Best toys 2017: smart toys for kids of all ages

There is an unbelievable amount of variation in the best toys that are smart and connected. From robots that you can hold a conversation with, to drones that you can match head to head against each other, and even Star Wars droids that you can remotely control, there has never been a better time to let your inner child reign supreme than 2017. Here at TechRadar, we’ve taken the opportunity to come up with a list of all the best connected toys that we’ve tinkered around with over the last year or so. If you’re looking to get a present for the kids in your family, or even if you just want to treat yourself, you’ve come to the right spot – there is a plethora of fantastic smart gadgets and connected toys on this list that everyone will want to play with.

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

We’ve taken extra care to include as many different types of connected toys as we could – just as we do with any of our lists. A few will need an existing device to work (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 fantastic Star Wars Battle Drones from Propel – don’t require any separate devices, and can be used straight out of the box. There are also some more unique gadgets on this list, such as a modern interpretation the toy racing made popular by Scalextric back in the ’80s and a wearable that you can program to do amazing things.

We don’t just give out the title of ‘best connected toys’ lightly, though. If the device has made it on this list, we’ve either extensively tested or played with the device enough to know it’s worthy of the title. So, with that out of the way, get ready to feel young again 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.

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 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

Great build quality
Add new items to games
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

Easy to control and fly
Fantastic attention to detail
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.

Skylanders Imaginators

Create your own virtual platforming hero

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Wii U, PS3, Xbox 360

Supports all previous models
Lots of customization options
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)

Easy to use and set up
Nine different AIs to battle
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.

A lot of fun
Great movies noises and nods
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 | Size: | Battery: 60 mins | Dimensions: H11.4 cm/W7.3 cm/Weight 200g | Connectivity: Bluetooth

Accurate motion control
Decent battery life
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!

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

Six wheel drive / front, rear steering
Built-in camera
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.

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

Fantastic replica model of R2-D2
Mannerisms, controls are great
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.

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

Cozmo is really fun to use
Code Lab is simple and addictive
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

Fun coding mechanism
Great to control
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

Fantastic range of app functions
Some superb animations
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.

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

Fun to assemble
Decent price
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.

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