Top Christmas Toys Review – Are they worth their cost?

Christmas toys 2016; worth their cost?
Christmas toys can often divide opinion. Over the past few months we’ve been putting together some reviews of the toys expected to be popular this Christmas. It’s not an exhaustive list, but the reviews we have done for each attempt to really concentrate on whether you’re getting value for money. We will include the price in October 2016 and the price in November to see if prices have been inflated in the Christmas run-up.

SPINMASTER HATCHIMALS
Tipped to be one of the “must have” Christmas toys this year, we’ve reviewed both the Green and Pink versions. Our green was ordered from Amazon France but was still the standard UK, or rather European edition. Although the two eggs are similar this Green was far preferred by our little one, but…The issue we sometimes have with toy releases before Christmas, is often certain products will appear on “top toy” lists with very little feedback or rationale. Various sources will promote them as likely presents kids will love, or must haves,. Also, parents will often buy them without much research other than the adverts that may be on TV or the limited reviews online.

The Hatchimals range seems to be one of those such Christmas toys this year, lots of hype but very little availability on the high streets and inflated prices online. Now, Amazon have stock for most versions of this toy but the prices range bizarrely up to £100+We’ve been reviewing a few of the “expected” big toys this year so gave the Hatchimal (Pink) a go. It is presented in premium looking boxing.

From the start Little Savvy (aged 3) was excited. He’s used a few Hatch’ems, a similar low-cost alternative, and loved them as they’ve grown over a week or so. The Hatchimal Egg is huge, meaning the expectation is also huge. After unboxing and half an hour or so, signs of the “hatching” process began.

From then on, although engrossing with tapping sounds and colour, it was all too speedy. The embryonic stage, hatching, baby and infant to adult transformation took at most a few hours and then the Hatchimal did very little more other than inspire Little Savvy to ask if he could have the egg back, or have another Hatch’em, which as mentioned is significantly cheaper.

Overall we simply cannot recommend this item at it’s current price tag for £80+, if it was £20 it would have merit maybe, but for the longevity of play we suggest buying a few Hatch’ems instead for significantly less of your hard earned cash. For those parent whose children already have them on their wish lists, consider using the following letter from Santa 😉

OCTOBER 2016 BEST PRICE: £59.95
NOVEMBER 2016 PRICE: £100+ (Unless importing)

 

FISHER PRICE THINK AND LEARN CODE-A-PILLAR
Coming from an educational background, it’s always interesting to see how manufacturers pitch their “intro to” type toys and games. Like those geared up to scaffolding the learning of reading, writing or maths, this coda-a-pillar aims to introduce very young users to the concept of coding for fun.

Out of the box it looks fun, colourful and schemed so as not to appear a gender-specific. The construction of the toy seems remarkably sound and really easy to clean.

It was extremely easy to setup and get going, as you would expect for an item aimed at 3-6 year olds. The instructions were not needed.

It allowed our little one (Age 3.5) to quickly pick up the ideas and concepts behind coding and debugging by allowing him to see an algorithm that he had constructed. To do this, he simply needed to arrange segments of the “bot” and those commands quickly came to life when the code-a-pillar was activated. It was easy for him to swap out instructions and he soon began finding ways to make the code-a-pillar travel under the kitchen table and round the table legs.

In use around the house it would cope with most surfaces for movement well, including basic carpet. Deep rugs or transitions between rooms were more of an issue. On our wooden floor though it was smooth going.

It has an array of lights and sounds to add interest and our 8 month old would delight every now and then as it passed by. There seems to be an oversight in the fact there is no volume adjustment or mute button. This is only an issue as the default volume is quite loud to begin with.

As an introduction to coding it is great for trial and error experiments and getting children ready for tech such as Turtle, Logo, BeeBots and Scratch at school.

Overall, highly recommended and easy to use, just needs a volume adjustment to be a perfect Christmas toy.

OCTOBER 2016 BEST PRICE: £37.95 (Amazon)
NOVEMBER 2016 PRICE: £39.99 (ToysRUs)

VTECH BABY TOOT-TOOT FRIENDS BUSY SOUNDS DISCOVERY HOUSE
Here in the Savvy household we’ve had Toot-Toot sets and tracks in many forms over the last few years. Little Savvy is 3 and a bit, and he’s been using Toot-Toot items from Vtech since around a year old. The tracks, vehicles, sets and buildings we’ve bought over the years have all been robust and easy to clean. Similarly the quality and thought towards curved edges and child-friendly features on all the items is amazing, but…

There has on various Toot-Toot items been an Achilles heel, and this is elevating sections. If you’ve had the Toot-Toot Garage like we have, among other sets, you’ll know the lifts and elevator can catch meaning they’re hard to reliably lift. Nothing frustrates a toddler quicker than an elevator that doesn’t budge when you want it to. However Vtech have now nailed this we’re pleased to say and both the newer versions of the Toot-Toot garage and the lift in the Friends Busy House actually work! The added bonus on this set is that it’s automatic in its movement. Add in some great character figures, moving parts and a good-sized sturdy house that won’t fall over easily if little ones were to lean on it while reaching around. Overall, a great Christmas toy that has reset any concerns we’ve had over the functions of Vtech Toot-Toot items in the past.

OCTOBER 2016 BEST PRICE: £19.95 (Amazon Deal)
NOVEMBER 2016 PRICE: £39.99 (Amazon) / £44 (The Entertainer)

TOMY “MY FRIEND PIKACHU” PLUSH TOY
Cute is the name of the game here. Tomy has offered up a good sized plush cuddly toy which is both well designed and featured. We bought this for Little Savvy to try out at age 3 years, 5 months. He has loved it since day one, the plush toy itself is nothing revolutionary, but what it does, it does well.It has a lovely feel and all seams and stitching look secure. The unit utters numerous phases with a cute Pikachu voice and was enough to keep our Little Savvy busy. He’s an adventurer at heart, so having seen the advert for this toy which featured a boy carrying it around in his backpack, Little Savvy started doing the same. It’s a great toy for those little ones capable of stimulating their own play ideas, scenarios and roleplay.

We’ll be clear that the common retailer price of around £40+ seems high, which is our main reason for not giving making it our “Star Buy” as a Christmas toy. Another added bonus is the volume is reasonable for all concerned and they last a decent length of time, in fact ours is still going after 3 months.
OCTOBER 2016 BEST PRICE: £14.90 (Amazon)
NOVEMBER 2016 PRICE: £15 (Tesco; but in and out of stock)

FISHER PRICE BEAT-BO LEARNIN LIGHTS DANCE MAT
Another big hit with the Savvy Dad household, this interactive dance mat is essentially a BeatBo model that clips onto a pivot point in the middle of the dance mat. Once in place it serves as a focus for movement around the mat and was particularly great for Baby Savvy starting to crawl and kneel up obstacles. It encourages upright movement around a central point.The coloured buttons worked in a similar way to the BeatBelle’s (the full toy version of the central model) functions, offering up tunes and melodies to move around to. As with the BeatBelle the melodies varied in tempo and delivered an array of developmental activities.

The mat has led functionality beneath the surface providing a lovely sensory experience, great with the lights out.Small holes on the interactive pivot base have motion sensors to detect babies or toddlers moving between the mat’s coloured zones and, while a great idea, this proved a little erratic at times. The mat certainly responded best to one child at a time, but still required the children to move at certain speeds to register on the motion sensor (this would be our main note for the developers).For toddlers the mat’s usage needed modelling first to get the most out of it. Little Savvy for example would happily jump between sections of the mat, cutting it off mid activity or tune. It needs a degree of adult-led modelling before then allowing them independent enjoyment.

The Learnin’ Lights mat is great, but we feel it’s lacking clarity on the target audience in terms of age groups aimed at. The motion sensor needs work also. Don’t get us wrong, we still love the Dance Mat, but if dishing out £30-£40 there may be better alternative as a Christmas toy.

OCTOBER 2016 BEST PRICE: £23.70 (Amazon)
NOVEMBER 2016 PRICE: £34.99 (Amazon/Argos)

FISHER PRICE BEAT BELLE (Our Star Buy!)

Here in the Savvy Dad house nothing gets Little Savvy’s attention quicker than the door bell. So imagine his delight when the good old postie delivered some special boxes from Fisher Price with the word “toys” emblazoned on the side.Up for in depth review at the hands of Little Savvy and Baby Savvy was The Bright Beats Dance and Move BeatBelle; an interactive movement based bot.Back in 2015, Fisher Price released their successful BeatBo, a fun, interactive toy with lights and button activation for children ranging from less than a year to pre-school age. The Beat Belle follows on in the same trend, but in a more feminine colour scheme and voice.

Frustration free packaging meant the Beat Belle was unpacked and the 4 x AA batteries were included for instant fun. The BeatBelle has a cute and friendly appearance with no sharp edges or corners, every contour is smooth and sleek plastic. The ears, or maybe antennae, on the BeatBelle are a soft plush material. The arms similarly are made of the same soft material and Baby Savvy soon caught onto the notion that these “limbs” were suitable points to grab, move and manipulate the BeatBelle via.Standing at approximately 30cm tall, the BeatBelle is the perfect height for babies transitioning to sitting and crawling. Similarly it is also a good size for toddlers who might be dancing around it while in use.The BeatBelle essentially does three main things. It dances, interacts with singing, and displays sensory lighting.

Movement is based around “hip” action and side-to-side head bopping. Lights are displayed in a disco-style on the BeatBelle’s tummy and interactive sound and speech is incorporated via a speaker at the rear and a microphone at the top of the BeatBelle’s head.

Being a typical British family, we ignored the instructions and started exploring the buttons. Little Savvy, just turned 3 years old, quickly had his attention drawn to the large red button on the left foot of the BeatBelle (he’ll press any red button he sees). The red button, in the case of the BeatBelle, was a record button. This allowed Little Savvy to record a small saying or statement into the BeatBelle for it to then weave into a song to sing back to us, a huge hit with all.

The green button activates the “Dance and Move” function. A series of programmed movements, music and interactions to encourage little ones to get active. We particularly liked the fact that the music covered a range of tempo. This meant that alongside the perks of the exercise Little Savvy was getting as he bounced around the room to upbeat tunes, there was also a range of slower tempo sections to calm, sooth and mellow the excitement. Now is also a good time to say there’s a low volume setting too!

The surface that the BeatBelle is used upon can dictate how securely it stays upright and also how audible the motor is inside. We have to say the voice and music easily drowns out the movement robotics in full volume mode. Little Savvy had a Laugh & Learn Puppy, also from Fisher Price, when he was 1 and the motorisation noise on that was far more noticeable. The BeatBelle is a good step forwards, but on the lower volume setting it can make the BeatBelle’s speech sometime trickier to hear clearly.

The last of the buttons, a yellow one, is for games and learning. Again it’s rhyme or music based, but includes games and songs like “Move and Freeze”, “Colours”, “Counting” and the “ABC Dance”.

Pressing the tummy disco light cycles all modes and recordings. Little Savvy’s favourite feature though, had to be the #BeatBoBoogie . This was the signature dance for the range, you only need to search twitter for the hashtag #BeatBoBoogie to see kids enjoying the fun. It should also be added that both Baby Savvy (8 months) and Little Savvy (3 years) happily used the toy together showing that it offered something to both age ranges.

In conclusion it’s well made, inclusive of shared play, supports a range of development areas and is suitable to multiple ages. A firm family favourite and the ultimate Christmas toy for under 5’s.

OCTOBER 2016 BEST PRICE: £26.00 (Amazon)
NOVEMBER 2016 PRICE: £32.20 (Amazon 3rd Party) £34 (Argos)
HASBRO PIE FACE SHOWDOWN
First off, this game will only be used a set number of times due to the potential mess. Think parties, Christmas, family get togethers and drunken adult nights and that’ll be you main use. In fairness the game is only as messy as you “Let” it be.The game from unboxing is quick to set up and it will need limited adult supervision once your children have had it’s assembly modeled a few times. The instructions are a useful as expected for most toy products, reasonable clear in wording, but with a few misleading illustrations.As mentioned above it’s audience is wide, but the use might be limited, which is why you’ll want to work out whether you want another toy box cluttering up the house.As for the mess, it depends on the use. You can go for the wet sponge option, which in fairness has very little splatter. You also have face guarding mesh to stop direct hits in any large amount; a nice safety feature. Loading up the obligatory shaving cream also made surprisingly little mess, until we started adding more adventurous amounts.Kids loved it, adults loved it. Longevity of it’s use however is questionable and, because we use and review a lot of toys, we probably wouldn’t justify holding on to it taking up space for the rest of the year when not used. For the price it’s fun, but what else would you spend £20 approx on for an hours entertainment?
OCTOBER 2016 BEST PRICE: £26 (Amazon)
NOVEMBER 2016 PRICE: £24.78 (Amazon 3rd Party)
We hope you find the above reviews and prices useful this year. Please chip in with comments on toys on your wishlists this year. Or if you’ve bought the toys above, do you agree with us?
Disclosure: Some manufacturers kindly sent items for review. The views about are entirely ours and unbiased in any form. Retailer are welcome to contact us to review their products or services, but our editorial will always be honest.

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