Techno Wizard

Is your child hoping for techno trinkets and toys this holiday season? This list of kid-friendly technology provides good, smart fun for tykes to teens.

By GreatSchools Staff

Was Bill Gates...

... this smitten with screens when he was a wee lad? There's no way around it: the thrill of the latest video game, the beauty of a well-designed app, the complexities of a powerful computer make your child's heart skip a beat. If you are harboring a techno-tyke in your home, why not support his talent for tech with quality fare  (while always making plenty of time for good old-fashioned play, of course). Here is a collection of some of the smartest high-tech toys and tools that will not only make your child giddy with happiness, but teach him a thing or two about science, math, English, art, and more.

Mac mini

Ages: Kindergarten and up

Young kids should really be supervised when using an Internet-connected computer, so a laptop they can squirrel away to a bedroom is not the best call. But who says an oversized home PC has to ugly up your family room? Enter the Mac mini, so tiny and cute you can tuck it just about anywhere — be it a corner of the kitchen so kids can surf while you cook, or the family room where it can serve as an entertainment system. Measuring a mere 7” x 7” x 1.4” and looking more like a trivet than a computer, don't let its small size and sweet looks fool you. This is a powerful machine with an Intel i5 processor, 2 GB of memory, and a 500 GB hard drive — tech perks to make the whole family happy.

Bottom line: A family computer dressy enough for your living room without wreaking havoc on the college fund.

Vtech Kidizoom

VTech KidiZoom Plus Pink

VTech KidiZoom Plus Pink
Ages 3 to 9

We hesitate to recommend a kid's camera when most have such a pathetic reputation for low-quality pictures and easy-to-break features. After all, what better way to trigger a tantrum? But this one stood out — not only for its improved reliability but also its manic multitasking. It's a camera that allows children to shoot, edit, and share images as well as record digital movies and play games.

The bottom line: Not the perfect digital kid's camera, but the best the toy world has to offer.

Nomad Compose

Ages: 7 and up

Got an iPad and a kid who likes to draw on it? Turn digital finger painting into a stunning art experience with the Nomad Compose , a brush designed for "painting" with pixels. It works with whatever painting or drawing app you like and feels as if you are working with a brush on paper. It's a remarkable sensation. The brush is 7" long and comes with two interchangeable tips: each tip creates completely different textures on the, screen.

Bottom line: A paintbrush for the digital age that makes creating art on a tablet both futuristic and inspiring.

Kindle Fire

Ages: Elementary through high school

Because the world our kids are growing up in is so rich with engaging media, some of them have the idea that reading is no longer "cool." Deliver classics, favorites, bestsellers, and magazines via the cutting-edge currency of the Kindle Fire, a slick 14 ounce touch screen that gives the written word new relevance for this generation. The e-ink display makes text crisp and readable on a 7" color screen that slides easily into a backpack or even a big pocket. In addition to reading books and magazines delivered instantly, kids can watch videos and movies, listen to music, and play games. In the GreatSchools 2012 holiday toy survey, more than a few parents praised their child's Kindle as a great gift. "It promotes learning," says one parent. "She loves it and she can use it in school," says another. And perhaps the most ringing endorsement: "When it broke, Amazon sent a new one no questions asked." Biggest perk of all? You can check out books — digitally — from the library and never worry about library late fees again.

Botton line: A touch screen e-reader that makes reading undeniably cool.

Apple iPhone 4s

Ages: Middle school and up

Your child got the grades, is star of the swim team, lights up your life, and goes to bed at a reasonable hour, too. He wants an iPhone — and while the 5 may be a bit out of your price range for a child's gift, the next best thing is the still wonderful and now cheaper Apple iPhone 4S. It has every possible smartphone bell and whistle any teen could dream of, including an 8-megapixel camera that takes amazing photos. It's build with a slew of education-minded features and a wealth of school-focused apps can help him learn math, geography, science, and languages. And it has Siri, the in-phone guru, who answers questions and can cater to all your teen's whims (like calling your teen by his chosen, if ridiculous, nickname). He'll also have all his favorite music right there in his pocket. If you're ready to indulge your teen, the iPhone 4s is the ticket.

Bottom line: Now cheaper, this all-in-one, state-of-the-art phone is sure to make a kid (of any age) happy; and, given its learning-friendly features, it's bound to please most parents as well.

Samsung Galaxy Exhibit 4G

Ages: High school and up

Connecting at 4G speeds — when you find a good connection — rivals Wi-Fi for speed. So if your teen is serious about data consumption and gets most of her news and culture from YouTube, she'll love having access to all of it from the school bus, campus coffee shops, the front porch, or anywhere else life takes her. She can watch it all on this 3.7" screen. If you are inclined to indulge her modern lifestyle, this phone will let you do it without breaking the bank  — if you're willing to commit to T-Mobile for two years. And, since this is an in-plan phone, you can use T-Mobile’s time controls to "phone ground" her. And that puts the power right back in your court.

Bottom line: A high-speed data connection on a touch-screen, Android phone at a price that rivals your lunch check.