One of the many downsides to being a grown-up is that, generally speaking, it's frowned upon to to spend too much time playing with toys. Not toys in the consumer electronic sense of cool gadgets, but toys in the kids' sense of goofing around, pulling pranks and having fun. Here are a few cool items that evoke that spirit of play time.
Play ball ...
When it comes to fun and games, simpler is usually better. As kids, dogs and professional baseball players have taught us, it's hard to improve on the little round ball.
The wireless gaming gadget known as Sphero ($129) is an interesting step into the future for the old playtime standby. A sort of next-generation remote control vehicle, the three-inch-diameter game ball is powered from within by a two-wheeled gyroscope, which you control from your iPhone, iPad or Android device. Various expansion apps — Sphero Golf, Sphero Chromo — explore the gizmo's gaming and augmented reality potential.
Sphero's internal lithium battery recharges wirelessly, through the shell, by way an induction mount that you plug into the wall. Each charge lasts about an hour. The hard plastic casing is durable and waterproof, so you can launch Sphero over curbs or into puddles. Rigorous hands-on testing suggests it's also good for freaking out the cat.
While the Sphero is a lot of fun, it is constrained by that tiresome universal force known as gravity. The AR.Drone Quadricopter ($299) solves that problem nicely. Designed for both indoor and outdoor use, this app-driven remote control aircraft works with iOS or Android devices and features a built-in 720p HD video camera.
The AR.Drone creates its own Wi-fi network to connect to your device, and video is streamed directly back to your display screen. You pilot the drone by way of intuitive tilt and touch controls.
That Wi-fi connection also limits the drone's range, however, to about 160 feet. Battery charge is limited too: You'll get about 15 minutes of fly tie per charge. On the plus side, you can fly it around indoors (and really freak out the cat). The included protective hull wraps around the four rotors to protect the drone when bouncing off walls.
DIY espionage ...
The Withings Smart Baby Monitor ($299) is designed for parents who want to keep an eye on the little ones in space-age fashion. But for the playfully minded, it's a gadget that can easily be re-purposed to other ends.
The monitor works with the iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, and comes with apps for playing music, activating the multicolor lights and even monitoring temperature and humidity in the room. With a little lateral thinking, the monitor can be used for for non-baby purposes like general surveillance, covert or otherwise.
For the dedicated prankster, the possibilities are endless. A work colleague once hid a device similar to this behind a potted plant in my office, in the interest of amateur espionage, and freaked me directly out. The device includes motion and sound detection, built-in loudspeaker and LED infrared night vision. Remember, though: Pranking should always be used for good, and never for evil.
A relatively modern subset of skate culture, electric skateboarding (or powerboarding) has been around a while. But it's only in the last few years that manufacturers have optimized the equipment and battery technology to make it really fun.
EMAD Skate offers a line of electric skateboards from $300 to $700, including all terrain boards for riding on dirt and grass. It works like this: A battery-powered motor is affixed to the underside of the board, and acceleration and braking are handled by hand-held remote control.
Thanks to careful design and engineering, powerboards are steered the old fashioned by shifting your weight and leaning. Boards can go 7-10 miles on a single charge to the battery, which takes 3-4 hours to charge up. Best of all, electric boards eliminate the pesky tradition of having to actually power your skateboard yourself.
After a long day of play, you'll want to get some good sleep. Star Wars fans may remember the scene from The Empire Strikes Back in which Han Solo saves a typically hapless Luke Skywalker by slicing open a tauntaun and shoving the fledgling Jedi into its warm innards.
Luke haters will appreciate the Tauntaun Sleeping Bag ($149.99), a stroke of genius from the good people at ThinkGeek.com. It comes with built-in head pillow, internal intestinal pattern and a lightsaber zipper pull.
Interesting side note: The tauntaun bag was initially posted as an April Fool's Day hoax. But demand was so high that ThinkGeek secured the licensing from LucasFilm and made it real.
Note: This was written by Glenn McDonald, a Digital Crave contributor.
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