TT12This year, for the first time ever, the Toy Insider released a list of top tech toys for the holiday season in its gift guide called the Top Tech 12. This list promotes the belief that we have here about a “well-balanced toy box.” In a world that has new technology each day—and tons of digital, innovative toys for kids—it’s easy to get caught up in buying the newest, most glamorous toys out there without really knowing if it’s the right toy for your kid. The Toy Insider’s goal with this list is to help shoppers sift through all of the options out there for forward-thinking and impressive tech-based toys that incorporate the latest in digital play, creativity, and innovation.

Shameless self-promotion aside, tech toys are becoming harder and harder to sift through, so finding the perfect one for every kid can be difficult.  Of course, many in the industry, wandering the shopping aisles, and generally existing around toys know about Skylanders Swap Force and Disney Infinity, two new innovative video game platforms that mix digital and physical play, but they aren’t the only toys out there with exciting new technology. All of the toys on our Top Tech 12 list are great, but I picked a few favorites that are not only great technology innovations, but they also give kids other options of physical play—so they aren’t glued to a screen all day.

robodog_dalmatian_p9_go_pee_copy (1)Zoomer, from Spin Master, is a trainable robotic dog that is the perfect option for kids that want a pet and parents that want a clean house. Zoomer can be trained to respond to a bunch of different commands and tricks in three different languages (English, Spanish, and French). Zoomer learns kids’ voices and how to respond to these commands. He is adorably cute and lifelike. Left to his own devices, he’ll wander around the room, just like a real puppy. Zoomer’s LED lights blink and react making him seem more alive than your typical robots.

I love Zoomer because he’s a technologically innovative toy that doesn’t require any sort of screen at all. Zoomer can play with kids like a real puppy and, since he is trainable, a very personal toy. This allows Zoomer to become a kid’s pet and, of course, man’s best friend. Zoomer sometimes forgets his training, as any puppy does, so he also needs to be watched and taken care of constantly. Zoomer can be a fun toy or pet, but he also teaches kids responsibility. He can be used as a baby step toward being able to take care of a real life pet, but also as a pet substitution for busy families, parents look to avoid the mess of a puppy, or those without the space for a real dog (such as those cramped Manhattan apartments!).

Angry Birds Star Wars Telepods Star Destroyer setAngry Birds Star Wars Telepods Star Destroyer, from Hasbro, has a similar idea as that of Skylanders Swap Force and Disney Infinity, but on a smaller scale with a lower price point. Hasbro’s Telepods technology allows physical figures to be “transported” into an app right on your smart device with a front facing camera. You just have to stick one of the Angry Birds Star Wars figures on the Telepods base, place the base over the camera, tap the teleport button and boom—you’ve just chosen your own bird to play with in the game. Teleporting the figures into the game is so quick that you don’t have to worry about kids getting held up or bored with loading screens.

The Angry Birds Star Wars Telepods Star Destroyer is a physical play set as well. It not only provides digital play through the teleporting technology, but also contains construction and physical play. The set allows kids to build their own Angry Birds Star Wars world and use their figures to knock down structures, just like in the app. The Angry Birds Telepods Star Wars Star Destroyer figures work with the Angry Birds Star Wars II app, from Rovio Entertainment.

Furby BoomFurby is back, but in a bigger way! The Furby Boom, also from Hasbro, has all the charm and personality of the original that had parents brawling in toy aisles, but with new innovative digital play. The Furby Boom app can be downloaded for free which allows even more play value. Kids can take care of their Furby Boom digitally to earn eggs, which hatch into Furblings for them to also take care of. The physical Furby reacts to what you do on the app, such as being bathed with water that is too cold (he shivers!). The app even scans your Furby so the one on the screen matches the colors of the toy in front of you. This toy really allows kids to feel like Furby is their pet—and makes each Furby unique and different.

The new technology adds more to the Furby brand than has ever been there before. With the original Furby, kids couldn’t interact with Furby much beyond teaching him English (as opposed to Furbish) and having him repeat things. The new Furby boom allows kids to play with Furby in a way that lasts much longer, preventing him from ending up with his batteries taken out shoved under the bed or behind some pillows.

It’s always hard to shop for tech toys for kids, especially if parents aren’t entirely sure of the technology themselves. It’s important to look for play value that extends beyond the screen and into physical play as well. Since tech toys usually have a higher price point, it’s important that the toy won’t be thrown to the back of the closet by mid-January. By having a toy that kids can play with in many different ways and a balanced toy box (there it is again!), parents get their money’s worth and kid’s stay engaged. Everyone wins!

To see a full list of the Toy Insider’s 2013 Holiday Guide, click here.

For more commentary from Ali, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!