ELMO…feeling a little left out

In seasons past, ELMO is the toy we get all the calls for -someone in desperate need for the latest version of the original Tickle Me Elmo Doll.  We have particular fondness for the original – Joanne brought Elmo on the TODAY Show – Bryant Gumbel loved it–and played with it for the entire show.

This season, ELMO is being completely ignored.  A smaller, perhaps cuter critter has grabbed the imagination of children and media outlets everywhere -even though ELMO  tells jokes this year as well as any Borscht Belt comedian. Oh and yes,  he’s  still throwing kisses…it could break your heart.  Watch our video.

Princess & the Frog: Princess Tiana Just One Kiss Doll

Disney's Princess Tiana

Last week I talked about this doll as one of the top five hottest toys in toyland on the TODAY Show.  But because I only had two minutes to discuss five toys, I didn’t have time to demonstrate why this particular Princess Doll is so much fun.  Watch our toyportfolio.com video and you’ll see the interactive/light up features of this talking doll.

Right after my segment, I got an email from Disney–reminding me that there were less expensive Princess Tiana dolls…so true.  You can get your Princess fix for under $16.  The Just One Kiss doll retails for $24.99–and I already see lots of price gauging. There are plainer Princess Dolls–but we have not personally seen or tested them–I do see some complaints on line about the quality of the least expensive version–but we can’t confirm. We’re thrilled that Disney is featuring the first African-American Princess.  If you’d also like a book, we’d recommend Princess and the Royal Ball by Natasha A. Tarpley/illustrated by James Finch)–a full review is on our site.

 

Uptick in sale of real Hamsters?

How many parents will opt for the real thing when they can find the fake Zhu Zhu Hamsters?

Remember if you bring them home…Hamsters are known for eating their young.  One parent had to explain to their kids why there were 14 little hamsters when they went to sleep and only four when they woke up!

Today at the TODAY Show

Alex and Mr. Robot in the Today Show Green Room

My wonderful toy tester Alex and I arrived just as Susan Boyle was arriving.  We hurried in — ahead of her entourage.  I heard her — what a distinct voice!  We then went to the Green Room which was pretty crowded today.  Senator Chuck Schumer was there as was “That Girl” Marlo Thomas.  (Or as other people know her- Rachel Green’s mother on Friends.)   As I was getting hair and make-up done (the best folks on the planet!) , Susan Boyle was rehearsing.  Every time she sings, people just stop talking and listen.  It’s pretty incredible. I kept thinking where she was two years ago–and now all of this fame around the world.  She joked with the audience that was already there–she seems to be in the moment and enjoying herself.

My segment today was part of a whip–where they have several experts talk on the same subject.  One of the toys we had was the Mindflex Game which Alex demo’ed on air–no small feat when you have a room full of cameras, stage managers and oh yes, millions of people watching at home–but he did it!!  I was really so proud of him.  As we were leaving –Susan Boyle was about to sing.  I asked if he wanted to stay and listen—but he’s 11 — and he had no interest.  Not really her demographic!

Alex outside at the Today Show as Susan Boyle is getting ready to sing.

Zhu Zhu Hamster Pets: What you need to know about the hot little critters

Zhu Zhu Hamster Pets from Cepia

The Zhu Zhu Hamsters have scurried their way into first position as the “hot-completely sold out” toy of the season.  Today’s article by Stephanie Rosenbloom  in The New York Times will certainly help fan the craze.  It’s been quite a while since we’ve had a hot toy.  The toy industry has been battered the last few years by serious issues about toy safety and a shrinking audience as kids leave toyland earlier and earlier.  And even though the little creatures are not from one of the major toy companies (they are produced by Cepia LLC), everyone in the toy biz should  be pretty happy.  These little guys can drive parents into the toy stores–and if you can’t find a Zhu Zhu–you’re bound to buy some other toys. The media is also  happy to have a light story to report on – rather than announcing rolling toy recalls.

We did not receive our required safety verification from the manufacturer Cepia on these little critters so we can not give them an official Oppenheim Toy Portfolio award –but given all the hype we thought we should give them an unofficial review.

This is what you need to know:

they are pretty cute

they make a variety of sounds (including mooing like a cow and crowing like a rooster)

they don’t cost a fortune (retail ranges from $7.99 to $9.99)

they are easy to activate -by touching them on top

they have wheels that go back and forth (which can hurt if you put your finger right next to them)

watch out for long hair getting caught in the wheels

they do not require feeding

unlike many virtual creatures of late, they won’t die if you don’t take care of them

there is no cage to clean

unlike the real thing, they also won’t eat their young!

Two toyportfolio.com videos of the Zhu Zhu Creatures

Zhu Zhu Hamster Pets Gives Our Mr. Robot a Ride

Zhu Zhu Hamsters and our mascot, Mr. Robot

Zhu Zhu Hamster Pets: The aerial view

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.