A first world solution…the iPotty for the iPad

Today was the first day of Toy Fair at the Javits Center. Saw lots of terrific toys and games that I’ll be writing about during the course of the year. For some reason, there are certain “are you kidding?” toys that stand out. This one certainly got me to stop.

2-in-1 iiPotty with Activity Seat for iPad from CTA Digital

2-in-1 iPotty with Activity Seat for iPad from CTA Digital

It’s the new 2-in-1 iPotty with Activity Seat for iPad from CTA Digital. Kudos for the clever name. While the yuck factor comes to mind, I know a lot of people (well beyond toilet training) who take their electronics into the bathroom with them (you know who you are) — and at least this product has the benefit of a protective cover for the iPad. From my experience with such products, the splash guard in the actual seat looks inadequate for boys. There is also a pink version for girls.

I know there’s the argument that this will keep kids on the seat – there’s also something to be said for not always multi-tasking, don’t you think?

Calling George Jetson and Luke Skywalker: We have your toys

When I found out that Think Fun’s new Laser Maze comes with a real laser, I felt as if we were now truly in a new century of toys. There are many “laser-like” toys on the market.

Laser Maze from Think Fun

Laser Maze from Think Fun

Spin Master’s new super-cool looking Laser Defense System, for example, features a high intensity LED light, not a laser.  Laser Maze is similar to other classic brain teasers from Think Fun where the challenges become increasingly more complex (the game comes with 60). The game play is to move the pieces so that the laser bends off the mirrors and splitters on the game pieces to hit the target. We look forward to testing it.

My other futuristic favorite toy so far is the grapefruit-sized AtmoSPHERE from Spin Master. The orb-like flying toy promises to respond to motion. So once you activate it, you will be able to control where it goes by moving your hands around it. While not quite Luke Skywalker’s first lesson with his lightsaber, it is pretty amazing. We look forward to trying this one too.

Atmosphere from Spin Master

Atmosphere from Spin Master

They’re back….LEGO Mindstorms EV3

LEGO Mindstorms EV3

LEGO Mindstorms EV3

Hard to believe that LEGO Mindstorms were first on our Platinum Award list in 2007. This year LEGO is rolling out a revamped version of the robotics kit for a new generation of kids.  Knowing how essential smart phones have become, the new design enables them to operate their robots via their phones. The set comes with 17 suggested builds with three different levels of programming. Comes with a hefty price tag ($349.99) — but if you think of this as an after-school program in robotics, it seems more approachable. We look forward to testing this product.

Marbles and Bugs…just my kind of toys

I’m delighted to find that Hape has expanded the Quadrilla marble run line (a Platinum award winner from 2006). Here’s the new Xcellerator. These are pricey sets but the type of toy that will be handed down.

Xcellerator by Hape Toys

Xcellerator by Hape Toys will retail for $149

The design is so appealing. It looks like the track will provide for lots of speedy runs. We haven’t tested this particular set yet.

On the flip side of old-fashioned marble runs– take a look at Hexbugs Nano V2 from Innovation First. My mother thinks I’m obsessed with Hexbugs. I used to love capturing bugs as a kid–so that’s probably where the interest comes from. Now, instead of just having bugs on regular flat tracks, the new versions are designed so that they can move around tubed tracks that can be put in a vertical positions. How cool is that?  Hope it works!!  (As with most of my blog posting during Toy Fair, we are previewing the toys rather than reporting on toys we’ve tested yet.)

HEXBUG Nano V2 Set by Innovation First

HEXBUG Nano V2 Set by Innovation First

New Twist on a Classic: Make Your Own Hot Wheels Cars

Hot Wheels Toy Maker from Mattel

Hot Wheels Toy Maker from Mattel

Anyone who has enjoyed playing with Hot Wheels will appreciate the promise of this new activity toy from Mattel. We look forward to testing the Hot Wheel Toy Maker that will comes with two molds, 10 wax sticks and graphics for customizing the cars. The company says the cars will work on most tracks– we’ll be sure to try it out.

GoldieBlox’s Debra Sterling on a Mission

images-2Sometimes it feels like the toy industry has been overrun by less than highbrow ideas. For example, this year we received trash toys (where the play pattern is to collect simulated trash cans), fart producers (more on that later) and simulated animal dung. Which is why when I heard that a female Stanford engineering graduate started a toy company with the mission to encourage girls  to consider engineering and other math related careers,  I got very excited.  Read my interview at  toyportfolio.com with Debra Sterling of GoldieBlox.

toyportfolio.com: Explosion in Building Sets for Girls


LEGO Friends Olivia’s Workshop

Last year LEGO discovered an untapped market…building sets for girls. While there was a great deal of controversy over such a gender specific category, girls across the country (and our testers) gave the LEGO FRIENDS line a huge thumbs up.  Girls that had not been enticed to try  existing “boy” sets, were embracing these new sets and asking for more. The themes: stables, vet, cafe, a house and my favorite, the inventor’s workshop. Our preference for gender-free toys still remains, but the benefit of having girls build (even if it means with pink bricks) far outweighs these concerns since we know that construction sets help develop important skills (math, visual perception, spatial relations). We want to encourage girls to consider engineering and architecture – this is where it begins.

Building sets for girls means big business. Most telling are the NPD Group statistics that while the overall US toy market suffered an overall downward slide of .6%, the construction category was up 20%.  Of course, success invites competition and 2013 is stacking up for a building war showdown.

Barbie's Fashion Boutique from Mega Bloks

Barbie’s Fashion Boutique from Mega Bloks

Mattel has licensed the Barbie brand to Mega Bloks for her own line of Barbie related builds. Sets include more Barbiesque construction, e.g., a Fashion Boutique and a Mansion. Today Mattel announced that Barbie has put her mansion on the market for $25 million dollars. If they were really clever, they’d have girls compete to “design” the next new house. We haven’t tried these kits yet with our testers. The success of LEGO as a brand has always been in the instructions and building experience – something most companies don’t spend enough time developing.

Also a new contender in the market is Lite Brix from Cra-Z-Art.  An interesting new line of construction sets (with both boy and girl themes) that have LED-powered bricks along with translucent bricks.  To be honest, this is a childhood dream come true. I always wanted my LEGO sets to light up.  We’ll be taking a careful look at these new kits as well.

LIte Brix Candy Lites (store) targeted as part of the girls line from Cra-Z-art

Lite Brix Candy Lites (store) targeted to girls from Cra-Z-art.

In my ideal world, boys and girls would not have separate toy aisles but that’s a bigger issue.

toyportfolio.com: James Bond would love these spy toys

There have been spy toys in the past, but this season’s batch will make you think that Q has quit his gig for MI5 and set up shop in toyland. With high-powered real audio and visual capturing capabilities, these “toys” pose real privacy issues. But just looking in terms of technology and design…they’re pretty amazing. (Of course, these are all prototypes and we have not tested any of them with kids yet.)

Spin Master has taken control of the Spy Gear line from Wild Planet and given it a real “spy like” make over.  We were intrigued by the Laser Defense Network ($19.99). Here you set up the devices to create a red beam of light.  If someone breaks the red line by passing through, an alarm will sound. Their Spike Mic Launcher includes an audio mic dart that you can shoot off onto a wall and grab 30 minutes of sound. (We don’t recommend projectile toys as a rule but we thought the design/function were worth a mention). The Panosphere 360 Spy Cam really got our attention.

Spin Master's Panosphere 360 Spy Camera

Spin Master’s Panosphere 360 Spy Camera

The small probe like device (close to the size of a tennis ball) can be rolled into any room and then allows you to capture video (and sound) with a full panoramic 360 degree view.  The software platform will enable users to access different perspectives each time they look at a video.  Amazing if it works.

Spy Net Let Detector from Jakks Pacific

Spy Net Let Detector from Jakks Pacific

Now once you’ve captured your spy…you’ll want to test whether the information he’s giving you is reliable.  To assist with your interrogation, you may want to consider Jakks Pacific’s new Spy Net Lie Detector.  (At first I thought this was the name of the evil company  in the Terminator movies–but that’s Sky Net). The three biometric sensors scan your body for temperature and brain activity – all meant to help determine the veracity of a statement. There is a free downloadable APP (of course there is) to help with the questions.

We will be testing these toys and posting our reviews to toyportfolio.com.


Lost Moments in Technology

A guest posting by toyportfolio.com’s co-founder Joanne Oppenheim

At dinner in an upscale restaurant the other night, we were seated beside a family with two small boys. One, I guessed, was half past two and the other four at most. One sat with Mommy the other sat opposite with Dad. The two boys never looked up nor did the family talk about anything. Mom was eating dessert and dad was drinking his coffee. The boys were completely engrossed with their parents’ smart phones. The younger boy seemed to be doing nothing but moving his finger from right to left. After a time he lifted the phone to hand it to mom but she didn’t notice until the phone fell on the floor as both mother and child gasped. The child put his hands over his face in horror and when he was scolded looked totally mournful. He slowly formed the words, sorry mommy…and looked away.

Cell Lock-Up by EB Brands - designed so you can lock up your family's phones. Would you use it?

Cell Lock-Up by EB Brands – designed so you can lock up your family’s phones. Would you use it?

Fortunately the screen did not crack. But I thought at that moment of a case we recently reviewed that is made to protect just such events, but would be far too babyish for this family.  But I couldn’t help thinking how glad I am that I missed parenting in this brave new age.  Now maybe the precocious child was playing with an app designed as so many are for toddlers. My guess is he was doing nothing more than making things happen by moving photos on the screen. Whatever he or his brother were doing, their interactions at the dinner table had nothing to do with each other until something went wrong.

Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Apptivity Case is designed to keep your smartphone safe (and the tears away).

Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Apptivity Case is designed to keep your smartphone safe (and the tears away).

Though I can no longer imagine a world without my own smart phone, computer and other devices, I have to admit I am glad they did not exist when I was raising my own children or eating out with grandchildren.  When I think of that little family that barely talked to each other,  I can imagine a time not far off when these same parents will be telling their kids to put their cells away and scolding them to “be present” during the limited time when the whole family is together.

Years ago it was mostly poor families that did not have a dinner hour when the family sat together and talked about the day. Often children from such homes came to their early school years with less language than those who came from homes where families shared more than food at the dinner hour and even read books aloud to children who could read.

Affluence has given us a new deprived class of kids.  As always, the problem is not in the technology…but how we use it.

Let us know how you deal with technology in your family? Is there a “no phone” rule at your dinner table?

Top Ten Dumb Toys of 2012

As the toy season for 2012 comes to an end, we always like to share the toys that made us pause throughout the year…IMG_7626

1. Scum Drum Garbage Game. The game play here is to collect all the garbage. We couldn’t make this up if we tried. Pieces promise to “tumble through the sewer pipe!”




2.Scatter Brainz – Sticky brain-like darts. The game play is to collect them all. Play pieces include: Coma Toes, Stinkin’ Rich, Darting Death, Nano-Neurotic.IMG_7620 (Also good luck explaining neurotic to your 8 year old.)





3. Play-Doh Sweet Shoppe.  A candy-making machine, but you can’t eat the candy. Seems like a cruel joke.IMG_6613








4. Little Mommy Doll with simulated poop in the potty. Some things should be left to your child’s imagination.





5. Create a Monster. Move over Dr. Frankenstein, fans of Monster High can now buy body parts and make their own creations. IMG_7609






6. Crazy Cubes. You’re buying cubes…not to build with, just to have. In fairness, they have marbles in them. IMG_7825







7. Zombie Burbz Avenue. A new APP/Toy concept. We had hoped new technology would bring something more lively than Zombies. IMG_7826






8.KISS a la K’NEX. A wholesome gift.IMG_7827







9. My Little Pony Princess Pony Bride. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any pinker or ponier. IMG_6848Winner of our rococo plastic toy award.






10. Mutant Ninja Turtle Secret Sewer Lair Playset.  A very big plastic sewer for your Ninja Turtles.IMG_7155 Part of an apparent trend, see (1) above.






and…the Breastfeeding Doll. Not new, but still pretty dumb and still getting lots of press. Kids don’t need literal props for everything.86cb30befd6849378823b4cb2e7aa7bc-fcba1ead7bf546f2aa234818895a2a89-0





For toys worth your child’s time, take a look at our list of 2012 Platinum, Gold, Blue Chip and SNAP (Special Needs Adaptable Product Awards) at www.toyportfolio.com.