Smart Toys

Little Kids
Intelli-Table, 4.8 stars, ages 9-36 mos., Microsoft Corp.-- Read about this great new, highly responsive activity center for toddlers on page 7.

3-D Cruiser, 3.2 stars, ages 2-8, KB Gear Interactive, Win, Mac OS-- This attractive steering wheel, made by Little Tikes, plugs into the USB port of a Mac or Windows computer, allowing children to steer vehicles through a jungle, desert, forest or winter scene. Unfortunately, the software portion of this package is not nearly as well designed as the peripheral. The vehicles are hard to steer, even for a New Jersey driver. Windows installation was smooth, but the iMac installation resulted in a complex mess.
 
Winnie the Pooh: Read with Pooh, 3.2 stars, ages 3-up, Fisher-Price, Inc.-- This stuffed, talking Pooh bear has moving arms and an infrared link to a separate book reader. When the child turns a page, the device sends a signal to the bear, who reads the text of the book and asks questions. Pooh does too much prompting, and the stories are bland, based on topics like colors and shapes. The premise is good, but the experience won't last long.

 

Grade Schoolers
Explorer Globe, 5.0 stars, ages 6-up, LeapFrog-- This touch sensitive, basketball sized globe rotates on stable pedestal. Once you turn on the power, you use a stylus pointer to touch any place to hear a label or a fact. A geography trivia game has three levels of play and options for one to four players. This is an outstanding resource. An ear phone jack is included. Uses 4 size "C" batteries or an AC adapter.

LeapPad Pro, 4.8 stars, ages 4-up, LeapFrog-- This updated version of the LeapPad represents the biggest breakthrough in reading instruction since Dick and Jane. The notebook-sized, battery operated, touch sensitive book reader allows children to hear words read aloud, in a clear voice. The device comes with one starter book and a headphone jack.
 
HitClips Micro Player, 4.5 stars, ages 5-up, Tiger Electronics, Ltd.-- Of all the small gadgets we tested this fall, the kids liked these the most. They're matchbox-sized digital music players that can play single song samplers through a single earphone. To play a song, you slide the postage stamp-sized chip into a slot, and press a button. That's it. The sound quality is lousy, and songs are short, but the kids don't care.
 
Little Smart DJ Jazz 'n Jam, 4.4 stars, ages 3-12, VTech Industries, LLC-- This 24 key, battery or AC powered toy piano has keys that light up as a child presses them. Features include three tutorials that guide children through the melodies of simple songs, plus 40 voices, four drum sounds, two stereo speakers, a microphone, and the ability to record and play back songs. Overall, this is the best kids' keyboard on the market.
 
Radica Play TV Baseball, 4.3 stars, ages 5-up, Radica USA-- This easy-to-use baseball simulation plugs directly into your TV or VCR. A plastic bat and ball have built-in motion sensors that work with a home base, telling when you swing the bat, or send a pitch. It really works. The pitcher sends you a pitch, and you try to hit the ball, great practice for ball players. Other Play TV titles include Huntin', Ping Pong and Opus (a dancing sim).
 
DiscoveryFact Reactor, 4.0 stars, ages 7-up, VTechSoft, Inc.-- This handheld device quizzes a child with 1,500 multiple-choice questions on science and nature. The questions are grouped by difficulty, so the better a child does, the harder the challenge. Other features include a built in calculator, alarm clock, and a scheduler with the ability to store phone numbers and events.

Big Kids
LEGO MINDSTORMS: Dark Side Developer Kit, 4.6 stars, ages 9-up, LEGO Mindstorms-- We took a puzzle-loving 12 year old girl and her five-year-old, robot-obsessed brother and turned them loose with this new droid-building kit. Big sister would study the diagrams and find the pieces, then little brother would assemble the parts. This kit is not PC dependent-- all you need comes right in the package.

K'nex Robot World 4.3 stars, K'nex--The robot kit comes with 447 parts, including a motor, a nice assortment of K'nex building pieces, and instructions for building eight robots. Unlike LEGO Mindstorms, these robots have a very limited ability to be programmed, and there is no linkage with a computer. The upside is that the price is lower.
 
Phusion, 4.0 stars,VTech-- This is a handheld organizer for older kids, with a cable to link into a Windows PC (no Mac version). The device has an LCD screen that can show up to four shades of grey, and a small pivoting camera that makes it possible to snap and store very low resolution pictures. These can be transferred to a computer for editing. Templates for calendars, to-do lists, address books are provided. Unlike other organizers such as a Palm Pilot, the screen is not touch sensitive. This means that information must be entered with a tiny qwerty membrane pad, a clumsy process.