Here’s a look at a few of the best and brightest gift ideas based on entertainment and learning.
Anki Overdrive: Fast & Furious Edition
What is it? An intelligent race car system
Gift group: Thrill seekers looking to virtually challenge the best drivers in the world in their living room
Santa’s scoop: Thoroughly erasing any bad memories of lumbering slot car racing, Anki’s Overdrive series is now the leader in computer-controlled, hassle-free vehicle competitions.
Expanding upon its popular track system, the company teamed up with a high-speed movie franchise to further ratchet up its pop culture appeal.
Specifically, owners of the “Fast & Furious” edition get to control two cars from the series, Luke (Dwayne Johnson) Hobbs’ International MXT extreme pickup truck and Dominic (Van Diesel) Toretto’s Dodge Ice Charger in this complete starter set.
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After setting up 10 pieces of track (six curved and four straight) with magnetic connections, a dozen guardrails and a pair of elevation pieces into one of a possible eight configurations, owners energize the cars on the included charging dock and then download the driving app (make sure to pick Anki’s Fast & Furious” version) to control the vehicles in speedy, multi-lap races.
As players win six types of competitions, such as a single player campaign and multi-player battle races, they accumulate cash to buy upgrades to the vehicles to tweak performance. They can also install long- and short-range weapons to virtually use against opponents such as laying down a set of spike strips or suing a grappling hook to slow an opponent.
The track also includes a Power Zone piece that delivers a massive hack when triggered to disable nearby opponents as they drive through it.
The 3.5-inch-long vehicles are a tech marvel that boast an optical sensor, dedicated 50MHz CPU, and two high-performance motors for precision maneuvering with 1-millimeter accuracy.
Voices of the actors as well as adrenaline-pumping music and sound effects coming from an owner’s smartphone app enhance the action.
Gift givers can also include extra pieces of track including ramps ($29.99) to make a much larger speedway, or add vehicles such as the sporty Guardian ($49.99) to race against or race with friends.
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What is it? A smart, portable electronic piano
Price: $299.99 (look for discounts on Black Friday)
Gift group: Budding Chopins in the family
Santa’s scoop: The One Music Group makes it easier to conquer playing keyboards with a full-sized instrument that literally light up its 61 keys when synchronizing with special digital sheet music. It comes in either an Onyx black or white gold color scheme.
Musicians hook up the keyboard to a tablet via a USB connection and download the One Light app to access eight video lessons, over 100 “Guitar Hero” like rhythm games, and sheet music to thousands of songs.
The virtual tutor has LED-guided lessons, and sessions literally light up the keys when a song’s sheet music is rolling on the tablet.
Now, around half of the more than 4,000 tablatures are free to play such as “Jingle Bells,” “Moonlight Sonata” and Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag,” but the others cost between 99 cents and $3.99 and are the more contemporary songs including The Beatles’ “Day Tripper, U2’s “Sweetest Thing” and Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.”
The keyboard is small enough to rest on an adult’s lap, comes loaded with 128 instrument sounds, an output to plug into sound systems, microphone input, headphone jack, onboard MP3 speakers, a MIDI output, and recording feature. It uses either six AA batteries (required) or the included AC adapter.
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect, so don’t expect to be Chick Corea or even the B-52’s Kate Pierson after a couple of hours with the instrument. It offers great learning potential but mastery comes from determination, repetition and exercising the brain with those musical digits.
What is it? A racing drone
Gift group: Virtual daredevils in the family, 10 years and older
Santa’s scoop: Spin Master’s Air Hogs brand continues to refine the drone experience for tweens with a quad-propeller, palm-sized dynamo roughly 3.5 inches in diameter that features an onboard camera.
The drone’s very durable construction will take a beating as pilots maneuver it using the 2.4 GHz controller that’s included (requires three AAA batteries) and that offers roughly 250 feet of communication range.
The remote has a flight assist for beginners that offers a single button to take off and land with even a height lock via a barometric sensor and a button to perform a simple stunt flip.
It also accommodates more experienced drone pilots with throttle and direction levers, forward and reverse buttons, and an anti-drift adjuster.
What stands out with the DR1 is the onboard camera with an adjustable lens that offers a live-streaming video feed to a smartphone app (iOS and Android compatible) using the drone’s Wi-Fi network.
The phone is placed in a virtual reality-style headset to literally get a first-person perspective of the drone in action, simulating sitting in a cockpit.
The app also captures video for editing and posting, and the DR1 also includes four propellers with a tool to easily replace damaged rotors in case of any catastrophic crashes.
The drone works best in an indoor environment and especially when annoying pets or dads trying to multitask.
The only bad news is a single USB charge offers around 7 to 10 minutes of flight time, and recharging clocks in at around an excruciating 80 minutes with the provided USB cord.
That will disappoint impatient pilots looking for a more expanded trip.
What is it? An illuminating mobile karaoke amplification system
Gift group: Amateur or professional singers looking to show off their vocal chops
Santa’s scoop: P.A. system pioneer VocoPro delivers a 28-pound, battery-powered audio dynamo that packs 100 watts of power into a unit standing just 19 inches tall.
The multifunctional speaker system has a 10-inch woofer and 3-inch tweeter and offers Blu-tooth connectivity; a digital FM radio; MP3 player (via an SD card slot) and a line input (RCA and mini-jack ports) to pump out the tunes; and includes a pair of wired microphones (with an echo effect) to start crooning.
Now, as the name hints at, the LightShow has a sound-activated, half a disco ball-like sphere attached to its top that delivers spinning multicolor illumination to spice up a performance.
For portability and quick set-up, the sturdily built unit has an onboard rechargeable battery, a telescoping handle and rolling wheels on its back to easily move it from party to party.
Singers can expect about five hours on a single charge or roughly two hours with the light system turned on.
Only thing missing is a monitor to actually partake in karaoke. Owners will need a Blu-tooth enabled computer tablet or smartphone with access to YouTube or karaoke apps to start singing along.
It would have been nice if VocoPro teamed up with popular singalong apps from Smule or Yoke Music, for example, to offer a discount to its digital music services.
However, Santa helper’s can’t think of a better way to enjoy the holidays than with the gift of family sing-alongs, and the LightShow will deliver the experience, but watch the volume as the system can overwhelm the eardrums.
• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at email@example.com.
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