Holiday Gift Guide #1: Those Wonderful Toys!

Gift Guide Hacking the Holidays Toys

It’s difficult to believe that it’s time to begin thinking about gift-giving for the holidays, but when I was grabbing Halloween candy a few weeks ago, I saw Christmas trees already out at the stores. So maybe we’re behind the curve? Regardless, the crew here at GeekDad have spent the last year reviewing and examining all sorts of products that any geek would love. This week, we train our all-seeing eyes at those wonderful toys. Read on to learn the favorites from Jenny Williams, Jonathan Liu, Z, Nathan Barry, Brad Moon, Tony Sims, Curtis Silver, and me. Happy shopping!


LEGO Mindstorms EV3
With an all-new programmable brick, new servos, sensors, and a remote control, Mindstorms is back — bigger and better than ever. The third version of the educational toy, known as EV3 offers a lot to kids (no matter what their ages). While the set ships with instructions for 5 robots, you can download hundreds of others at the Mindstorms Web site. Will your kids grow up to be a robotics engineers? Get them started early with LEGO Mindstorms EV3. Buy it at Amazon. (DB)

Lego Architecture Studio

Lego Architecture Studio
New to the line of Lego Architecture kits, the Lego Architecture Studio departs from the very successful formula that Lego has established with its kits of significant buildings and structures from around the world. With this newest kit, people can design their own architecture structures, from the simple to the complex. All of the pieces are white or clear, and the kit comes with a book that will inspire design. It gives only a few building tips, but it’s like the unstructured Lego kits of yore, except with pieces specifically useful for architecture. Great for adults and kids alike. Buy the kit at Amazon! (JW)

disney castle

Disney Princess Ultimate Dream Castle
Standing over three feet tall and boasting everything from a kitchen and bath to a twist-down elevator, the Disney Princess Ultimate Dream Castle puts other doll houses to shame! This real-world construct is ably supplemented by the Disney Magic Mirror companion app that can open additional interactive features using your tablet/smartphone. Its three stories contain rooms themed around specific characters – Belle, Rapunzel, Ariel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella – but its generous sizing and whimsical design make it an ideal location for an all-inclusive tea party with your other dolls and action figures as well. (Review materials provided by Mattel) (Z)

Catapult Kit

Mechanical Raven Catapult Kit 
I first saw these tiny desktop catapults at the Portland Mini Maker Faire last year, where designer Nicholas Stanislowski let kids (and adults) fling Cheerios at each other. The pieces are laser-cut wood with a couple of dowels and a piece of string, and it works really well. Get a couple, and you can stage a siege against some LEGO castles! Mechanical Raven should also have some ballista kits for sale in time for holiday shopping, so keep an eye out for those, too. Buy it from the Mechanical Raven Etsy shop—they’re $20 plus shipping. For more about the kits and news about other projects, check out the Mechanical Raven website. (JL)


Makies 3D-printed Dolls
If you have a daughter, you’ve probably struggled at some point with a Barbie doll and your geek conscience. Well, now that we live in the future, there’s a solution to that problem. Makies are dolls that your little princess can design herself — using the free Doll Factory app or online at — and then have it custom 3D-printed, dressed in a handmade outfit and shipped to your door. There’s a whole range of accessories available too, and you can even download some files from and print them yourself. Look out for a full review on GeekDad soon. (NB)


InnoTab 3S
The brand new version of Vtech’s popular Wi-Fi learning tablet, the InnoTab 3S offers a wealth of fun, age-appropriate learning games for kids, plus new ways to play and learn. Using VTech Kid Connect, kids and parents can exchange text messages and photos over Wi-Fi connection — to most smartphones. Kids are also not limited to the InnoTab apps for fun, they can even browse parent approved websites. New InnoTab 3S’s also bundled with 20 pre-installed apps, a built-in camera, extra stylus and one cartridge game (others sold separately). Available in assorted colors. Buy it from VTech for a special price of $79.99!. (TS)


Romo App-Controlled Robotic Pet for iOS Devices 
At its heart, Kickstarter success story and award-winning Romo is an iOS app that learns and can be programmed. But it also includes a motorized base (2 hours of roaming using built-in battery). Put the two together — along with a compatible iPhone or iPod Touch — and you get a robotic pet (that recognizes and reacts to faces), an introductory programming platform, an SDK that lets advanced users write their own apps, a remote control tank-treaded explorer and a two-way virtual presence using the iOS device’s camera. Two versions are available: Lightning dock or older Apple dock.
Buy it from Amazon. (BM)


Hexbug Nano V2 Habitats
Like to watch tiny robots race and vibrate all over the place while driving the cat crazy? Then you probably want to check out the Hexbug Nano V2 habitats. These little bugs can climb up, around and inside their habitats, which can be rebuilt in a ton of different ways. Check out GeekDad’s review here. Or, you can get all the Habitats at (CS)


Lego Advent Calendars
This year’s Lego advent calendars once again come in three flavors – Friends for girls, City for boys and Star Wars for Dads. (Joking! ;o) Friends wins for the most Christmassy, with a snowman, skidoo, presents and ice skating. Star Wars sees Jango Fett taking over the role of Santa this year, with young Boba and a blue Slave I too, along with the usual assortment of micro-scale ships and droids. Once again, the City theme brings home the spirit of Christmas with a thief stealing the presents and only a small boy’s RC bomb disposal unit to save the day! (NB)

pokemon arena

Pokémon Battle Arena
Bringing the excitement of the Pokémon X and Y videogames to the playroom floor is easy with the Pokémon Battle Arena. This electronic playset boasts the three sixth generation starters and their power-type attack tags, all of which easily clip into the battle area. A full-color LCD on the arena’s floor cycles through all Pokémon types (with relevant sound effects), and paper shields help novices differentiate between them. Play against the computer or a fellow Trainer as you attack and defend using the platform sliders. The best part? It’s easily compatible with practically all your existing Pokémon miniatures. (Review materials provided by Tomy) (Z)

Kreo USS Enterprise

KRE-O Star Trek sets
For Star Trek fans big and small, KRE-O sets let you build the USS Enterprise or a Klingon Bird of Prey, or build various tiny-scale ships. The larger sets include lights that actually light up and missiles that fire. They’re based on the more recent film series, so there’s a Spock’s Volcano Mission set, and the Captain Kirk minifig is based on Chris Pine instead of William Shatner. But, hey, who wouldn’t want a tiny Zachary Quinto with pointy ears? Check out the whole line-up on Amazon. (JL)


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