Whether you are into Star Wars droids that you can control, robots that interact with you or drones that do battle, there’s never been a better time to unleash your inner child. Here we've rounded up some of our favorite toys we've played with over the year. So, if you are looking to buy something for the more diminutive members of your family (or simply treat yourself with a cute little gizmo), you are in luck – there are a number connected toys and smart playthings listed here that you will want to try out.
As always, we’ve aimed to cover all aspects of the connected toy industry. Some require an existing game system to play (such as the Skylanders Imaginators game, which uses NFC-friendly models to create in game characters) while others – such as the brilliant Star Wars Battle Drones from Propel – can be used straight out of the box. We’ve even gone as far as including more off the wall choices, such as a modern take on the toy racing made popular by Scalextric back in the ’80s and a wearable that you can code to do amazing things.
Each toy in the list we've either extensively tested or played with enough to know how good it is. With that in mind, sit back, prime your bank balance and prepare to become a kid all over again with our list of must-have connected toys.
- Nintendo amiibo
- Star Wars Propel Battle Drones
- Skylanders Imaginators
- Anki Overdrive
- Star Wars Sphero BB-8 + Force Band
- Mass Effect: Andromeda remote control Nomad ND1
- Star Wars Sphero R2-D2
- Anki Cozmo
- Jimu Robot
- Mover Kit
- Sphero Ultimate Lightning McQueen
Nintendo’s inevitable answer to the heyday popularity of Activision’s Skylanders franchise and the now defunct Disney Infinity series, amiibo have become some of the most popular NFC toys on the market. Usually launched to support key titles (such as Splatoon 2 or Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle), these little toys work with in-built NFC readers in Switch, Wii U and later models of the 3DS/2DS and can be used daily to add extra content to certain games. And while they’re often not as expensive as Skylander toys, collecting the entire set can be a challenge as Nintendo infamously failed to produce enough units for previous models.
There’s been quite a few Star Wars drones since the franchise returned to cinemas in 2015, but it’s the collection from Propel that’s proved one of the best. From the impressive packaging (where a model of the vehicle itself as used as clasp to seal it tight), to the impressive attention to detail, these gizmos are ideal for collectors and wannabe star pilots. The series includes a 74-Z Speeder Bike, a Star Wars T-65 X-Wing – which we reviewed for this very list – and the TIE Advanced X1. Each comes with an easy to use controller, one button 360-degree tricks and a choice of three speeds.
- Get Propel Star Wars Battle Quadcopter T-65 X-Wing on Amazon now
The sixth and most recent incarnation of the popular ‘toys to life’ series, Imaginators is all about giving its young players the power to design their very own swashbuckling hero via an impressively deep customisation suite. Said creations can then be saved into NFC-compatible ‘crystals’ and slotted into the series’ Portal Of Power peripheral (which reads the models or crystals placed on it and generates them on-screen. While it might not be the most unique premise of the series (2013’s Swap Force still has that claim), Imaginators still offers a creativity that’s unmatched in the genre.
The latest version of Anki’s smart toy racing concept, Anki Overdrive, offers one of the most unique connected toy experiences you can play. The idea is really simple – build a physical track (full of sharp turns, elevations and quick straights), place your smart Anki cars on the track and let the Anki Overdrive app do the rest for you. With over 25 AI personalities that adapt to how you play, it’s a proper racing videogame you can build, Scalextric style in your living room. Following a consistent flow of updates, the game is now better than ever with the need the scan the track before every now removed if you’ve made no changes to it since your last battle.
We're set to get the Fast & Furious version of Overdrive into review soon, too. Once we do, we'll update this list with our thoughts.
Sphero brought the ultra cute BB-8 to life back in 2015, but back then we had to use our smartphones or tablets to control the little droid dude. Thankfully, you can now buy a special wristband that uses hand gestures to send him rolling around your home, and it’s proved to be one of the best and most responsive control designs we’ve ever used. Throwing your hand forwards like a real-life Force Push will send BB rolling forwards, while moving it side to will change direction, and up and down for speed. It takes around an hour to set up, which is annoying at best, but thankfully you only have to endure it once.
Recently, an alternative to Sphero BB-8 was released – the Sphero BB-9E, a bad droid that's set to make its debut in The Last Jedi. It's equally a lot of fun to use!
While billed as a Collector’s Edition for a sci-fi action-RPG, the Nomad ND1 doesn’t actually include a copy of Mass Effect Andromeda – still, that doesn’t detract from how great this RC car is all by itself. With a special six wheel drive, the Nomad ND1 offers precise control thanks to a versatile pair of front and rear axles, a robust suspension from hitting small jumps and in-built LEDs so you don’t lose it in the dark. It also comes with its own in-built camera, which you can use while controlling it from your phone/tablet. Definitely one of the best licensed RC cars we’ve ever tested.
- Get the Mass Effect: Andromeda Collector's Edition Remote Control Nomad ND1 on Amazon
The Sphero R2-D2 is an impressive, most impressive, connected toy. It is a superb replica of the best-loved Star Wars droid and one that comes to life with the more droids you have.
Whether you are controlling it through its easy to use app, watching Star Wars with it (you can watch all the prequels, Rogue One and A New Hope and it will interact) or admiring it on your shelf, you'll enjoy the company of Sphero's latest droid. While we would like to have seen a bit more interactivity when we weren't actually using the droid, it's the smartest Star Wars toy we've ever played with.
You will laugh, smile and fist-bump along to Anki Cozmo and the 'bot will follow you every step of the way. Cozmo is an intelligent, fun toy – one you can program and play with – that may look simple but its cute exterior hides a complex AI brain that you tap into thanks to the updated and easy to use app.
All of this fun does come at a price, though. But this is one toy that's only going to get better with age – and if the latest app update is anything to go by, Anki will be making significant upgrades as and when it can.
Although the box says from 8 years and up, Cozmo had this 30-something smiling time and time again – it's a connected toy that truly connects.
The Jimu Robot TankBot Kit is part toy, part coding king. It comes in the box ready to assemble and while this will take some time, it's worth the wait. Yes, the instructions seem a bit daunting at first – it's more like a CAD file than a LEGO set – but once you get the hang of clicking all the 190 bits into place, the installation process of Jimu Robot TankBot is a lot of fun. While you are creating your TankBot, an accompanying app shows your progress through a 3D model of the thing you are creating. We recommend you using the app on an iPad rather than an iPhone, though, as the bigger screen lets you more easily see and manipulate the interactive instructions. And there's no Android app yet.
Once construction is completed, there's an array of pre-programs you can use to control Jimu, ranging from making it lift things to it following a set path. It's also endlessly programmable, too, which means you'll have a lot of fun with what is essentially an educational tool.
Taking advantage of another Disney license, Sphero's Ultimate Lightning McQueen toy, based on the star of Pixar’s Cars franchise, is a fantastic connected toy and one of the techiest we've seen. Designed by a team of 40 people (with help from key Pixar staff), it’s a perfect recreation of the character. McQueen isn’t just a remote controlled car (though he’s a very good one at that), but an animated, speaking, expressive one as well.
Squeezing a respectable 40 minutes of play time out of a two hour charge, he’s got a 30 meter range and a top speed of 6Mph. Controls take the form of a digital thumbstick through your phone or tablet’s touchscreen, meaning he’ll be easy to steer for anyone that’s picked up a console game pad before. Yes it's pricey, but you can see where every penny goes.
Part wearable, part coding platform, Mover Kit is a fun device from the folks that helped designed the BBC micro:bit. Mover Kit comes in parts and takes around 15 minutes to assemble, then the real fun starts. The idea is that you can program the wearable to do a number of things – with the hope that it will get kids up and active. On board are LED lights, an accelerometer and a compass – and the ability to program these features any which way you want. All you have to do is plug Mover Kit into a computer, install Bolt, and start the achingly simple process of coding.
It would be good if there was Wi-Fi/Bluetooth on board, so you don't have to use a computer but an app for a smartphone or tablet instead, but this niggle aside (and we know that would ramp up the costs) it's a fun and inventive device that makes it cool to code. It's all a little DIY but don't let this put you off – it all adds to the entertainment.