WAs the long summer school vacation begins, you may 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 kids-targeted tech to keep the little ones (and the not-so-young) occupied.
Sphero Mini – About 50 pounds
Lots of tech games are fads but a longtime favorite has stood the test of time as a recent update to the fun of remote control. Sphero is a ball that you control with a smartphone or tablet, and it has hidden depths, with games and educational items also available.
The Sphero Mini Ball is super fun to drive and small enough that excessive indoor trips won’t break furniture and paint work. The Sphero Play app contains games, while the Sphero Edu app is great for fostering creative learning.
Amazon Fire 7 Kids – About £110
If you’d rather not lend your precious breakable phone or iPad to your kids, Amazon’s Indestructible Kids Edition tablets might just be the ticket.
The cheapest and smaller Fire 7 has been updated and is available in a set of brightly colored boxes with a pop-up stand. If your offspring manages to break it, Amazon will replace it for free under its two-year “worry-free” guarantee.
It does all the standard things for a tablet like movies, apps, games, a web browser if you like it, parental controls to lock it and set time limits and age filters. There is even an option that restricts access to safe websites and videos for kids but does not have access to the Google Play Store, only the Amazon App Store.
The Kids Edition comes with a year’s subscription to Amazon Kids + (from £3-7 month later), a curated collection of child-friendly text and audio books, movies, TV shows, and educational apps.
The larger £140 Fire HD 8 and £200 Fire HD 10 are available in kids’ versions too, if you want something bigger, or the new Amazon Pro devices from Kids Pro start at £100 with additional features aimed at school-aged kids.
Alternatives include LeapFrog’s various educational tablets, which are suitable for younger children, or hand-delivered or refurbished iPads (from £150) in sturdy cases, which can be locked with some parental controls.
VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0.0 Update – Approx. £39
Before the advent of smartphones, stand-alone cameras were the way we visually documented our lives, and they still provide a bit of fun and creative inspiration for kids.
The VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 is “my first digital camera” of a type made of durable plastic and simple to operate, which VTech believes is suitable for children aged three to nine years. It takes 5MP photos of reasonable quality and can take selfies from the back too, all viewable on the 2.4-inch screen.
An optical viewfinder helps them align the shot, which they can transform with fun filters and effects. It even shoots video as well. The child-centered nature may turn 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 it chews up quickly, so buy some recharges to help save money and the planet.
For older kids, rugged, waterproof action cameras may be the perfect solution for shooting videos and photos. Budget non-branded cameras cost around £80, but used or refurbished big boys models like GoPro and DJI go for around £100 and on eBay and elsewhere.
Garmin Vivofit Junior 3 – From about £55
Your child may not need any encouragement to wring about the place, but if you’re looking for a gadget to “play” and reward their activity — as well as giving them a smartwatch to play with — the Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 could be a winner for ages four and up.
Its watch-like look comes in many themes and designs, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Disney characters, with custom watch faces to choose from. The user-replaceable coin cell battery lasts up to a year, so you don’t have to worry about charging it. Water resistance up to 50 meters means swimming shouldn’t be a problem either.
Tracks steps, activity and sleep with motivational messages. They contain mini games for you to play once your child achieves their goals, and they 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 and contests with their own activity levels, routine reminders, and tasks that can earn virtual coins for them to trade in for rewards with you.
It operates with buttons instead of a touch screen, and the backlight doesn’t stay on long to conserve battery.
If you’re a Google Fitbit tracker yourself, the company’s Ace 3 (£50) means you can compete on activity, but it needs to charge every seven days or so. Other cheaper adult-focused fitness trackers such as the Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 6 (around £29) may be better for older kids.
Motorola T42 Talkabout Approx. £35 for 3 people
Walkie-talkies are a great alternative to phones, allowing kids and adults to stay connected without fear of charges or shattered screens.
There are plenty of child-centered options with various personality traits, but basic units usually work best. Motorola’s T42 Talkabout comes in multiple colors and packages.
It’s easy to set up, with a pairing button and multiple channel selection to find a straightforward one. Once you go, just tap to talk, even for long distances. Its quoted range of 4km may be a bit ambitious, but it should be good for at least 500m in urban environments, or much further outdoors.
Each takes three AAA batteries, which last about 18 hours of talk time or roughly three to four days in active use, so you might need a small army of rechargeable batteries.
They have a belt clip and a carabiner for attaching to a carabiner (metal carabiner) or similar, and they’re fairly sturdy as well, so they should survive firing through a room or two.
Camouflaged walkie-talkies from Nestling (about £26) are also a popular choice but there are plenty of options under £30 on Main Street.