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Product Type: Toys

 

Vidster Digital Video Camera
(Mattel $69.99 Score:) Our testers were looking forward to putting the Vidster and Hasbro's VCamNow to the test. The idea of a video camera for kids under $100 is very appealing. Rather than hand off your own expensive video camera and hoping for the best, these small kid friendly options seemed like a great breakthrough. Both cameras got initial high marks for design. "Kids this age want gadgets that look like the real thing" noted one parent. However, both products did not test well with our tech savvy kids and their parents. The Vidster view finder was blurry and the output was too dark even when the testers added lots of light. The VideoCamNow had a clear view finder image, but the output was very blurry. "I would have taken both products back" noted one parent.

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2006.

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Shell Shocker Radio Control
(Mattel $69.99 Score:) By remote control you can have the shell shocker roll up into a ball or open it up into what the company calls a "cyberbeast". The vehicle is also designed to stand up to play action in the dirt. As the toy opens up a cyber extention flaps down hard and helps propel the shell shocker. While it is relatively easy to get the shell shocker to turn, our testers found it difficult to have it move forward. Our testers also felt this was the most unfriendly remote they had ever tried. You certainly "wouldn't want to get to close to it!" reported one tester. It does have an alien/predator feel to it that might appeal to older boys. You also should buy the Tyco Pro Fexpak Battery and Charger for an additional $29.99.

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2006.

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Furby
(Hasbro $ Score:) Furby is back this year with what the company calls "Emotio-tronics". This larger furry creature now promises to display happiness,sadness, surprise, fear and of course, sleepiness (what's an electronic creature without the sleep mode?) Sometimes Furby sounds a bit like Yoda as he speaks his Furbish. A pure novelty that will likely end up sitting on the shelf after the initial furbishness wears off.

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2006.

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2006 Award
Pixel Chix
(Mattel $29.95 Score:) Watch a 2-D image of a girl move about in her house. Help her pick what's she going to do (rollerblade vs. watch TV), what she's going to eat or wear. There are five different levels of play and, like a virtual pet, she'll let you know if she's happy or sad. The coolest feature: you can connect two houses together and the chix will visit each other. A little noisy at times but will fit in a backpack for on the go fun.

Age: Early School Years,Later School Years. Award Year: 2006.

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Dora the Explorer Talking Kitchen
(Fisher-Price $79.99 Score:) If you have a fan of Dora at home, this will be a very tempting gift. Our recommendation would be to buy a Dora doll or Dora DVD to fulfill that Dora need, but to pass on this toy kitchen. Our first objection to this kitchen is that it talks, alot. Preschoolers can and should make up their own pretend stories about what they're cooking. To have the toy direct the action misses the point of having kids use their own language and imagination -- trust us they have plenty of both once they get started. Our other complaint about this toy is its design. It looks like a licensor's fantasy. While we like many licensed based toys, the kitchen has a very large plastic Dora that struck us as over the top. Instead, we'd recommend one of the non-talking plastic kitchens from Step 2 or Little Tikes or the wooden appliances from Small World Toys.

Age: Preschool. Award Year: 2006.

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2005 Award
IZ
(Zizzle $39.99 Score:) IZ looks like a playful alien. Twist his ears,nose and eyes and you will activiate a random collection of sound effects and music. Plug IZ into your MP3 player and he now becomes a speaker. We put IZ to the test against I-DOG, the ipod inspired pup from Hasbro. IZ appealed much more to boys (young and old). Our girl testers felt that IZ was cute but "younger looking" than I-DOG. Our 11 year old boy tester wrote: "It was still appealing after the newness wore off. It would be a cool desk toy to fool around with in the duller hours of the day." Boys generally liked the robotic, alien design of IZ. This same tester hit the toy on the head: "I found IZ, besides being entertaining, a bit pointless. But, then again, fun can sometimes be pointless, right?" We agree.

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2005.

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2006 Award
I Dog
(Hasbro $24.99 Score:) I-Dog works both as an interactive pet and as a speaker for an MP3 player. Cleverly it does have that sleek white I-Pod look. We tested the I-Dog with several groups of tween testers. The I-Dog was a bigger hit with girls. Boys tended to prefer the IZ from Zizzle. Girls thought it was a great accessory to their IPods. One tester wrote: "I really liked the dual use of the I-DOG. When I was experimenting with the toy first I realized that you can use the toy as either a game or a makeshift pet. It was incredibly entertaining." There were some complaints about the long set up time, but overall the I-Dog did very well with our testers (ages 7-14). Is this a must have toy? Not really. But if you're looking for a speaker for your child's IPOD, here's a good choice for the money. It also gets the music out of their ears so that they have a better chance of hearing you call them to dinner!

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2006.

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2007 Award
Wet Head
(Imagination Entertainment $19.99 Score:) On a hot day, this water roulette toy is the perfect outdoor game. After you fill the hat's reservoir with water, each player takes a turn wearing the hat and having the other players pull one of the water plugs on the hat. Watch out, one of them will release all the water! Best played in bathing suits!

Age: Early School Years,Later School Years. Award Year: 2007.

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2006 Award
Big Brain Book Interactive Dictionary
(Oregon Scientific $34.99 Score:) We don’t love the cartoonish illustrations in this big book of words, but that said, it has a stylus that reads the definitions on the oversized pages. Children will need to learn how to click the stylus each time they change pages, but once learned they can enjoy this independently. This is a better choice than the Encyclopedia from the same maker, with information that seems more appropriate for middle school. 5–8. (949) 608-2848.

Age: Early School Years,Later School Years. Award Year: 2006.

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2006 Awards
WonderFoam Big Letters
(Chenille Kraft Co. $11.5 Score:) Twenty-six big colorful foam letters. These are fun to trace and stick to the wet wall of the tub to spell out names and words. These have an interesting texture, as well, that make them an even better sensory learning tool. Activity: Because these letters have a textured finish they can be used for crayon rubs. Put a sheet of paper on top of a letter and use the side of a crayon to rub over the letter. Make a name sign with rubbings. Also, WonderFoam Magnetic Letters and Numbers ($10.50 )—unlike old-time plastic magnetic letters with tiny magnets that can be a choking hazard, these foam letters are completely backed with magnetic material that mirrors their shape. Also, new WonderFoam Dominoes SNAP AWARD ($15.50 ) Twenty-eight big dominoes with colorful dots that are color-coded to match. One can feel some sensory information in the cut-out form of the dots. They are not raised, but you can feel their outline. A great matching game. (800) 621-1261.

Age: Preschool,Early School Years. Award Year: 2006.

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