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

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.

Hasbro’s Bop It! Bounce

Hasbro Games Bop it! Bounce

This just came in for testing and we’re eager to hear how kids react to it.  Our first round of testers thought it was a lot like bouncing a tennis ball on a racquet – except here there is a very loud voice keeping score.  Some of our more sly testers realized that they could “cheat” the machine by bouncing their hand on it a bunch of times.  This only came into play when thoughts of beating a sibling’s score came into play. Here’s the demo from toy fair so that you can see the action. Our first round of testers didn’t like the fact you couldn’t turn the voice off or down.

Toy Trucks will go head to head: Tonka's Rumblin' Chuck versus Mattel's Stinky Garbage Truck

Hasbro's Tonka Rumblin' Chuck

Last year we’d have to say that Mattel’s Matchbox Rocky pretty much ran over Hasbro’s Tonka’s Talkin’ Chuck.  Rocky just did so much more. (Watch the video of these two head to head.)  This year we’ll have to see how the new Tonka Rumblin’ Chuck- who promises to do many more tricks (including moving side to side as if he’s ready to line dance)…will compare to the farting Stinky Garbage Truck from Mattel. We’ll be interested to test both of these interactive trucks when they arrive..for now you can check out their prototypes from Toy Fair.  Click here to watch Rumblin’ Chuck.

Here’s Stinky…to watch him in action, click here to view our video.

Mattel's Stinky Garbage Truck

Toy Fair 2010: Paper thin music from WowWee

Paper Jamz from WowWee

Imagine a piece of paper that you can play like a guitar, a drum set…sounds pretty cool. WowWee, always on the cutting edge of fun tech toys, is bringing out a new line call Paper Jamz.  The line will include paper thin instruments (six guitars, six drums and an amplifier) that uses what they call Active Graphic Technology.  We didn’t get to play with the prototypes at toy fair, but we hope to have samples to try by early Spring. The products will retail from $14.99 for the amp and $24.99 for the drums and guitars.

What some parents may really love..there is volume control AND you can plug in earphones so that your rock-musician-in-training can rock out without driving you crazy!

Barbie Video Girl: Barbie is the Video Camera

Barbie Video Girl

When they first brought us around the corner at the Mattel showroom to look at Barbie Video Camera, I looked around thinking perhaps we were being punked.  No, it’s real.  Barbie is a Video Camera.

Barbie’s video camera is in her chest.  Maybe this was inspired by Ironman?

Barbie Video Camera: Camera in her Chest

Now you don’t have to be a teenage boy to see the humor of this placement. While we had just been taken through all of Barbie’s careers-it seemed to be balanced by the location of this camera. While we tell men to look at a woman’s eyes, not her chest…here you really do want to look at the chest to get the best video.

Barbie has a LCD screen in her back and will plug into both PCs and MACs. I do think watching the world from Barbie’s point of view could be fun and kids will probably enjoy the $50 video camera interacting with their other dolls. I just wish I could have been a fly on the wall when they came up with this one and the Glitterizer.  It does almost seem as if it’s an episode of Seinfeld…where one of them would suggest an outrageous idea – and some unsuspecting executive would say “yes!!”

Pick of the Day: Mattel's MindFlex

mindflex

Mattel's MindFlex Game

The first time we saw this game was at toy fair.  Now in all fairness, when we go to toy fair, we’re a pretty silly group.  So when the demonstrator for MindFlex at the Mattel showroom was trying his best to show us this super cool toy, we kept distracting him.  At one point, he even seemed a little anxious about not being able to perform his toy demonstrator duties.

He wore a headgear that had two clips that he attached to his earlobes.  From there he told us that he could control the little blue ball with his mind-making it go up and down and through the obstacle course.  To be absolutely honest here, I was sure we were being punked.  I kept looking around to see if this was a joke.  They assured me that it was for real–and that normally when people allow the guy to do his thing it really works.

Ok, ok…sometimes we don’t behave well.  I wrote down the toy as  something we’d love to see but then I stopped thinking about it.  Last month while I was at the Today Show, Dave– one of the best stage managers ever– showed me a clip of his son working the MindFlex. ( What would we all do without our iphone video clips?)  Anyway…he could not say enough great things about this toy.  How it appealed to both of his boys and that it  helped with working on concentration as a skill.

With that great recommendation, we asked for one to be sent right away.  Sure enough this is one of the coolest toys we’ve tested, period. We’ve added it to this year’s Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award List.

The other amazing aspect of the toy is that it appeals to tweens, teens and adults.  My dad, a spry guy in his late 70s, also took a run at the toy.  He was surprised , as was every adult that has tried it, that he could make it work.  It really is so futuristic — makes me wonder what kind of toys I’ll be reviewing down the road.

So if you’ve seen an ad or a commercial – know that this is for real and loads of fun.  The platform has interchangeable parts so that you can challenge yourself and others to different obstacle courses.  Such a great design aspect–making this a more open-ended play experience. And if you’re looking for something to buy a video game addicted teen, here you go.
Click here to read our full review…and watch the video.

 

Barbie Doll'd Up Nail Digital Nail Printer

Barbie Doll'd Up Nail Digital Nail Printer

Barbie Doll'd Up Nail Digital Nail Printer

I’m not sure why this product captured my interest so much, but as soon as I saw it at toy fair, I really wanted to try it.  While I was particularly tom-boyish during my middle school years, I did have one set of nail decals–they were of an apple that progressively gets closer to the core as you go from your thumb to your pinky. Very old school.  So maybe that’s where my interest comes from.  I’m also oddly fascinated by the elaborate nail designs that many women sport in new york–they really are like moving pieces of art.

Usually when we get a toy, we have lots of time to try it with various kids and families and we don’t have to return it.  For this machine, we agreed to try it quickly and return it since there are limited samples.  Sadly when the toy arrived, I discovered that the toy is only PC compatible.  I’m a MAC person living in a predominately MAC world — so I needed to enlist my son Matthew (and his PC) to help me install the software and test the nail design studio.  His friend Daniel–who usually builds all of the advanced LEGO and K’NEX sets for us–was also part of our team.   We also decided to tape our trial runs–with the agreement that none of us would be shown on the video tape…it seemed like a fair deal.  Who could blame two teenage boys for not wanting to be taped with a Barbie nail salon…and I wasn’t have a great hair day…so we were all happy.

I can’t tell you how much fun we had.  We had several failed attempts…you really do need to read the directions to make sure that you have all the steps in order.  There was so much laughing –  interrupting our video attempts several times.   Our failures really inspired them to help me get it right…and then we all got excited about the possibilities…there are over 1,000 plus possibilities with this machine.  Like Jorge Posada* of the New York Yankees, I kept adding more and more white nail polish so that we could try it again!

Ultimately-do I think anyone needs an expensive digital nail printer?  Not really.  But if you’re techy  and looking for something different and fun, this machine is fun and it does work.

If you’re planning on using this for a group, I suggest you really know how it works ahead of time so that you’re up and running and in the groove…it’s fun as long as it works!

Here’s how it works (or watch the video).  Follow the instructions for setting up the printer ( just like an ordinary printer, you must install the software on your computer, load the ink, etc.). You can either use your own nail polish as a base or use their white polish.  Let that dry and then add a layer of Pre-print polish–it’s clear.  You then put your finger in the machine and take a picture of your nail.  This is where the alignment issues arose.   (I was sticking my finger too far into the machine, so it was printing on my finger, not my nail.)   Once you get that step down, you remove your finger from the machine and then you can play around with the software to design your own nail design.  This part is lots of fun — there are seasonal designs, classic Barbie motifs, fruits, sweets, cupcakes and you can even import your own designs. You then re-insert your finger and then push print…the design is printed on your finger! They provide top coat to seal the design.

Adding the white coat that comes with the printer

Adding the white coat that comes with the printer

Given the current climate, it feels off suggesting that anyone spend this much on this type of product. In the past, this machine would have definitely made our Big Ticket Item List for those over-the-top kind of gifts.  The machine is marked 8 & up…and while most girls are aging out of Barbie earlier, I’m sure this will be a hit with tween, teens and their moms.  In fact, I suspect that many 20 somethings would LOVE being invited to try this machine out.

You'll need a PC computer to work with the printer

You'll need a PC computer to work with the printer

We went with the Classic Barbie Head

We went with the Classic Barbie Head

To see the finished product…one nail with Barbie’s Head, one with an “S” and one with a pineapple….

Watch Our Video

*Major league catchers often put white nail polish on so that their pitchers can see their signals better.

Oh by the way, the band-aid on my finger is not from this toy.  In fact one of the reasons I insisted on trying this myself is that you do have to stick your finger in a machine…so I wanted to do it before I suggested that any child do the same. It doesn’t hurt at all and, in fact it’s very cool.

Pick of the Day: Kota & Pals Stompers from Hasbro

Kota & Pals Stompers: Triceratops

Kota & Pals Stompers: Triceratops

I’ve been playing with this fun little dino all summer.  Unlike the BIG Kota from last season, this little guy actually walks!   For a demo and full review, visit the website today www.toyportfolio.com.