Posted by Neil Bennett 18 December 2013
The 6 best tech gifts for kids: toys and presents for 11-17s this Christmas 2013
Buying presents for tweenagers, teenagers and young adults is a bit of a minefield as you try to navigate your way between 'things you know they’d love but shouldn’t have’ (GTA 5) and ‘things you’d like them to still love but you know they’d consider them ‘for kids’’ (Scribblenauts Unlimited). So we’ve spent the past month checking through the best tech toys and gadgets to find three presents that would be perfect for children 11+ and 14+
Best Christmas gifts 11+
Available for £60 worth of Clubcard vouchers (or £119 in cash), the Tesco Hudl is an affordable way to give a tweenager/teenager a device of their own.
Despite the low-price, we wouldn’t call the Hudl cheap. Unlike most supermarket 'own-brand’ electronics, Tesco has clearly spent a lot of time and effort into designing a good-looking, easy-to-use 7-inch Android tablet – as Tesco wants to you use it a lot, increasing the chance that you’ll buy into one or more of its services including groceries, an Amazon-wide selection of products from books to TVs, its Blinkbox Netflix competitor, insurance and even their credit card.
Lock these away with simple parental controls and what you’ve got is a Android tablet that’s at least the equal of any other 7-incher on the market. We’d never recommend a tablet to parents if your child doesn’t have access to a laptop or desktop – they’ll need a full PC or Mac for school – but if they’re sharing yours or a sibling and you want them to have web-connected, game-playing device with a fine selection of apps, check this out.
Makie dolls aren’t in themselves a piece of tech – but the process behind them taps into two of our favourite tech trends of 2013: online personalisation and 3D printing.
Here’s how it works: you get your child to design a doll using MakieLab’s super-simple online tools – then it’s 3D printed (in the UK), bundled with your choice of accessories and outfits and then shipped to you. The level of customisation is incredible: you don’t just choose from a few options, you use sliders to give it a look and expression that’s truly individual – though we’d shy away from making one that looks like David Cameron.
Makies start at £69.
Lego Mindstorms EV3
Lego’s robot building system may cost as much as an iPad, but it’s still the best first step to inspiring your child to get into programming (until they're ready for an Arduino). Even if your child doesn’t grow up to be coder, a fundamental understanding of how the technology they use everyday works will help them to get the most of it – and the EV3 is a great introduction.
The EV3 lets your child begin programming without touching code – they use an icon-based drag-&-drop interface on your PC or Mac. Their programs control motors to let robots move, walk, talk and more based on input from colour, infrared or touch sensors – on via a remote control or smartphone. And while they could just follow the kit instructions – there’s enough parts in the box to let them use their imaginations too.
Best Christmas gifts 13+
You would have thought that the ubiquity of smartphone gaming would have put paid to Nintendo’s handheld gaming devices – but the 3DS is still the best portable gaming system around. Why? Because if you want more than a casual fix, the £149.99 3DS has all the best games. It’s not the hardware, it’s Pokeman XY, Luigi’s Mansion, Animal Crossing, Bravely Default, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, and many more.
These games sit in a sweet spot that offer much more than the 69p or so throwaways you get for your phone – but are easily approachable, unlike the hardcore-gamer-focussed PS Vita. Because of this focus – and the investment that a game gets when the maker gets £20 rather and £2 for each sale – they’re often beautifully designed, challenging without being frustrating and great, great fun.
Arduino is an inexpensive circuit board that connects to a computer via USB. It passes information to the computer from any sensor you connect to it, and from the computer to a huge variety of output devices. Through simple programming, almost anything is possible – you just need to experiment, bringing a DIY creative mentality inspired by TV shows of our youth from Blue Peter and The Great Egg Race to Robot Wars.
To a teenager, it’s a way to play being science-based superhero (or supervillian), especially when combined with the book 30 Arduino Projects for the Evil Genius. This teaches them how to build countdown timers, security keypads and all the other accoutrements of a super’s lair. Or they can turn one of their old toys into a Twitter surveillance system.
The Leap Motion is essentially a miniature Kinect for your PC or Mac. Costing £65 from Amazon, it’s a little USB-connected box that sits between your keyboard and monitor – or in front of your laptop, or just in front of you if you were presenting using a projector – and allow you to manipulate things in 3D space using natural gestures in the air.
These can be as simple as pointing your fingers and moving them to play a Wii-style music game called Dropchord to using a pencil as a virtual paintbrush (though this app, Corel Painter Freestyle, is PC-only and very much in beta). Other apps – some of which are free and some you pay for – allow you to explore human or animal anatomy in 3D or even the world using a Leap Motion-enabled version of Google Earth.