The iPad and iPhone don't just act like mobile offices, they also give gamers and children new ways to interact with technology. Here are some of the best toys and gaming gadgets this holiday season tied to the magic of the iOS operating system.
Heli Replay (Spin Master; requires four AA batteries for controller, $44.99). I've had little luck with radio-controlled helicopters over the years. After about 10 minutes of flight and multiple crashes, I usually end up with a Styrofoam heap ready for the trash. My, how technology has changed in just a few years.
Spin Master's latest Air Hogs indoor copter really works with help from an onboard stabilization system to keep it steady and a durable plastic body that takes plenty of punishment. It's a 6-inch-long dynamo that buzzes around like a feisty dragonfly with pinpoint control. The remote controller also acts as a charger with an easy-to-access wire that plugs into the lithium polymer battery. Expect about 20 minutes of flight time with a 15-minute charge and some really excited youngsters.
Tap into an app: The controller included with the helicopter works great, but download the free iOS app and take control of the helicopter via an iPhone or iPad touch screen and, more important, try out the Replay portion of the show.
After attaching the included penlight-size Air Hogs Link to the device's audio jack, simply launch the app and use the touch-screen throttle and directional joystick to fly around or tilt the mobile device to maneuver the copter.
Additionally, an owner taps one of the three replay buttons at the bottom right of the screen and records his finger movements on the controller. Tap the play button, and the copter should duplicate its flight path. It's a pretty solid tech trick as long as the maneuvers are not too complicated or extended. I also suggest downloading the bigger iPad version, which offers some extra dials to make the operator really feel like a pilot.
Apptivity Randy Orton (Mattel, $11.99). Some of WWE's greatest combatants are shrunk down to action-figure size to battle in matches with help from the Apple's iPad.
This 3-inch-tall plastic representation of Mr. Orton in his skivvies offers an exaggerated, cartoony version of the wrestler (picture a compact Stretch Armstrong) mounted on a base that has special contact points to work with the tablet.
The player uses two fingers on either side of the figure's display base to control him in and out of the ring. Twisting, moving and tapping Mr. Orton's action button will get him to perform such maneuvers as throwing a virtual punch, pushing, kicking, grappling and even pinning an opponent on-screen.
Other figures in the collection include Rey Mysterio, John Cena and Mark Henry ($11.99 each). The starter pack offers a pair of figures and some extra objects (truck, dumpster and trampoline) to help take down an opponent.
Tap into an app: Although the mini action figures look great on a bedroom shelf, virtual wrestling is their ultimate goal. It is brilliantly achieved through the WWE Rumblers iPad app (not yet compatible with the Mini) which features lots of grunts and groans while fighting through training, exhibition and career modes against stars such as The Rock, Big Show, Triple H and Kane.
Signature entrances and music embellish the smack-down events along with the chance to collect experience points for winning to power up the wrestlers.
AppFinity AppDrive (Spin Master, $19.99). A full-size plastic steering wheel with grooved rubber grips combines with a smartphone to take mobile gamers into the world of competitive racing.
This sturdy device embeds the smart device dead center into it, held securely with a snap-on bracket and three sizes of foam inserts to adjust the fit.
A pair of control triggers on the top and behind the wheel control the action, such as braking, gear changes and acceleration, depending on the complexity of the game.
Its most obvious feature taps into the iPhone's accelerometer, so twisting the wheel translates to on-screen vehicle turns. The AppDrive is compatible with all iPhones and the iPod Touch (fourth generation).
Tap into an app: Download the free extreme racing game 2XL MX Offroad and compete against up to seven other drivers using a selection of either supercross dirt bikes or high-powered ATVs.
Sixteen beautiful courses (from huge mountain paths to dusty terrain) mix freestyle, career and single-race modes to provide hours of fun on long road trips. The game works flawlessly with the AppDrive and adds a level of interactivity worthy of the price. I also recommend the street racer Asphalt 7: Heat, available for a paltry 99 cents.
Lazer Tag 2-Blaster Battle Pack (Hasbro, requires 12 AA batteries, $74.99). Forget Halo and Call of Duty, gamers now can move their butts off the couch and play live, competitive shooting matches with added augmented reality in the finest traditions of laser tag.
Owners get a pair of pistols that look as if they were plucked from a Nerf arsenal (with a touch of Spartan soldier charm) that use onboard infrared emitters, sensors, audio prompts and sound effects with options for indoor and outdoor light sensitivity to set up and play live matches.
Two triggers, one to shoot and one to activate shields, along with a bottom trigger to reload the gun, let players run around and target one another until one has been tagged 10 times.
The beauty of these high-tech beasts is that up to 24 players can sync up (even in teams) to take part in matches.
The wallet-killer here is that each gun requires six AA batteries.
However, to really appreciate the sophistication of the pistols, use the mounting bracket at the top of the gun barrel (accommodating all versions of the iPhone and iPod Touch) to hook up the smart device (through a cord to the audio jack) and use it in tandem with game play.
Tap into an app: Download the free Lazer Tag game app and look at the screen to train first against six levels loaded with hordes of alien Cephalids attacking within your real environment. The app works with the smart device's camera to generate an overlay of hostiles, and the screen even starts to fake crack when shot at.
Most of the menacing pests look like Sentinels from "The Matrix" and swarm around on and off screen ready to attack. Success in missions earns points that can be used to upgrade weapons.
With two or more players using the iPhone apps and guns, it becomes virtual-reality chaos as combatants stalk each other while using the screen to watch adversaries take explosive hits and even suffer from the occasional drone airstrike.
I can do without the in-app purchases (99 cents to $1.99) to upgrade arsenals, but, still, this is an amazing meld of technologies.
Note: Now through Jan. 15, players can use the pistols connected to their iPhones to unlock the Winter Domination Weapons Pack, including four new guns and a pair of special attack upgrades.
iCade 8-Bitty (Think Geek, requires two AAA batteries, $24.99). The retro mobile gamer in the family can take a trip down memory lane with the use of a wireless, Bluetooth-connected controller that looks as if it were plucked from an 8-bit NES Nintendo system from 1985.
The faux wood paneling on the sides as well as a pair of shoulder triggers are new, but the rest of the setup (four face buttons, select, start and classic D-Pad) looks vintage and fits perfectly in a shirt pocket.
Tap into the app: As you can imagine, retro is the key word here, and the compatible selection of iPhone and iPad challenges available at the iTunes store tap into the history of video gaming.
My favorite is Atari Greatest Hits for the iPad, which offers a free version of Missile Command and four-game packs (99 cents each). Big holiday spenders can drop $9.99 and get all 100 games, including Asteroids, Centipede, Pong, Super Breakout, Tempest and Battlezone.
Also, grab the Activision Anthology ($6.99) and enjoy 45 games from the 2600 console days, including Pitfall, River Raid and Stampede.
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