As someone who's kind of exhausted by the amount of Star Wars promotional material that's being vomited into our culture at the moment, I have to admit that the remote control BB-8 from Sphero is pretty awesome. Because even toys need sequels now, this year we're getting the original adorable droid in remote control form: R2-D2. Hasbro is planning on releasing a similar toy, complete with all the smartphone connection goodies. Here's the official app for it.
The biggest trend in the toy world at the moment is the blend of "real" toys and action figures with digital games. LEGO's already dipped its toes into the same pool as Disney Infinity and Skylanders with LEGO Dimensions, but that's not the only combination that the mega-company is working on. An original franchise, Nexo Knights, lets kids build playsets based on the techno-fantasy theme and then upload the various characters' shield codes into the accompanying game, Merlok 2.0.
Dyzplastic's Android figures designed by Andrew Bell take that warm fuzzy feeling you get from using your phone and plaster it on top of your desk. You can get a standard green one or choose from any number of models that look as though they were taken from Androidify and put through a 3D printer.
Ten or twenty years ago, creating your own world and sending Disney characters on journeys consisted of opening up your toy chest and using your imagination. Now the company is ready to sell you a digital world and $15 hunks of plastic that will do three-quarters of the work for you.
If you've been on the Internet this week, you've probably seen the marketing blitz for the new line of toys for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The crown jewel among innumerable action figures and LEGO sets is the miniature BB-8, a customized version of Sphero's ball toy with Star Wars paint and a "head" that bobs around and stays on top of the ball as it rolls along. Though the BB-8 is mechanically identical to a regular Sphero, you'll need a specialized Sphero app on Android or iOS to actually play with the thing.
A manufacturer really has to go out of its way to make a portable speaker that isn't Bluetooth all that compelling. It's bad enough most of us still have to plug in our phones to charge—you still want me to plug something into the headphone jack and leave my phone lying there just to listen to music?
But the GOgroove Pal Bot is adorable enough to compromise for. It's shaped like an Android, and at the very least, it's good enough to sit at the corner of your desk and use as a paperweight. We've seen its price drop before, but now it's available for a measly $10 on Newegg.
If you're not familiar with Disney Infinity, it's basically the media giant's answer to digital toys like Skylanders, Angry Birds Telepods, and Nintendo Amiibo. The gist is that you buy your kids RFID-enabled collectible statues, they stick 'em on a base station, and then they can use digital versions of those characters inside the Disney Infinity game. Is there a technical reason that a completely digital character needs a $15 hunk of physical plastic to unlock? Why certainly, so long as "technical reason" includes "making Disney a boatload of money."
The Infinity games are available on all major consoles and the PC.
The Pal Bot is a wired speaker, not a Bluetooth speaker, which is probably why it's usually sold for only $30. It features a compact stereo speaker setup with a passive subwoofer crammed into its 4.8" tall body.
The currently-available Anki Drive series of toys are undeniably cool, allowing players to drive tiny remote controlled cars along real tracks with their smartphones while the app keeps track of video game-inspired additions like weapons and power-ups. The next iteration of the toy, Anki Overdrive, is set to take things to the next level when it debuts this fall. The most visible addition is the new piece-by-piece track system, including risers for overpasses and jumps, walls for faster banks, and a modular design that allows for near-infinite expansion. It's a mixture of classic Hot Wheels tracks and modern electronics.
When you begin a new game of Anki Overdrive, the miniature cars will drive themselves around the track, learning the layout and any special sections for themselves.
You may remember Anki as the company that took the stage at Apple's iOS 7 announcement in 2013 only to have its demo bogged down with bugs. Since then, the product has done quite well on iOS and it came to Android a few months ago. At $150 for the starter kit, it's a lot to pay for AI-controlled race cars. Anki Drive seeks to bring basic artificial intelligence into the real world, making for a unique gaming experience. Should you consider dropping cash on what is essentially a really fancy slot car set?