Is your toddler addicted to your iPad & iPhone?

Today’s toddlers and preschoolers have a new addiction. Forget the boob tube and those pesky videos – now we’re talking about little fingers that are incredibly adept at navigating  APPS  on your pricey iPad and/or  iPhone.

What’s a toy maker to do? How can they compete with such amazing graphics?

Wasn’t it bad enough that video games have rob them of the tween market?

Here’s the industry response to date…

1. The “Can’t beat them, join them” approach.  It seems like everyone has an APP  for your child. Barbie, Leapfrog, Hot Wheels, Thinkfun….everywhere we went at Toy Fair…there was an APP we needed to “let our readers know about.” (Except of course for the dizzying number of embargo dates). And yes, we will have to start taking a closer look at all of these toy related APPs.  I haven’t gotten to play with it yet, but I do have to say that the Barbie Fashionista APP–looked really appealing (this coming from someone who really didn’t play with Barbies).

Barbie's Fashionista APP

2. “This is not your father’s iPad” – really. Toy makers are rolling out there own versions of iPad inspired tablets for your child.  LeapFrog and VTech will  go head to head with their platforms.  Are they cheaper? Yes.  Will your child be satisfied? Maybe.  As with any of these toys, they just don’t have the sizzle of the real thing (which is why toy companies are hedging their bets with approach #1.)  We will have to take a look at each of these products to review the content (remember that?) and whether the interface is pleasing.  I have a sense that if your toddler or preschooler is already schooled in your gadgets, this is going to be a hard transition.  On the other hand, if you start here–you may get to play with your gadget without the constant refrain of  “my turn!”

Vying for attention (all to be released later this year):

LeapFrog Explorer Tablet

LeapPad Explorer Tablet (LeapFrog)- Promises to come with a 5″ screen and leverages the library of games and content from this educational toy company.  It will also come with a built in camera. Suggested retail will be $99.99.

VTECH InnoPad

InnoPad (VTech) -Also features a 5″ touch screen, promises educational games, ebooks,  USB port, a headphone jack.  Suggested retail will be $79.99.

We’ll have to take a look. Sadly, both companies have moved away from partnerships with traditional publishers –leaving the ebook experience to the domain of mostly licensed materials. On this point alone, you may want to invest in a Color Nook–if you don’t want to go the bigger bucks on an iPad.  Technology only goes so far.  The CONTENT is still what should rule the day. We want our kids enjoy reading quality picture books no matter the format.  Disney Princesses and Scooby Doo are fun–but they shouldn’t replace children’s books as part of your child’s daily experience.

3. The “Ok, you can play,  but please don’t break it” approach. Handing  off  your  expensive toys to a toddler or preschooler is a balancing act between achieving calm (at the grocery store, at the restaurant, in the car, etc.) and the possible damage that came come to such gadgets from liquids (those pesky sippy cups) or a plain old “oops” moments. For those parents, Fisher-Price hopes to be of assistance with their new Laugh & Learn I Can Play Case that puts your smart phone into a bigger case with easy-to-grab handles. We look forward to trying this case–will little fingers find the case too intrusive? Of course your 3 year old will find this way too babyish.

Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn I Can Play Case

What did Cookie Monster say to Elmo?

Cookie Monster

We moved! Did you notice last year that there was no new Tickle Me Elmo? That’s because the Sesame Street license moved from Fisher-Price/Mattel to Hasbro, but not in time for Hasbro to roll out a new collection.  In the absence of an Elmo novelty doll, last year Fisher-Price introduced Dance Star Mickey. He made our Platinum List.  Our testers loved how he danced not to mention his ability to moonwalk!

This year, here’s what you’ll need to know:

1. It will be a battle of the Rock Star Mickey and Rock Star Elmo. We previewed both today.

Rock Star Mickey is pretty snazzy!  He moves, he sings, he dances…and he can even do a Rock Star split (guitar in hand).  Move over Mick Jagger!  He is also interactive…teaching kids how to rock on! The demonstrator would not play along when it got to the split.

Rock Star Elmo is cute, although he doesn’t move the way Mickey does. But I think fans of Elmo will be happy to see him back. In his favor, he plays the drums, a tambourine and he also sings into a mic (all come with Elmo).  There are also musical toys for your child that also magically sync with Elmo–so that your child can play a small guitar, a small keyboard or sing into a mic — and Elmo will be able to sing along.  Rock Star Elmo will retail for $69.99 (the add on toys are $19.99 each).

We look forward to testing both. Both are planned for fall 2011 release.

2. Cookie Monster.  Ok, I have to admit it…I LOVE Cookie Monster.  I don’t really know too many people that don’t put Cookie Monster into the favorites category.  This new interactive version, eats cookies.  They disappear into his mouth and then the cookies will reappear in his backpack.  He sometimes counts the cookies…that’s fun, but I have a sense just feeding him will be the big pay off.

Watch our video of both at http://www.youtube.com/user/toyportfolio.

Dolls that Wet (and Poop)

Over the years, this category has always been one that fascinates parents – often when they are in the throws of potty training.  We had one testing family that was our go- to potty doll testers.  Even dolls that I knew probably weren’t going to work out–they really wanted to test.  One of the early potty dolls involved food and water…that you guessed it, had to come out.  So the doll also came with disposable diapers.  The only problem was that the food often got stuck and it was super difficult to get the doll to poop. Thankfully no doll enema included.   Even Elmo got into the act with Potty Time Elmo…he was really polite about the whole experience and reinforced the idea that accidents happen.  He made sound effects to simulate the experience…no actual diapers to change here.  He made our Platinum List one year.  As the mother of two boys, I was also particularly fond of Corolle’s Paul doll, an anatomically correct boy  doll that pees (no pooping here).

So this is all to say that we are always interested in new dolls in this category.  Yesterday we received a huge box of toys that we hadn’t seen yet (amazing since it just feels like we’ve seen every toy)…but we hadn’t tested this particular bunch.  The one that caught our eye was Fisher-Price’s new Wipey Dipey from their Little Mommy line.

Fisher-Price's Little Mommy Wipey Dipey Doll

We usually like these novelty dolls and this one really made us curious.  The box reads:  “pee-pee and poo-poo disappear with a wipe!”  Ok, not that unusual…but here’s the new twist. The diaper lights up with a light indicating that your dolly has made one or two…and then you wipe it away.   No messy diapers (it comes with one plastic diaper that is not removable) and a wipe. You give Wipey Dipey her bottle and then she lets you know that she needs to be changed. She either tells you or makes an uncomfortable sound. In otherwords, this drink and wet doll…really doesn’t do either except in a high-tech manner.

Pros and Cons.

She’s a hard plastic doll…so she’s not soft and huggable. We also found some of her phrases difficult to understand. One could say she’s a mumbler…her supporters would also probably point out that she’s a baby doll.   The novelty aspect of this doll is pretty unique and will appeal to small children that love the “let’s see what she made now” aspect of the doll play.  My only real problem is that when you wipe the poo poo as they call it…you’re wiping in the wrong direction.  I’m really amazed that I just constructed that sentence…but it is really an issue especially when you’re trying to teach kids how to properly wipe at this stage. On the other hand, nothing gets stuck in this doll and there is no water to clean up either.  If you’re of the camp that likes to see the water come out of the doll, Wipey Dipey is probably going to disappoint you.  On the other hand, if you are not big on messy dolls/toys in general…this high-tech no mess approach to potty training may just be what you’ve been looking for.  Only if the real experience could be so mess free!

Watch our video.

My continuing fascination with singamajigs

Sing-a-ma-jigs

I love these dolls. The harmonizing is fun. Here’s another video where we demonstrate that they each sing a different song. For a full review visit our site, www.toyportfolio.com. I’ll try to stop writing about them…but when the new batch arrives – I may have to post some more.

Toy Safety…again

Last night I was talking about the new toy season – thinking about getting to share another year’s worth of testing.  I know we don’t make any of these toys, but we do take pride in our list of award winners.  It takes a lot of work to get to those select toys that do what they say they’re going to do–AND they’re fun, well made, and going to enhance your child’s play experience.  While there are definite points of the year when I ponder what I do for a living, at the end of the day my mother and I really love finding great products. Our network of family testers take their work seriously and we love the feedback we get from the play trenches!

So you can imagine my dismay this morning. I was barely awake when I saw a reporter on tv with a new set of toys being recalled.  I thought (hoped) that I was still asleep. But no, it was real and even more alarming one of our scheduled award winners was on the list.   All of my happy thoughts about kicking off a new season without the upset of recalls was gone.  Fisher-Price voluntarily recalled 10+ million plus toys and equipment for kids.

The issue this year is not lead or pvc — but small parts.  Now if you’ve read my blog you know this has been an on going worry for us.  In this case the issue is small parts potentially breaking off and posing a choking hazard–but we have been observing small parts that are meant to be there.  Small parts that just stick out of the official choke tube but fall in a toilet roll center (the at-home test recommended by the CPSC).

As always we encourage parents to trust their instincts. If something looks too small or is too loud or is too rough (we had lots of splinter issues this year as well)….take the toy back.  If you have kids that mouth their toys, keep a toilet roll near by.  Put away questionable pieces for the time being.

Dora…she really did it!

If you have a child that’s a fan of Dora, this doll may be of interest. Dora dances and sings.  She’s the original Dora–not the older Dora that was rolled out last year.  Dancing dolls like this one (and there are many of them this year) are pure novelty.  They’re not soft so they do not double as a huggable — they are a push the button and see what I can do kind of toy.  These types of toys have there place if your budget allows…and your child is completely into a character.  That said–when I brought home an Elmo doll long ago (even before he was Tickle Me Elmo)…my then toddler went to the tv with his Elmo doll and started to swing it at the set. Elmo, as far as he was concerned, needed to get back in the tv.  So — even though many of these toys are highly promoted and many kids will LOVE them…don’t be surprised if some run in the opposite direction.

For the record, I much prefer Dora as a doll–than Dora as a kitchen…Dora the talking kitchen was too out there for me.  To watch the video, click here.

Sing-a-ma-jigs- LOVE THEM

Fisher-Price's Sing-a-ma-jigs!

Take a look at our home page today at www.toyportfolio.com.  I’ve posted video of this fab four that just arrived!  I think we may have to have a running webcam for the sing-a-ma-jigs…Nice to know I can still get sooo excited about a toy after so many years of reviewing.  Hats off to the team at Fisher-Price.  I wonder if the group that was responsible for all of these playful Elmo dolls were redirected to this collection. (Elmo and the rest of his Sesame Street buddies will now be produced by Hasbro).

My mother just told me that she thinks the video I posted first makes them sound annoying–funny, it kind of reminded me of chorus rehearsal at my high school before a concert!

Mattel CEO Bob Eckert picks his favorite toy

Mattel CEO Bob Eckert

I thought this was an interesting press event. The CEO of Mattel, Bob Eckert,  would announce his favorite pick of the newly rolled out toys at Toy Fair.  Seemed almost like being asked to pick a favorite child.  How do you decide such a thing? A gut instinct? A favorite brand team? The size of the marketing budget?

I gave this some thought after we were told of the event yesterday (it happened today). Mind you, we don’t have any budgets on the line when we pick our top winners of the year. Yet both Joanne and I have personal favorites – we quietly root for them as we send them off to our family testers.  Even though we don’t make or sell any of the toys we review, we do get very attached.  Each year we have a few that truly stand out, but one?  Almost impossible.

So what did I think Mr. Eckert would select? My money would have been on the harmonizing Singamajigs, the Dancing Mickey Mouse or the big Ape that flips –both had the most “sizzle” in the showroom.  (Mickey also has Donny Osmond associated with him.)  Or maybe the Barbie that is a video camera – she wins for having the most creatively placed use of technology in toyland (the camera is in her chest).

I was wrong. Mr. Eckert’s personal favorite is their new preschool electronic toy called iXL.  The hand-held toy promises to have six-in-one smart devices designed to both be educational and entertaining (including a Story Book, Game Player, Note book, Art Studio, Music Player and Photo Album). It will retail for $79.99/ licensed software sold separately for $24.99.

We’ll be interested to see how our testers react to the iXL.  It will be available in July.  The thing with these types of toys -  it’s hard to tell from the prototypes how they’re going to work in the hands of kids.  Will the screen be engaging enough? Will the games be age appropriate? Can kids manipulate the toy independently and happily? If you give your child this $79 toy, will they leave your iPhone alone? These are the types of things we’ll look at when reviewing the  iXL.

Not to be cynical as to the driving force of his pick,  but Mr. Eckert did mention in his release that  “[they] have invested more research and development dollars into iXL than any other product in our 2010 Fisher-Price product line and it definitely shows.”

Stay tuned.