Connect with the tech geeks on your holiday shopping list with these 12 brainy games, devices, and smart toys that will rock their Christmas.
Kids of all ages will feel in the middle of the action with the NOON VR Headset ($89). Developed by South Korea-based tech company Nextcore, this lightweight headset can be paired with any smartphone with a 4.7-inch or larger screen. Wearers can watch IMAX-quality videos enjoy a fully immersive virtual reality experience, such as virtual roller coaster, a volcano erupting or even a flight through outer space. Available at Amazon.
Engineering enthusiasts (grades 4+) can literally make a new as they become better builders with the RiQ ($229) easy-to-build-and-program robot kit with building components, sensors, and a microcontroller. The hands-on kit uses is a fun introduction to science concepts such as mechanical engineering, structural engineering, physics, gear ratios, and other STEM concepts. Available at edventures.com.
Everyone wants the “it” gift of the season, the Sky Viper Video Drone 950 ($89) from Skyrocket Toys. This lightweight, durable and high-performing drone spans 12.75” and features the ability to record video and pictures in full 720p high definition with one-touch custom camera moves in autopilot. Its long-range 2.4 GHZ transmitter can be adjusted for all levels of flying experience. (Ages 12+) Available at skyrockettoys.com.
Move over Minecraft, ARCKIT is the new exciting, creative and addictive building activity but in real, tangible life. Professionals, hobbyists, design fans and budding young builders age 12+ can use these ingenious kids to create realistic models to scale, from their own future home to classic architectural monuments, outside as well as the interior, in a true 3D model. The pieces can be dissembled and reused, and the system is compatible with 3D computer modelling programs. Available in various sizes, starting with the ARCKIT Go kit, or ARCKIT 60 with 220 pieces, and ARCKIT 620-pioece AR240 Kit, all which can be expanded with component packs. $69 to $399. Available at Barnes and Noble.
See it all
For those who like to see it all, olloclip’s New Macro Pro Lens ($69) is the microscope for the digital age. Compact and portable enough to put in a backpack or on a keychain, it quickly affixes to an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus utilizing the front- or rear-facing camera to become a powerful high-clarity microscope for discovery and photography, featuring 7x, 14x, 21x macro magnification, for examining insects, flowers, and innumerable small objects, for learning and fun. Available now at olloclip.com and major retailers including Apple and Best Buy.
Host your own family talent show with the pitch perfect Singtrix Personal Bundle, by the makers of Guitar Hero, and everyone is a start. Even bad singers sound good and good singers sound great with this next-generation portable karaoke machine that works with any smartphone, tablet, PC or other audio device, for listening with headphones or a speaker system. The Personal Bundle features more than 300 quality vocal effects and controls to create instant four-part harmonies, so that anyone can sound like a rock star. Available at TOYS “R” US and other national retailers, $229.00.
Lots of subscriptions boxes promise surprises inside, but the Cooper and Kid box delivers, with curated products full of wonder and excitement for kids, with a focus on activities designed to enrich parents’ quality time with children. These kits are full of activities, games, tools, and crafts, like rocket-propelled experiments, that make for great for quality time with kids. Even the shipping box converts into a toy. Subscriptions start at $59 per month for a box per quarter. Available at ccoperandkid.com.
Smart is the new cool with Project Mc² line of toys and activities aimed at teaching girls about science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) through play. The collection includes smart stylish dolls ($24.99) that each include a real-working experiment, such as a kit to create a lava light or an erupting volcano or a glow stick. Other products include the Rock Sugar Jewelry ($9.99) kit for making fashionable accessories through chemistry in the kitchen, and Mckeyla’s Ultimate Lab Kit ($49.99) full of science experiments, and a Soda Can Robot ($14.99) construction kit. Available at Target, Amazon and Toys R Us.
Message in a teddy
Kids stuffed animals really can talk to them, in the voices of their loved ones, with CloudPets ($29.99 + $6.99 shipping and handling). These connected plush toys pair with Bluetooth devices and use BTLE technology that allows children, family and friends to record and send messages by pressing the toy’s right or left paw to send or receive. Designed as a cute and cuddly way for long-distance family and friends to keep in touch, the toy can also be used as a sleep machine with downloaded lullabies to help baby doze off. Available at cloudpets.com.
Super charged fun
Some video games are mindless fun, but top-selling video game franchise Skylanders offers fantastical exploration of a fictional world that expands the imagination. With an array of characters that players place into the game using physical action figures, players can engage in exciting racing and battle interaction in Skylands. In Skylanders SuperChargers (starter kit $74.99), Skylands is in peril. A special team called the SuperChargers equipped with an unstoppable fleet of incredible vehicles must embark on epic adventure to stop the villainous Kaos and save Skylands. Available at Toys R Us and wherever video games are sold.
Super strength goes with super design and hi-tech with the keyless Master Lock No. 1500eXD. School kids will be the envy of classmates with this hi-tech combination padlock hanging on their locker, and they never need worry about forgetting the combination thanks to a vault enabled permanent Backup Master Code. Made of boron carbide for maximum resistance to cutting and sawing, the lock comes installed with a replaceable CR2032 five-year-life battery. $39.68. Available at Amazon, Home Depot, Target and other national retailers.
For anyone with a serious case of FOMO who can’t stop changing channels when TV watching, Pronto ($49.99) makes it easy. This palm-sized hub pairs with the free Peel Smart Remote App to turn an iPhone or iPod Touch into a universal remote that controls more than 3,000 home entertainment devices, even streaming video players. This remote is so smart it makes viewing recommendations based on the user’s interests and viewing habits. Available at Newegg.com and BestBuy.com.
Whenever my 78-year-old mother has a problem with her laptop, she gives me a call. Mom uses email and Facebook to keep up with friends and family, and when she’s offline, she feels out of touch. Usually I can talk her through quick fixes, but recently her screen went dark, and I had no idea what to do. That’s when I heard about Online Owls, an on-call in-house tech service which recently launched in the Washington, DC area.
Within minutes of contacting the service I got a response, and they assured me they could send a tech to my mom, who lives in a rural part of Virginia, about 40 miles from DC. We set up an appointment that week on a Thursday morning. Within minutes, the company followed up with my mother, with an email confirming the appointment, along with the name and a photo of the tech assigned to the job. They sent another confirmation an hour before the appointment.
The tech arrived punctually on my mom’s doorstep at the scheduled time, professionally dressed, and before he entered her home he put on plastic booties to protect her carpets — a gesture that made a favorable impression on Mom.
Within 15 minutes he diagnosed the problem. My mom and the tech called me together, and he explained that the hard drive had failed, catastrophically, as in no possibility of recovery. He needed to take the laptop to replace hardware. This would be done at no extra charge. He would return the repaired laptop at my mother’s convenience, the following Tuesday.
While he was there, the tech also showed my mom how to set her Facebook privacy settings, as the previous week her account had been hacked, and an imposter sent her contacts sent a bogus message about a fraudulent investment opportunity. He also showed her a few shortcuts and tricks she didn’t know about on her iPhone 5.
The next week, as promised, the tech delivered the laptop and tested it out with my mother. My mom was back online, and now she has her own trusted technician to call upon, for the completely affordable amount of $79 per hour, unless of course I can figure it out first.
For those considering using the service for their own non-tech savvy parents, or themselves, here is a Q&A with Online Owls’ co-founder and CEO, Bruno Bianchi, about the launch of this enterprising startup.
What is the demographic of your customers? How many of your customers are seniors or do you expect to be seniors?
According to our market research, our clientele will be mostly busy professionals, stay-at-home moms and seniors. However, we do not limit or focus our services on a specific group – we are available to a 22-year-old that has connectivity issues as well as to an 88-year-old with a smart TV problem.
What are the top three to five most common problems you see? Are these problems any different among seniors? What is the age of your oldest client (if you know)?
Virus or malware removals are the most common requests we receive, followed by computer tune-ups, networking problems, installing peripheral equipment (printers, scanners, etc.), and mobile phone issues (email, applications, etc.,). The service requests among our senior clientele are the same with the exception that we receive many more training requests on how to use certain products or software. For example, we had the daughter of an 82-year-old man request that we go to his home, repair his virus-infected PC, setup him up with Skype, and teach him how to use it to call her.
How long does it usually take to fix these common problems?
Although it depends on the service requested and the extent of the problem, on average most of our service requests are resolved within two hours.
How do your services and fees compare to Geek Squad and similar electronics store repair departments?
If it connects to the Internet, we service it. Our pricing is a flat $79 per hour for in-home visits. We see the immediacy of our on-demand and on-site service and the ability of our technicians to go to customers at their doorstep as key differentiators, especially being the only service of this kind in the greater mid-Atlantic area. We believe that customers prefer a local presence and local techs in comparison to our competitors who are headquartered in California.
Where do you find your techs?
We recruit our technicians at tech-centered events, jobs and startup fairs, word of mouth, online databases, as well as directly via our website. The second step in the selection process is a detailed phone interview followed by a very thorough background check. Only when passing all of these steps do we invite our potential techs to our in person interview and onboarding event.
What kind of training do they have?
All of our independent technicians must have at least one valid IT industry-grade certification (CompTIA, Cisco, Microsoft, Apple, etc.) or extensive experience in the IT field. Upon applying, our team will give individuals a call to discuss their application and provide an over-the-phone exam based on their expertise as stated on their application.
When and where will your expand the service?
As of now, we provide our in-home support services in all of DC as well as major parts of Maryland and Virginia, basically drawing a 30-mile radius around our headquarters in McLean, Virginia. Outside of this radius we do provide nationwide remote support online or via phone. We will be expanding our service area drastically in the near future, targeting Frederick, Baltimore, Annapolis, Richmond and the area in between as soon as 2016.