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.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Emerging Themes: Banana Splits, Taxis and Toilets

Each year there are certain concepts that just seem to be in the air at toy fair. This year we are already seeing certain themes emerging for 2011.

Banana Splits, Taxis and Toilets…

From Learning Resources

Banana Split from Earlyears (International Playthings)

Step 2's New Taxi Ride In

Viking Toys Taxi (from International Playthings)

All wood...from Maxim

Even the new Disney Princess Castle comes with a royal throne

Faux Wooden Toilet Seat from Calico Critters

Toys that make me wonder…

Ever wonder how certain things get made whether it’s something to wear (in a hideous shade or impossible to wear shape) or a kitchen appliance you can’t imagine you’d ever use more than once-a la the Chickenborg Egg Cuber.

I often find myself asking this question in toyland.  It would be fun to sit in the design meetings (that perhaps were held during happy hour).  Now take that ridiculous design concept and imagine it’s been sold to the brand manager, the sales force, etc.   And then there are the retailers who also drink the kool aid and fill their  shelves with these products.  I then wonder if the design team that had a silly idea or I- can’t-believe- they’ll-go- for -it concept – has a good laugh.

Now one of these toys made our top Platinum Award list this year – I don’t necessarily mean they’re terrible products…I just wonder how they came to be. (Ok, for some, I do think they’re pretty dreadful.)

1. Cuponk – This wins as the ugliest designed toy we received. Much like playing quarters, the aim here is to get the eyeball into the container. 

Is it just me or does this just seem like great training for drinking games? And take a look at the images.  They’re not just ghoulish, they’re unpleasant and certainly not visuals that are important to the 8 and up set.

2. Fish with Removable Bone- I’m all for pretend play but this one just struck me as going a bit too far. I think our kids can pretend to fillet the fish. Of course this is a refreshing and healthier choice than the countless number of plastic hot dogs and french fries we receive every year.

3. Barbie Video Girl- This product is on our Platinum List…but we still would have loved to have been in the meeting where they decided to place the camera in the middle of Barbie’s chest. I’m just saying.  In fact, I’ve spent way too long discussing where they could have placed it instead.

Barbie Video Girl

A possible solution that won the most votes–Barbie could have been holding a video camera rather than being the video camera.  I see it–but I also appreciate the design elegance of having it where it is (on her “necklace”).  If you want to talk pure silliness, the Barbie Glitterizer, where Barbie is put into a chamber and sprayed with glitter, wins hands down in my book.

4. Detainee Kit- If your child is saying “Mommy when I grow up I want to be a TSA employee”, then I guess this set makes sense!  Complete with a body scanner and handcuffs…you’re child is ready for post 9/11 cops and robbers. The set also comes with a lie detector and evidence kit. Now that I’ve pointed out the obvious “wow, really” factor of this kit- I should point out that some kids will really love this kind of role playing…and enjoy the realistic props. For others role playing with the security wand may make the real life airport security experience a little less scary. It just makes me sad.

5.WWE Accessories. On the other hand if your child aspires to be a WWE champion, why not strap on the championship belt now, right? Complete with sounds effects (to me it sounds like Charo!).

6.Flatsy- Here’s how this meeting probably went. “What if it looks like you drove over your child’s doll with the mini-van?” “Yeah!”  “Cool!”   Truth be told, I kind of like the absolute silliness of the design-although I can already hear well-meaning body image advocates raising issues about what kind of dangerous role model these dolls present to young girls.

7.Learn & Groove Musical Wand.   Really? No comment.

Toy Fair 2010: Crayola = Fun

Crayola's Model Magic!

Based on our visit at Crayola, there’s a lot of promisingly fun  products rolling out this year. Happily these toys will start arriving soon. For reviews, check our website www.toyportfolio.com.

Chalk News. You know I’m all a huge fan of their chalk. This year there are new super sets of 3D Chalk (one features Toy Story). I love this stuff. But what’s really new is a chalk making set.  Looks like our kind of craft kit- we’ll have to see how it works.  They also have a spiral top for chalk. My brothers will tell you, I really stink at the spining top thing but even I think I can make this one work. Watch the next post for a demo of the spiral chalk top.New Chalk Sets from Crayola

Model Magic. How cute is this new set where you can make little pieces to add to forms.

New Model Magic Sets

Also big, things that Glow in the Dark. During our visit to their showroom, the lights were being turned off repeatedly to show off more glow-in-the-dark sets.  I have a sense some will be more successful than others -but we’ll put them all to the test as they come out.  We gave their Glow Station an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award.

Glow Station...larger glow-in-dark toy!

New Crafts for Tweens. They have a new line called Pop Art Pixies,  featuring  four tweens (that look like they’re related to the Fashion Angels) – each has a theme.  One likes to recycle, one likes to decorate…you get the idea. Some of the kits looked like they would be great fun for 9-12 year old crafters. Stay tuned. I particularly liked the look of the recycle kits – and will be interested to see how our testers react.

Tween Craft Sets

Amazing On-line Program. You send in a picture of your child, they create a cartoon image based on that photo, you then customize your own coloring book adventure featuring your now “cartoon” child.  LOVE this.  You get the code for this site when you buy a certain size box of crayons (hey, who doesn’t need a new box of Crayola?).  This new platform will launch officially in the fall–but we’re working out details for making it available to our readers soon.


In Defense of LEGO

Hilary Stout’s article in The New York Times,  With New Toys, More Assembly Required , correctly points out what we’ve been observing and writing about for years.  You need to be ready to roll up your sleeves, arm yourself with a screwdriver, sometimes a power drill — all to put a toy together.  If you’re not particularly handy, we  recommend that you enlist the assistance of the  store or a relative that doesn’t break out in a cold sweat when confronted with complicated assembly instructions.  And whatever you do, don’t start at midnight on Christmas Eve–it’s almost a surefire recipe for tears and spousal strife.

That said…the article then goes on to talk about LEGO sets with too many pieces.  Here, we have to disagree.  The beauty of LEGO sets is that there are sets for all builders…beginners to the most advanced.  Most hard core LEGO fans will tell you that the company has made it too easy for builders with the new bagging technique.  Rather than open the box and find several hundred pieces — the company now pre-sorts the builds.  For LEGO builders of the past– this new approach has been labeled strictly for whimps!  You can hear many a parent say “in my day, we had to go through each and every piece” after we walked five long miles from school.

One of the big messages we try to get out each year is to start at the beginning.  If you are doing all of the building and your child is just watching you–you’ve brought home the wrong set.  The idea of these sets and why they appeal to kids — is that they build a child’s sense of what they can accomplish.  Learning how to read and follow step-by-step instructions is huge.  Having the patience to stick with a project – that not everything is instantaneous – is an important life lesson.

It is no surprise to us that LEGO has continued to do well in these tough times and has maintained a strong presence in an otherwise  shrinking and battered  toy industry.  They have maintained their core mission by giving kids fun kits to build, they’ve improved their directions and they have stayed current by bring in themes and licenses that are attractive to their target audience. The most sought after LEGO kits from our testers are in fact the smaller sets where kids can build a car or Star Wars vehicle and then play with it.  It is that sense of accomplishment that makes them ask for more. The focus is on building self-esteem and confidence and having fun–not how many pieces you can handle.

We also know that building develops the following skills: visual discrimination,  fine-motor, spatial relations, math, reading, ability to follow directions in sequence and problem solving skills.   We want both our sons and daughters to be competitive in math and engineering – it begins with these hands-on experiences. So start small.  It’s like my grandmother always used to say, don’t worry about the size, buy what fits.

For  reviews of our top-rated construction toys–visit www.toyportfolio.com.

Toyportfolio.com: Top Ten Toys for Babies and Toddlers Under $20

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Sassy Crib & Floor Mirror

With budgets tight, it’s important to bring home things that really count – and there is no reason to break the bank!  Here are some of our top picks for 2009 — all under $20.  Read the full reviews on our site.

Sassy Crib & Floor Mirror (Sassy)

Infantino Wall Mounted  Mobile Mirror (Step 2)

Stack ‘n Surprise Blocks Blockity-Pop Caterpillar (Fisher-Price)

Baby Deglingos Dog, Rabbit, Hedgehog or Cow (All New Materials)

Satin Ears Bear Security Cozy (North American Bear Co.)

Infantino Spiral Spin Top (Step 2)

Kids Preferred Nutbrown Hare or Peter Rabbit Hand Puppet (Kids Preferred)

Bright Starts Bees & Blooms Balls (Kids II)

Earlyears Zippy Zoomer (International Playthings)

Leapfrog Counting Candles (Leapfrog)

Update on Doodle Track Cars

You know how much we love the Doodle Track Cars…the folks at Daydream Toy just let me know that the interactive site is now launched–so that you can customize your own tracks.  You go to www.doodletrackcar.com and click on Design and Print a Track. Next week they will have a Halloween theme posted.  Lots of kids will enjoy customizing their own track–but my favorite is a huge piece of white paper and making your own track.  Either way, this is an affordable must have for kids 4 & up that love all things cars! Watch the video.

Behind the Scenes at the TODAY SHOW

The whole gang during the segment

The whole gang during the segment

I actually love doing segments with lots of kids. I think it adds to the energy of the piece – but I do have to say last night I had this momentary thought “eight babies!, really?!…what were you thinking!”

The kids had a  long wait until it was time to go into the studio–and one thing I’ve learned over the years, never show kids toys long before they go on air – especially when you’re talking about babies and toddlers. To expect them to be engaged with toys for more than 10 minutes in any given setting, just isn’t reasonable in real life, much less in a tv studio with so many people, lights and cameras around. So we had some other related toys for them to play with in their separate “green room”…but at a certain point, they all started moving about the lower concourse — to say this particular group of kids were cute, is an understatement.  The kids were all in what I call that “cupcake” stage where they are just full of pure joy.  (At least at that moment!)

Once we got to the set, I was happy.  The kids and their parents were engaged with all the toys we had selected.  (You can hear them throughout!)  Doing segments with Natalie is also fun because she’s  in the middle of this zone with her two sons…so she gets it.

This is a picture of Matthew (4 months old)…enjoying  hanging out on the Infantino Twist & Fold mat. Picture 10

And here’s a pic with Natalie after the segment is over….To watch the segment, click here.

Natalie Morales and Stephanie Oppenheim

Natalie Morales and Stephanie Oppenheim