects with the on-screen activities to keep kids learning and entertained in a multitude of ways.

Even though you must use an iPad that you already own with this toy, the Osmo Genius kit does a good job of encouraging your kids to use the iPad in an educational way with well-designed games, according to the Digital Trends.

The only downside is the high price tag. One Amazon buyer was disappointed in the overall cost for the kit and said the physical pieces in the kit weren’t well made. Most reviewers were happy with the kit’s quality and value, though many acknowledge that it’s pricey.

Pros: Combines best features of iPad with physical puzzle challenges, clever games and challenges, entertaining and fun for pre-teens, can select from three skill levels for different ages, easy to use

Cons: Price is a little high, only works with Apple iPad

Buy the Osmo Genius Kit on Amazon for $98.99

The best tech toy to promote physical activity

The best tech toy to promote physical activity

LeapFrog

Why you’ll love it: The LeapFrog LeapBand Activity Tracker inspires your kid to stay active with fun animations and a cute interface.

If you own a Fitbit or other type of activity tracker, you know how persistent (and occasionally annoying) these devices can be in trying to encourage you to stand up and move. The LeapFrog LeapBand Activity Tracker extends this encouragement to your kids, but in a fun way.

This cute little fitness tracker has a screen to show encouraging animations and several buttons so your kid can interact with it. It’ll inspire your kid to do all kinds of funny exercises by making it all seem like a game.

In its review, Tech Advisor liked the crazy movements the LeapFrog tracker suggests for children, such as spinning like a helicopter or popping like popcorn. Kids can play 10 pre-loaded challenges initially, but another 40 are available to be unlocked. Pop Sugar says the large number of games and activities will keep kids stay entertained and fit for month after month.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is for younger kids. Children who are using a Fitbit-type tracker already probably will find the LeapBand too simplistic, according to New Atlas’ review. The LeapBand Activity Tracker is aimed at ages 4-7, but younger kids tend to love the activities and animations, according to one Amazon customer.

A few Amazon reviewers were disappointed in the bulky size of the LeapFrog device, especially since it’s aimed at young children with small wrists.

Pros: Fun challenges and animations to keep kids moving, three body colors available, kids who love it will play with it over and over, up to 50 different challenges available to keep kids entertained

Cons: Bulky wristwatch face, mainly for young kids as pre-teens won’t find much to like

Buy the LeapFrog LeapBand Activity Tracker on Amazon for $32.65 to $44.99

The best tech toy building kit

The best tech toy building kit

Kano

Why you’ll love it: If you miss the days of popping open your computer and performing upgrades, the Kano Computer Kit lets you introduce your kids to DIY computing.

Sure, it’s fun to build a model car or a LEGO set with your kids, but if you want to build some higher level tech, consider the build-it-yourself Kano Computer Kit.

The kit ships with all of the parts you need to complete the tiny computer, which runs on the Raspberry Pi 3 processor. It can be completed by pre-teen children with little to no help from mom and dad. Kano recommends the kit for ages 6 and up. One Amazon reviewer says kids will learn to appreciate the multitude of parts required to make a computer run, something youngsters – and some parents – may take for granted.

The Guardian says kids will love the ability to see inside a computer, and they’ll be fascinated by all of the different parts. The Kano Computer Kit ships with memory, an HDMI port, a speaker, a wireless keyboard, a case, a power cable, and a Raspberry Pi 3 processor. After assembly, you just need to connect the computer to an HDMI-compatible display, such as a large screen television.

In its review, PC & Tech Authority says you shouldn’t expect to spend hours putting the machine together, as it can be assembled in several minutes. It also says the kit is too expensive compared to just buying a Raspberry Pi computer or buying individual parts yourself. However, you get a kid-friendly set with this kit that has instructions, and that’s worth something.

When it’s time to do some programming with the Kano Computer Kit, the Raspberry Pi Starter Kits review says the kit and the online resources offer plenty of learning tools and programming ideas for kids. One Amazon buyer says kids won’t become bored with the computer because they can use it for so many different activities after building it.

Pros: Many children will love the ability to see inside a computer, kids will be able to figure out how a computer works while putting together the kit, nice set of programming tools and resources

Cons: More expensive than ordering individual parts yourself, too easy to complete for some kids

Buy the Kano Computer Kit on Amazon for $124.37 (originally $149.99)

The best robot tech toy

The best robot tech toy

Anki Cozmo

Why you’ll love it: The Anki Cozmo is a tiny robot that will entertain kids and adults alike with a personality that’s driven by its built-in artificial intelligence software.

As a kid, if you dreamed of having a Jetsons’ Rosie-like robot to cook your meals and clean your house by the time you were an adult, you’re obviously disappointed. Sure, the Roomba does an OK job vacuuming, but it’s just not the same without the clever quips that Rosie delivered.

The best smart robot toy is the Anki Cozmo. It’s not a Rosie clone and it’s definitely small, but it’ll amaze your kids – and you – for hour after hour.

In its review, SlashGear offers high praise for how much fun the Cozmo is, while saying it represents the future of smart toys. The Verge says discovering the quirks and features the little robot offers is a lot of fun, and that the artificial intelligence built into Cozmo makes the toy’s reactions feel very realistic.

Insider Picks’ guides editor Malarie Gokey even got to play with Cozmo for a few months, and really enjoyed interacting with the little robot. Tech Radar agrees that kids will love Cozmo’s personality as well as its cute design that resembles a tiny bulldozer. You do need a constant Wi-Fi connection and a smartphone app to control the Cozmo robot.

One Amazon buyer says his kids ranging in ages from 3 to 11 all found something to love about playing with the Anki Cozmo.

Several Amazon reviewers mention disappointment with the inability of the robot to hold a consistent Wi-Fi connection, and that the Cozmo won’t work unless you have the app running, which ties up your smartphone.

Pros: Smart robot is a lot of fun to use for a wide age range, cute design, interesting personality, ahead of the curve in tech toys for kids, children can issue commands and perform tricks with Cozmo

Cons: Large price tag, requires a constant Wi-Fi connection, very small toy

Buy the Anki Cozmo Robot on Amazon for $179.99

The best inexpensive kids tech toy

The best inexpensive kids tech toy

Think Fun

Why you’ll love it: Tech toys for kids can be pretty expensive, so we really like the low price tag of the ThinkFun Circuit Maze Board Game.

At one time, Operation or Simon were probably the most high-tech board games on the market. Times have changed. For a truly modern high tech board game, we like the ThinkFun Circuit Maze Board Game, which holds children’s interests and doesn’t carry a high price tag.

With the ThinkFun Circuit Maze game, players will draw challenge cards and then attempt to build a working circuit on the game board that will match the card. Opinionated Gamers’ review says the thrill of making circuits successfully light up may inspire children to learn more about circuitry and electrical engineering.

The Geek Mom says Circuit Maze is a game both children and adults will enjoy playing, offering a great mix of simple and challenging tasks for players. The Maker Mom appreciates the ability of Circuit Maze to promote problem-solving and logical thinking in children.

One Amazon reviewer likes how the game keeps kids entertained for hours, while also encouraging them to think about how things work.

A few Amazon customers are disappointed in the build quality of the product, though, saying the circuits only worked sporadically.

Pros: Great price point for a tech toy for kids, provides hours of entertainment, good mix of easy and challenging tasks, promotes problem-solving skills, sparks desire to learn more about circuits

Cons: Longevity is questionable, which may cause some circuits to not light properly 

Buy the ThinkFun Circuit Maze Board Game on Amazon for $23.97 (originally $29.99)

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