The classic toys you grew up with as a kid haven't died out; they've just gotten smarter. Even in an age when kids are glued to tablets and smartphones, there are plenty of exciting products that bridge the gap between physical and digital play. From futuristic takes on Barbie and View-Master to interactive robots, here are five tech toys that should be on your radar this year.
Virtual Reality View-Master
For decades, Mattel's iconic View-Master toy has allowed kids to experience new worlds via stereoscopic still images. In 2015, the View-Master will warp those pictures into virtual reality. Mattel and Google have teamed up for a VR version of the classic children's gadget, which will let little ones immerse themselves in famous locations and landmarks.
Based on Google's Cardboard platform, which allows companies to make inexpensive, paper VR headsets, the new View-Master uses your Android phone as its display and lets you travel to new locations by peeking at one of several interactive reels. Whether they're looking around on the moon or exploring the halls of Alcatraz prison, your children will be able to pick up historical tidbits while enjoying a full 360-degree view of their environment. Available this fall for just $30 ($15 for extra reel packs), the new-age View-Master is both an exciting education tool and an affordable entry into the realm of VR.
You probably talked to your Barbie doll as a kid, but chances are she didn't have much to say back. That's about to change with Hello Barbie, which infuses the famous doll with Siri-like voice recognition. Hello Barbie will remember things such as your favorite food or hobbies, and will bring them up in the midst of conversation.
Powered by ToyTalk technology, the Wi-Fi–enabled doll will receive updates over the air and can store conversations in the cloud so that parents can keep up with their kids' chats. Hello Barbie can play spoken-word games, and can even offer little ones career advice based on their likes and dislikes. If you're eager to carry a full conversation with Hello Barbie, you'll likely be able to get your hands on one by the end of 2015.
Robot buddies are no longer just the stuff of sci-fi movies. From the people who created the Erector Set comes Meccanoid, a fully customizable robot companion that can talk to you, play games and even mimic your movements.
The $399 Meccanoid G15 KS looks like it came straight out of Tatooine, with a 4-foot-tall frame and adorably large LED eyes. If you don't have the budget or space for that unit, a $179 G15 version packs the same intelligent functionality into a Wall-E–size body. No matter which unit you go for, the Meccanoid can be completely reassembled to look like the robotic cat, dog or dinosaur of your dreams.
Part smartphone game, part remote-controlled car set, Anki Overdrive is the ultimate toy for the speed demon in your life. Overdrive retains the smartphone-controlled toy-car racing of last year's Anki Drive, and introduces modular track pieces that allow you to build crazy courses filled with bridges, sharp corners and wild jumps.
As with previous iterations, you can control Anki cars with a free iOS or Android app, which lets you upgrade your car's stats and perform attacks and speed boosts in the heat of a race. Even when you're not controlling them, these Bluetooth-enabled "supercars" sport sensors that allow them to drive automatically without falling off course.
Available in September 2015 for $150, the Anki Overdrive starter kit packs two cars and eight track pieces, which, when combined with Anki's optional expansion kits, can create up to 20 possible different courses to race on.
Crayola Easy Animation Studio
Crayola's Color Alive platform helps bring kids' physical colorings to life on a smartphone or tablet, and the company's new Easy Animation Studio takes that concept even further. Kids create a character in a coloring book and import the creation into the iOS, Android or Windows app. The children can then animate that character by making poses with an included figure in front of their device's camera.
With 10 available characters and 12 different colors to use when sketching, Easy Animation Studio could very well be your little one's gateway into becoming a master animator. Look out for the $24.99 kit this July.