Finding age-appropriate gadgets for a child can be a challenge. Perhaps your kid wants a giant drone, but maybe you don't trust an 8-year-old with a $150 quadcopter that can crash into the neighbor's roof. Or maybe you need a laptop that's the right size for a fifth-grader's hands and durable enough to survive slipping out of them.
We're here to help, with a list of great gadget gifts, from child-friendly laptops and tablets to build-your-own-robot kits and toys that teach toddlers about programming before they can read and write. All of these devices are fascinating for kids to use on their own or enjoy with their parents.
Anki Overdrive with Supertrucks
This app-enabled racing set is so much fun that you might be playing long after Junior does. With Overdrive, you use your tablet or phone to drive Bluetooth-enabled cars on a highly customizable track. The cars are designed not to go off the track, so even younger kids, with developing hand-eye coordination, can join in on the fun. You can play in multiplayer mode and race against your friends and family, slowing them down by firing a series of unlockable weapons. Or, you can go into career mode and take on computer-controller opponents. The game is even more fun with one of the optional $59 Supertrucks that can blast past the cars or enable other kinds of races.
Sphero Mini Robot Ball
The Sphero Mini is an app-controlled robot ball that features a built-in gyroscope, accelerometer, and LED lights. It comes with three mini traffic cones and six mini bowling pins, which you can use to create obstacle courses for your Sphero Mini. The ball, which is a smaller and less expensive version of the original Sphero, works on any smooth surface and has interchangeable shells that allows you to completely custom the look of your Sphero. A new features called Face Drive lets you control the Sphero Mini using facial expressions.
Eachine E10C Mini Quadcopter
A nano drone like the Eachine E10C Mini Quadcopter is perfect for kids. This tiny flying vehicle fits in the palm of your hand so it's too small to require FAA-registration or risk breaking the neighbor's window. A simple remote control makes it easy to pilot, while its 2-megapixel camera, a rarity in a drone this size, lets you take pictures as it flies around.
littleBits Gadgets and Gizmos, 2nd Edition
Children can learn all about the joy of invention and the power of electricity with this kit from littleBits. Magnetic components snap together, carrying electricity to motors, lights, speakers and Bluetooth receivers. Enterprising kids can build robots, fans or racing cars. An Android or iPhone app lets them control their contraptions from a mobile device.
4M Table Top Robot
Here are two things kids love: robots and building things. This very affordable kit allows your son or daughter to build a robotic crab that walks around on a table and even alters its movement based on obstacles. Children learn about electronics but don't have to do complex or dangerous tasks, like soldering wires, to complete the project.
There are plenty of child-oriented tablets on the market, but the Fire Kids Edition is the best choice because of its robust parental controls, plethora of content and two-year damage-protection guarantee. The 7-inch Fire comes with a year of FreeTime Unlimited, which gives kids free access to thousands of age-appropriate videos, books and apps. You can also set the hours they can use the tablet and exactly which content they can access. The device's rubber case makes it nearly impervious to drops, but if you end up with oatmeal in the USB port or a cracked screen, Amazon will replace it right away. Through September 23, Amazon takes $50 off when you purchase two Fire 7 Kids Edition Tablets.
Most laptops — even expensive business systems — can't survive a 3-foot drop, but the Asus Chromebook C202 can. In our tests, this durable system hit concrete from 3.9 feet without sustaining any serious damage. Powered by Chrome OS, which is very popular in schools because of its simplicity and security, the Chromebook C202 has one of the best keyboards of any laptop and lasts over 8 hours on a charge.
AmazonBasics Volume Limited Headphones for Kids
Unless you want to listen to the same three episodes of Paw Patrol or Shaun the Sheep every time you hand your child a tablet, you'll appreciate these colorful headphones for Amazon. Small enough to fit on young heads and available in either blue-and-green or pink-and-orange, the AmazonBasics headphones have a low maximum volume to prevent kids from hurting their hearing. The soft padding on the inside of each earpiece makes them comfortable for long drives or flights.
Fisher Price Code-a-pillar
To thrive in the 21st century, every child should learn how to code. With the Fisher Price Code-a-pillar, kids can learn basic programming concepts before they can read. The colorful robotic caterpillar moves in different ways, depending on how you order its pieces, teaching lessons about logic and cause and effect.
Wonder Workshop Dash Robot
This cute, teal-blue robot teaches children about programming as it rolls around the house. Using a simple mobile app on a tablet or phone, kids can learn to code different behaviors for the bot or use it to play with a variety of preloaded apps. The more complex programs are targeted at children ages 8 and up, but the majority of the apps are good for younger kids, too.
If you want the flexibility of a Windows laptop for your child, you don't have to break the bank. For less than $200 (sometimes as low as $150 on sale), the 11.6-inch Lenovo Ideapad 110s is an attractive, 2.5-pound system with a bright screen, snappy keyboard and nearly 10 hours of battery life. The 110s comes preloaded with Windows 10 Home and a year's subscription to Microsoft Office 365.
If your family is already invested in Apple's ecosystem, the iPad mini 2 might be a better option than the Fire Kids Edition. Though not made exclusively for children, the mini 2 has iOS' parental controls, along with access to the App Store's plethora of kid-friendly programs. Although this model is discontinued, you'll still find refurb models from $228.