What are the best Christmas gifts for tech-savvy children and familes? Digital cameras and kid-specific tablets look like the most popular tech toys this year.
The list of dream Christmas 2011 kids' toys chosen by the UK Toy Retailers Association has a self-confessed “technological twist".
See also: LeapPad 2 review
Although the most-wanted toy this holiday season appears to be a game where you pick up dog mess (Doggie Doo, John Adams, £22.99) there are some kiddie versions of adult tech devices that have made the top 10.
Last year’s top children’s toy was VTech’s Kidizoom Digital Camera – a chunky, colourful and robust camera that takes both still pictures and video, plus includes built-in games that can be played on the camera or via TV.
This has now been updated to the Kidizoom Twist (£49.99), with much-improved technical specifications.
Where the original Kidizoom captured a mere 0.3 megapixels, the Kidizoom Twist jumps to 2 megapixels. This is still way below what you get from a decent mobile camera phone, but is enough for younger kids.
It boasts a 4x digital zoom (beware: digital zooms reduce picture quality), 256MB of storage, an SD card slot for memory expansion, and a built-in flash.
The Kidizoom range is a fun starter camera and robust enough for use by toddlers, but we’d recommend buying a cheaper compact digital camera for children over 5 years of age. Kids over five should be able to be trusted with something more delicate (you’ll know your own!), and they’ll learn more about photography with a decent camera that boasts a few more megapixels and an optical zoom.
There are plenty of nice compact cameras selling for around the £50 mark, from the likes of Kodak and Fujifilm. Better still, upgrade your own camera and pass your old compact down to the kids.
While digital cameras are great gifts for kids, letting them explore their creativity and get started with a pastime that they’ll stick with through their lives, the hottest children’s tech gifts this year are tablets that mimic Apple’s ubiquitous iPad.
There are plenty of toy laptops out there, but these are pretty simple playthings for toddlers.
Two tablets for children are making waves this Christmas season, and they’re not just tablet-like toys.
The LeapPad Explorer from LeapPad is fighting it out for the Christmas present crown with the InnoTab from Kidizoon maker VTech.
Both aren’t just good for games. Each offers a wide range of educational apps that will help with reading and maths, as well as build skills such as art, music and language.
We have played and used both of these tablet PCs for children, and like them both.
They are very similar, and retail for around the same £79 price. But there are differences that you should note.
The LeapPad Explorer (above) is smaller in overall size than the InnoTab, but has the same 5-inch LCD screen. You get more hand space with the InnoTab but the LeapPad is easy enough for a child to hold, and obviously takes up less space on the move.
The LeapPad also wins on hardware functionality. It boasts a camera, which can be used within some of the games and educational apps. I’m guessing that VTech didn’t want to cannibalise Kidizoom sales so left out the camera. Again, the camera is no match for a cheap compact so this may not bother you too much. It’s a nice extra, though.
The LeapPad also enjoys greater built-in storage, with 2GB built in. The InnoTab (below) is weaker with just 128MB of built-in storage, but you can expand this using inexpensive SD cards (not included). You can buy a 4GB SD card for about a fiver. Without such a card you can’t load downloaded apps from your Mac or PC onto the tablet, or save images saved in the more creative InnoTab apps.
Neither kids’ tablet can match the Apple iPad for range of games and apps. There are thousands of educational and fun apps on the iPad’s Apple App Store – many free of charge. Android-based tablets also can't match the iPad for apps, but can be found cheaper than Apple's tablet.
You get a handful of built-in games with the LeapPad and InnoTab (see individual reviews), and can download more from a range in the low hundreds rather than the iPad’s thousands. Each also takes a range of cartridge games and apps.
But the iPad costs from £399, while these specific children’s tablets cost £79. They are also much more robust than the iPad, and can be better controlled from a parent’s point of view. The iPad, of course, has rich Internet connectivity, and many parents don’t want their young ones straying onto the web’s more dubious content. You don’t have that fear with the LeapPad or InnoTab.
At first I thought my five-year-old daughter would find these children’s tablets too babyish after her years of iPad use. The iPad is far more sophisticated but she took to each tablet very quickly, and left the iPad to one side while she tried out all the new games and apps.
The range of apps for each of the kids’ tablets is similar on both, but the InnoTab comes with some neat built-in software functions that might appeal to slightly older children. It has a calendar, clock, stopwatch and Notes app that give it the feel of a more adult PDA or smartphone.
There’s no doubt in the parental interest in special tablets for children, and both the Leapfrog LeapPad and VTech Innotab are superior examples. Yes, they’re great toys that will keep the kids occupied for long periods of time. But they are also potentially very useful from an educational point of view.
Of course, as we state in the reviews, you can’t substitute these gadgets for real parent-and-child quality time, both in playing and learning. But as Christmas gifts they’re likely to delight the child and give you some time to enjoy your own presents and Christmas festivities, as well as proving useful for filling time on journeys and rainy days.