TechCrunch Gift Guide 2011: Best Toys

If you’re an Aunt, Uncle, Grandfather, Grandmother, Godmother, Godfather, Foster Parent, or just plain old mommy or daddy, you might have some kids on your holiday shopping list. These are some interesting toys that I’ve come across this year and all have a certain high-tech edge that adults and kids alike can enjoy.

The LeapPad – $99 – There is a very narrow window during which Leapfrog devices like the LeapPad are popular and fun, but if you have kids between 4 and 6 and you want to keep them off the iPad, this self-contained tablet may be the right way to go. It has a built-in camera, supports multiple games, and is rugged enough to end up on the floor a few times without breaking. It even supports children’s ebooks, all available from Leapfrog.

Nerf Vortex – From $23 – The Nerf vortex guns are on improvement over the previous dart-based guns that were so popular with cubicle dwellers and college kids everywhere. These guns shoot small soft disks are quite accurate at a distance. You can hold multiple disks per clip and shoot them like Rambo at targets and – this is not recommended – your sister. They range in size and price so be sure you know how the intended recipients parents feel about heavy artillery before you pick this up.

Mindflex Duel – $74.99 – I played with Mindflex Duel a few times already and came away slightly nonplussed but impressed at the technology that goes into this complex and cool game. Both players wear wireless headsets that “sense” your thoughts allow you to move a floating ball forward and back along a set track. The challenge comes in getting the ball through various hoops and holes and keep it aloft with your thoughts alone. It’s one of those games that are cool with you first open it and then may seem a bit less interesting over time, which should give potential purchasers pause, especially considering the price. Check it out online and decide for yourself if you want to control a soft foam ball with your brain.

Lite Sprites – From $15 – There aren’t many high tech toys for girls so I was especially pleased when I found the Lite Sprites. These twee plastic fairies light up in multiple colors that are controlled by a magic wand that can actually sample colors from various services. For example, you can place the bottom of the wand on a piece of colored paper and the LEDs in the top will attempt to re-create that color by mixing shades. Does it always work? No, but it’s pretty cool when it does. With the larger playsets you can actually send the sample colors to internal LEDs, lighting up the entire playset to match the wand.

Light Strike – From $20 – You cannot watch the video above without coming away with the idea that Light Strike rocks pretty hard. As a child of the 80s, I remember Laser Tag with a fondness that belies the actual number of times I played with that fairly simple gun and target toy. WowWee has improved upon the basic concept by creating guns that have different load times and can use special accessories like telescopic sights and radar.

Perplexus Epic – $30 – This toy is amazingly simple and amazingly addictive. It’s essentially a 3-D maze inside a ball. To solve it, you run a small metal BB through the various holes, tracks, and moving cups, without letting it fall off. It’s a fun thinking toy for kids who like to concentrate on puzzles rather than run around the dining room table screaming the lyrics to Disney songs.

For some extra inspiration on all things gifty, check out the rest of our 2011 Holiday Gift Guide here.