Whether you are into Star Wars droids that you can control, robots that talk to you or drones that battle each other, there’s never been a better time to release your inner child. Here we’ve gathered up some of the best connected toys we’ve played with over the last year. So, if you are looking to get something for the younger members of your family (or simply treat yourself with a cute little gizmo), you are in luck – there are a number of connected toys and smart trinkets listed here that you will want to play with.
As always, we tried to cover every aspect of the connected toy industry. Some require an existing game console to play (such as the Skylanders Imaginators game, which uses NFC-friendly models to create in game characters and items) while others – such as the brilliant Star Wars Battle Drones from Propel – can be used right out of the box. We’ve even gone as far as including more outside the box choices, such as a modern interpretation on the toy racing made popular by Scalextric back in the ’80s and a wearable that you can program to do astounding things.
Every toy on the list we’ve either extensively tested or played with enough to know how good it is. With that in mind, sit back, prime your bank account and prepare to become a kid all over again with our list of the best connected toys.
One to watch
Yes, it’s a little small to be a Stormtrooper but the latest toy from Ubtech Robotics looks set to be a must have. It’s an app-enabled Star Wars First Order Stormtrooper Robot, which has AR capabilities (through a companion app), voice command, facial recognition, and sentry patrolling. What this essentially means is that the Stormtrooper will march around a designated area and respond if any intruders come close.
You can speak to it, too, and it will also recognise your face. Although there are a lot of Star Wars toys out there (see below) this one may well be the most interactive yet. We can’t wait to try it out.
The The Star Wars First Order Stormtrooper Robot by Ubtech is available for pre-order at starwars.ubtrobot.com.
- Nintendo amiibo
- Star Wars Propel Battle Drones
- Skylanders Imaginators
- Anki Overdrive
- Star Wars Sphero BB-8 + Force Band
- Mass Effect: Andromeda remote control Nomad ND1
- Star Wars Sphero R2-D2
- Anki Cozmo
- Jimu Robot
- Mover Kit
- Sphero Ultimate Lightning McQueen
Add new content to your games with these NFC-compatible toys
Compatible platforms: Switch, Wii U, New Nintendo 3DS (older models require separate NFC reader) | Size: 20 cm (7.9 in) | Connectivity: NFC
Great build quality
Add new items to games
Isn’t compatible with Nintendo DS
Some amiibo are very rare
Nintendo’s unavoidable response to the runaway success of Activision’s Skylanders franchise and the now extinct Disney Infinity franchise, Amiibo have become some of the most beloved NFC toys on the market. Usually released to back key titles (such as Splatoon 2 or Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle), these small figures work with in-built NFC readers in Switch, Wii U and later models of the 3DS/2DS and can be used daily to add extra content to certain games. And while they’re often not as pricey as Skylander toys, collecting the entire set can be a pain as Nintendo infamously failed to make enough units for previous releases.
Star Wars Propel Battle Drones
Bring the galactic fight to your home with these flying SW toys
Top speed: 35Mph | Size: 19 x 5.5 x 33.5 cm | Speed Settings: 3 (Plus T-Mode training mode) | Ages: 14+ | Battery: 6-8 minutes | Charge Time: 15 minutes | Connectivity: Bluetooth
Easy to control and fly
Fantastic attention to detail
No on-board camera
Batteries difficult to remove
There have been several Star Wars drones that have been released since the series returned to theaters in 2015, but it’s the line from Propel that’s consistently been one of the best. From the impressive packaging (where a model of the vehicle itself as used as clasp to seal it tight), to the amazing attention to detail, these gadgets are perfect for collectors and aspiring star pilots. The series includes a 74-Z Speeder Bike, a – which we reviewed for this very list –and the TIE Advanced X1. Each comes with a user friendly controller, one button 360-degree tricks and a choice of three speeds.
Create your own virtual platforming hero
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Wii U, PS3, Xbox 360
Supports all previous models
Lots of customization options
Expensive outlay for entire collection
No physical customization
The sixth and most recent iteration of the seminal ‘Toys to Life’ series, Skylanders Imaginators is all about giving its young users the ability to build their very own swashbuckling hero via an remarkably deep customisation tool. These creations can then be saved into NFC-compatible ‘crystals’ and transferred into the series’ Portal Of Power peripheral (which reads the models or crystals placed on it and generates them on-screen.) While it might not be the most groundbreaking idea of the series (2013’s Swap Force still has that claim), Imaginators still offers a level of creativity that’s unrivaled in the genre.
Race these smart toy cars for a supercharged showdown
Starter Pack contents: Two robotic supercars, six curved track pieces, four straight track pieces, a four-car charging platform, two riser pieces and one tyre cleaner | Dimensions: Size H30.4, W60.2, D15.3cm (Starter Pack)
Easy to use and set up
Nine different AIs to battle
Need smart device to play
Expansion packs are pricey
The latest edition of Anki’s smart toy racing idea, Anki Overdrive, boasts one of the most stand-out connected toy experiences you’ll see today. The concept is really straightforward – build a physical track (full of sharp turns, elevations and quick straights), place your connected Anki cars on the track and let the Anki Overdrive app do the rest for you. With nine AI personalities that evolve with how you play, it’s just like a racing videogame you can build, Scalextric style in your living room. Thanks to a steady flow of updates, the game is now better than ever with the need the scan the track before every race now removed if you’ve made no changes to it since your last race.
We’re set to get the Fast & Furious edition of Overdrive reviewed soon, also. Once we do, we’ll update this list with our thoughts.
Anki Overdrive Fast & Furious Edition
Movie tie-in offers up some surprise additions to the racing game
Pack contents: 1 Dom’s Ice Charger, 1 Hobbs’ MXT3 straight pieces, 1 NEW Power Zone track piece, 6 90-dgree curved track pieces, 12 guardrails, 2 riser pieces, 1 4-car charging platform, 1 tire cleaner.
A lot of fun
Great movies noises and nods
A little fiddly to set up
Well, this is a lot of fun. Even if you’re not a fan of the Fast & Furious franchise, there is a lot to like about Anki’s latest release. The cars are fantastic, the effects and track are superb and there is a real ‘game’ feeling to the whole thing. Be warned, though: it’s a little fiddly to setup.
There were three tech journalists scratching their heads at some points of the setup but this was mainly due to connecting up the cars with the accompanying app. It eventually worked but we did have to follow the ‘reset’ instructions to get the cars moving. Once done, though, it’s an exhilarating ride, one you can have on your own (competing against and AI driver) or with friends.
The pack comes with two cars, Dom’s Ice Charger and Hobbs’ MXT3 but you do get the choice of upgrades, as well as weaponry that will put even the hardiest driver into a spin. In fact, it’s when the virtual weapons come in that you can have a lot of fun – it really adds to the drive and takes away the ‘car that’s on the inside will always win’ problem that you sometimes get with racers.
As for track, there are eight to choose from out of the box (all easy to set up, with magnets clicking everything into place) and there is the option to shift things up a gear and expand the track and cars – but this will cost you extra. As movie tie-ins go, though, this is an absolute blast.
Star Wars Sphero BB-8 + Force Band
Control your new favorite droid like never before
Charge: USB charging | Wristband Weight: 23g | Size: | Battery: 60 mins | Dimensions: H11.4 cm/W7.3 cm/Weight 200g | Connectivity: Bluetooth
Accurate motion control
Decent battery life
Needs smooth, flat surfaces
Sphero brought the ultra cute BB-8 to life back in 2015, but back then we had to use our smartphones or tablets to control the little droid dude. Thankfully, you can now buy a special wristband that uses hand gestures to send him rolling around your home, and it’s proved to be one of the best and most responsive control designs we’ve ever used. Throwing your hand forwards like a real-life Force Push will send BB rolling forwards, while moving it side to will change direction, and up and down for speed. It takes around an hour to set up, which is annoying at best, but thankfully you only have to endure it once.
Recently, an alternative to Sphero BB-8 was released – the Sphero BB-9E, a bad droid that’s set to make its debut in The Last Jedi. It’s equally a lot of fun to use!
Mass Effect: Andromeda RC Nomad ND1
Explore a new solar system (and your home) with this trusty RC
Scale: 1:18 | Charging: Built-in rechargeable battery with USB charge cable | Connectivity: Bluetooth, app enabled
Six wheel drive / front, rear steering
Smartphone app can lag
Doesn’t include copy of game
While billed as a Collector’s Edition for a sci-fi action-RPG, the Nomad ND1 doesn’t actually include a copy of Mass Effect Andromeda – still, that doesn’t detract from how great this RC car is all by itself. With a special six wheel drive, the Nomad ND1 offers precise control thanks to a versatile pair of front and rear axles, a robust suspension from hitting small jumps and in-built LEDs so you don’t lose it in the dark. It also comes with its own in-built camera, which you can use while controlling it from your phone/tablet. Definitely one of the best licensed RC cars we’ve ever tested.
Star Wars Sphero R2-D2
This is the droid you are looking for
Connectivity: Bluetooth connection (100 foot range) | Battery: USB charging (over 1 hour of play on a full charge) | Dimensions: H17cm/ W10.8 cm/Weight 370 g
Fantastic replica model of R2-D2
Mannerisms, controls are great
Pricier than other Sphero drones
Up against many other R2-D2s in the market
The Sphero R2-D2 is an impressive, most impressive, connected toy. It is a superb replica of the best-loved Star Wars droid and one that comes to life with the more droids you have.
Whether you are controlling it through its easy to use app, watching Star Wars with it (you can watch all the prequels, Rogue One and A New Hope and it will interact) or admiring it on your shelf, you’ll enjoy the company of Sphero’s latest droid. While we would like to have seen a bit more interactivity when we weren’t actually using the droid, it’s the smartest Star Wars toy we’ve ever played with.
The small smart robot that’s full of big ideas
Included in the box: Self-aware Cozmo Robot, Charger, Interactive Power Cubes | Battery: 30 minutes for 1.5 hours of play time
Cozmo is really fun to use
Code Lab is simple and addictive
Setup isn’t as smooth as we’d like
It’s a pricey bit of kit
You will laugh, smile and fist-bump along to Anki Cozmo and the ‘bot will follow you every step of the way. Cozmo is an intelligent, fun toy – one you can program and play with – that may look simple but its cute exterior hides a complex AI brain that you tap into thanks to the updated and easy to use app.
All of this fun does come at a price, though. But this is one toy that’s only going to get better with age – and if the latest app update is anything to go by, Anki will be making significant upgrades as and when it can.
Although the box says from 8 years and up, Cozmo had this 30-something smiling time and time again – it’s a connected toy that truly connects.
Ubtech Jimu Robot TankBot Kit
What’s in the box: Six Robotic servo motors, Intuitive programming via an app, 190 snap-together pieces | Connectivity: Bluetooth, iPhone or iPad app
Fun coding mechanism
Great to control
Take a long time to create
Instructions are quite daunting
The Jimu Robot TankBot Kit is part toy, part coding king. It comes in the box ready to assemble and while this will take some time, it’s worth the wait. Yes, the instructions seem a bit daunting at first – it’s more like a CAD file than a LEGO set – but once you get the hang of clicking all the 190 bits into place, the installation process of Jimu Robot TankBot is a lot of fun. While you are creating your TankBot, an accompanying app shows your progress through a 3D model of the thing you are creating. We recommend you using the app on a tablet rather than a phone, though, as the bigger screen lets you more easily see and manipulate the interactive instructions.
Once construction is completed, there’s an array of pre-programs you can use to control Jimu, ranging from making it lift things to it following a set path. It’s also endlessly programmable, too, which means you’ll have a lot of fun with what is essentially an educational tool.
Sphero Ultimate Lightning McQueen
It’s like an RC car on steroids, the top gear of toys
Connectivity: Bluetooth, OS, Android, Kindle & Chrome App compatible | Battery: 40 minutes per charge (1 hour charge time) **Speed:** 6Mph | Dimensions: L8.2cm/W25.1cm/Weight: 916g
Fantastic range of app functions
Some superb animations
Only suitable for indoor use
Taking advantage of another Disney license, Sphero’s Ultimate Lightning McQueen toy, based on the star of Pixar’s Cars franchise, is a fantastic connected toy and one of the techiest we’ve seen. Designed by a team of 40 people (with help from key Pixar staff), it’s a perfect recreation of the character. McQueen isn’t just a remote controlled car (though he’s a very good one at that), but an animated, speaking, expressive one as well.
Squeezing a respectable 40 minutes of play time out of a two hour charge, he’s got a 30 meter range and a top speed of 6Mph. Controls take the form of a digital thumbstick through your phone or tablet’s touchscreen, meaning he’ll be easy to steer for anyone that’s picked up a console game pad before. Yes it’s pricey, but you can see where every penny goes.
Brilliant DIY smart wearable for kids
In The Box: Rechargeable battery, LED unit, case, micro controller, strap | Battery: 5 hours on a single charge
Fun to assemble
A little too DIY for its own good
Computer needed, no app
Part wearable, part coding platform, Mover Kit is a fun device from the folks that helped designed the BBC micro:bit. Mover Kit comes in parts and takes around 15 minutes to assemble, then the real fun starts. The idea is that you can program the wearable to do a number of things – with the hope that it will get kids up and active. On board are LED lights, an accelerometer and a compass – and the ability to program these features any which way you want. All you have to do is plug Mover Kit into a computer, install Bolt, and start the achingly simple process of coding.
It would be good if there was Wi-Fi/Bluetooth on board, so you don’t have to use a computer but an app for a smartphone or tablet instead, but this niggle aside (and we know that would ramp up the costs) it’s a fun and inventive device that makes it cool to code. It’s all a little DIY but don’t let this put you off – it all adds to the entertainment.