Oith the long summer school holidays well underway, you might need a little help keeping the kids entertained. From walkie-talkies and cameras to tablets, robot toys and fitness trackers, here are some of the best kid-friendly tech to keep the little ones (and little ones) busy.
Sphero Mini – on £50
Lots of tech toys are all the rage, but my longtime favorite has stood the test of time as a modern update to remote control fun. Sphero is a ball you control using a smartphone or tablet, and has hidden depths, with games and educational elements also available.
The mini sphero ball is great fun to drive and small enough that rambunctious interior excursions don’t result in broken furniture and scuffed paint. The Sphero Play app offers games, while the Sphero Edu app is ideal for fostering creative learning.
Amazon Fire 7 Kids – on £110
If you’d rather not lend your precious breakable phone or iPad to your little ones, Amazon’s virtually indestructible Kids Edition tablets might be just the ticket.
The cheapest and smallest Fire 7 has just been updated and comes in a range of brightly colored cases with a flip-out stand. If your offspring manage to break it, Amazon will replace it for free as part of its two-year “no-hassle” warranty.
It does all the standard tablet stuff like movies, apps, games, a web browser if you want it, and parental controls to lock it, set time limits, and age filters. There is even an option restricting access to child safe sites and videos, but it does not have access to the Google Play Store, only the Amazon App Store.
The Kids Edition comes with a one-year subscription to Amazon Kids+ (£3 to £7 One Month After), which is a curated collection of child-friendly text and audiobooks, movies, TV shows, and educational apps.
Biggest £140 Fire HD 8 and £200 Fire HD 10 are also available in Kids versions, if you want something bigger, or Amazon’s new Kids Pro tablets start at £100 with added features aimed at school-aged children.
Alternatives include various LeapFrog products educational tabletswhich are suitable for young children, or refurbished or refurbished iPads (from £150) in sturdy cases, which can be locked with certain parental controls.
VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 – on £39
Before the advent of smartphones, self-contained cameras were how we visually documented our lives, and they can still be a bit of creative fun and inspiration for kids.
The VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 is a kind of “my first digital camera” made of sturdy and easy-to-use plastic, which VTech says is suitable for children from three to nine years old. It captures reasonable quality 5MP photos and can also take rear selfies, all viewable on a 2.4-inch screen.
The optical viewfinder helps them line up the shot, which they can transform with fun filters and effects. It even records videos. The kid-centric nature may put off older kids, but every award-winning photographer has to start somewhere before the smartphone takes over.
It needs an SD card for storage and takes four AA batteries at a time, and chews them up quickly, so buy rechargeable batteries to help save money and the planet.
For older kids, rugged, waterproof action cameras might be the way to shoot videos and photos. Budget unbranded cameras cost around £80, but used or refurbished models from the big boys such as GoPro and DJI cost around £100 and on eBay and elsewhere.
Garmin Vivofit Junior 3 – approximately £55
Your child might not need encouragement to tear the place up, but if you’re looking for a gadget to ‘gamify’ and reward their activity – as well as give them a smartwatch-like gadget to play with – the Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 might be a winner for ages four and up.
Its watch shape comes in different themes and designs, including featuring various Star Wars, Marvel, and Disney characters, with custom watch faces to choose from. The user-replaceable button cell battery lasts for one year, so you don’t have to worry about recharging it. Water resistance to 50 meters means swimming shouldn’t be a problem either.
It tracks steps, activity and sleep with motivational messages. It offers mini-games to play once your child has reached their goals, and can all be managed from a parent’s phone or tablet, so you can keep an eye on their data. Parents can even set goals, competitions with their own activity levels, chore reminders, and tasks that can earn virtual coins to redeem for rewards with you.
It’s button-operated rather than touchscreen-operated, and the backlight doesn’t stay on for long to conserve battery power.
If you are a user of Google’s Fitbit trackers yourself, then the company Ace 3 (£50) means you can take part in activities, but it needs to be topped up every seven days or so. Other less expensive adult-oriented fitness trackers such as the Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 6 (on £29) may be better for older children.
Talkabout Motorola T42 – on £35 for three
Walkie-talkies are a great replacement for phones, allowing kids and big kids to stay in touch without worrying about charges or broken screens.
There are plenty of kid-centric options available with different character themes, but basic units usually work best. Motorola’s T42 Talkabout is available in multiple colors and multipacks.
They’re simple to set up, with a pairing button and multiple channel selection to find a clear one. Once gone, just press to talk, even over long distances. Their advertised 4km range might be a bit ambitious, but they should be good for at least 500 meters in urban settings, or much further out in the open.
They each take three AAA batteries, which last around 18 hours of talk time or around three to four days of active use, so you might need a small army of rechargeable batteries.
They have a belt clip and loop to hook onto a carabiner (metal loop) or similar, and are also quite sturdy, so should survive being tossed around a room or two.
Nestling camouflage walkie-talkies (about £26) are also a popular choice, but there are plenty of sub-£30 choices available on the high street.