Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Safe Tech Toys For The Holidays

OK, unless you've been in a cave you know that there's been some serious issues with toys lately. A couple of weeks ago my grandson was showing me the cool bee he had made with his new Aqua Dots play set. A few days later I saw the news piece on how toxic this crap was and almost choked on my morning coffee.

I called my son even though it was 5:30 in the morning. Scared the daylights out of him, of course, everyone answers late night/early morning phone calls with a touch of dread, but I was freaked out enough about the story that I just didn't care. It turned out that he had seen the story also and had already scooped it and hidden it. Smart man, my son.

We were lucky this time, but I for one am not taking any chances this holiday season, and you shouldn't either. I'm going to give you some safe and really cool high tech alternatives today that are guaranteed to be a hit.

First up is the VTech V.SMILE game console. It's actually called a learning console and I have to say that it's a pretty apt description. We bought this for my grandson last Christmas and he loved it. It's geared for ages 3 to 7 so it grows with the child. The games/learning modules actually feature popular characters like Bob the Builder, Scooby Doo, Sponge Bob and Spiderman and do a great job of disguising learning as an arcade game.

The games are broken up by age group, 3-4, 4-5 and 5-7 and each group works on a variety of skill sets. The controllers are intuitive and easy to use and the console and games are quite reasonable. The console goes for about $49 and the games are about $19 each.

This has stood the test of time for us. It's still being used on a regular basis after almost a year, and I don't need to tell you parents out there that holding the interest of a 4 year old for a year is quite a feat.

Vtech also makes a system for children 6 and up, the VTech V.FLASH. Same deal, $49 for the console and $19 for the games.

There are some great add ons for both systems and plenty of games, so you can make buying them a family affair. Someone gets the console, others can pick up games or accessories. You also get the added bonus of knowing your not giving them some mindless piece of crap. Bonus!

Got a tween or teen? How about a reasonable but fully functional laptop? The Asus Eee PC is a close cousin to the Laptop for Every Child device but is a very slick computer that can be used by all. It's small and light and comes with a web cam, WiFi, Open Office and either a Linux or Windows operating system. It's flash based so there's no hard drive, boots up and shuts down really quickly, and according to all the reviews on the tech sites and, more importantly, the user reviews on Amazon, everything works right out of the box with no configuration necessary. Does it get any better than that? Why yes it does, the price is just $399!

I'm thinking this would be a great device for someone like my 83 year old dad. Easy to use, hard to hose.

There's not a lot of free disk space, only about 1.5 gb, but for mail and word processing apps it doesn't need much. Plus it has 3 USB 2.0 ports, so thumb drives and portable disks can solve that problem. Check it out.

That's it for now. Next time we'll talk about some cool toys for grown up geeks. I can't wait!

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