Toy Test 2019
Find reviews of the year’s top toys, written by MK readers for our annual Toy Test.
We asked families to review some of the season's most sought-after toys and share their candid thoughts. Scroll through to see their reviews, plus pics of the toys in action.
Blipblox Synth for Kids
Playtime Engineering; 3+; $189
Testers: Lia (4) and mom Alissa; Hockessin, DE
The gist: This fully functional synthesizer boasts professional features as well as colorful knobs & buttons, LED lights and a plastic design.
Toy appeal: 8. “The toy completely matched the description on the box. Lia was very excited to play with it. She pulled it right out of the box and played with it immediately.”
Educational value: 3. The product is billed as a fully functional synthesizer, but it was difficult to determine if all of the knobs truly affected the overall composition of the beats. She did enjoy experimenting with the sound of the pre-programmed tracks, but it doesn’t seem like she was learning much about the mixing process.”
Functionality: 10. “This toy was incredibly easy to use, straight out of the box. We just inserted the batteries and she got right to playing.”
Durability: 9. “The toy seems very sturdy. She liked to bang on it to press the buttons, and even dropped it. So far, it’s held up well to the extremely hands-on attention of a 4-year-old.”
Alissa’s verdict: “The synth engaged her brain in a creative way. The bright lights and varied tracks have kept her engaged on multiple occasions, and she likes to share the songs with her friends for dance parties.”
Lia says: “I like it! It makes me want to have a dance party! I wish I could make up all my own songs.”
The Chameleon Board Game
Big Potato; 14+; $19.79
Testers: Noah (15) and dad Jared; Royersford, PA
The gist: In each round, a secret word is selected from a topic card. Everyone knows the word except for the person with the “chameleon card.” It’ll take some social deduction and trickery to find out what is.
Toy appeal: 8. “It is a fun game with somewhat complicated-sounding directions, however once you start playing, the directions make sense.”
Functionality: 7. “The game is a little bit complicated because the directions give a poor idea of what each item does and how the game is played, but everything else is spot-on and I really liked it.”
Durability: 5. “The game is a card game, and it’s kind of hard to make cards very sturdy, but they hold up well and aren’t easy to rip.”
Jared’s verdict: “This is a great activity for family game night or for when your kid has a lot of friends over; it’s hard with a low number of players. It’s also easy to cheat.”
Noah says: “I like to play the game with my friends. It’s a lot of fun when you understand the topics on the cards.”
Junior Inventor Scienctific Discovery Workbench
Hape; 4+; $54
The testers: Keanu (10) and mom Erika; Philly
The gist: Budding scientists enjoy 10 experiments that produce new machines and cover scientific concepts.
Toy appeal: 9. “My son loves putting things together and he loves tech, so this toy was a perfect fit. He enjoyed playing with this innovative toy. For the most part, it matched the description on the package.”
Educational value: 9. “The workbench really allows children to explore the many “inventions” that they can imagine, and to think like mini engineers. My son learned how to creat different inventions, with his favorite being the pulley invention.”
Functionality: 7. “The toy was semi-easy to assemble, however there were some parts that weren’t as depicted in the photo. Also, note that parental assistance is advised for helping to put together the lower part of the bench, as a screwdriver is needed.”
Durability: 8. “The workbench is very durable; nothing broke while playing wth it. The quality of the materials is excellent.”
Erika’s verdict: “My son enjoyed coming up with various mechanics to try out. We are going to continue to use toys like this to help with enhancing his critical, scientific and creative thinking skills. Pros: Easy to put together, great toy for introducing STEAM concepts. Cons: A lot of pieces (58), but a great project/toy overall.
Keanu’s thoughts: Erika reports, “There’s not much he didn’t like. In fact, he kept saying, “This is so cool! I love it.”
Smart Learning Station
The Learning Journey; 3+; $35.99
Testers: Eleanor (4), Clara (2) & mom Melissa; Havertown, PA
The gist: The electronic machine features an alphabet-and-numbers touch pad, and light-up LED shape buttons.
Toy appeal: 8. “Featuring cute images for each letter and bright colors, my 2-year-old was very interested to check out the toy. My 4-year-old wanted to help her little sister figure out her new toy and teach her how to use it. The toy does match the description on the package.”
Educational value: 8. “While the toy is intended for ages 3 & up, there is great learning alue for a 2-year-old who is actively learning her letters, numbers, colors, shapes, and before and after. The sounds that go along with each image were a fun touch.”
Functionality: 7. “Fortunately, this toy has no assembly required. It does take three AA batteries, but they are included. My kids had no problem jumping in and pressing buttons to figure out how it worked. Most of the games/learning modes were very easy for both of my children to figure out. There was one level that was a bit overly complicated, even for my 4-year-old — spelling words such as butterfly, hammer, windmill and xylophone, or identifying the last letter in the word orange. It too some explaining that she was supposed to find that image, look at the word written out under the image, and then type out the letters in order. We did sometimes have trouble understanding what letter the voice was saying/asking us to identify. There are two volume levels, which you use by toggling the on/off button. Pressing the “on” button once turns the toy on at a low volume, pressing the button twice turns the volume louder, and pressing it a third time turns the toy off. It does turn off automatically if it has not been touched for a couple minutes. You can also turn it on by pressing any button.”
Durability: 8. “The toy seems durable enough to withstand being dropped by toddlers, and nothing broke in several weeks of play. I did like the handle on top to help my kids carry it around.”
Melissa’s verdict: “We truthfully don’t keep ‘noisy’ toys in our house because they stress out our dog. My 4-year-old felt that she was too old for it. However, I would recommend it for 2-year-olds or other young children who are still learning to identify letters, numbers, shapes and colors. It would have been nice if the toy also worked on letter sounds, not just letter identification, and if the spelling game had kids spelling CVC words ‑ something more developmentally appropriate than spelling “xylophone.”
Eleanor says: “I like the numbers on it and that it plays music. I also like that it talks; her voice is cute. I like to press the shapes because they have music to dance to. The spelling game is way too hard, but I already know my letters, numbers, shapes and colors.”
Clara says: “I like to press the sock. I like the goat, lion and monkey. I like to say ‘uh, oh!’ I don’t like sharing with my sister.”
Spin and Spiral Art Station
Crayola; 5+; $19.99
Testers: Leila (6) and mom Yariela; Philly
The gist: Make geometric marker designs or “spin out” with drippy spin-art paint creations.
Toy appeal: 10. “There was so much anticipation from Leila when we were first picking up the toy. When she finally saw the toy, she was smiling from ear to ear. Her brothers, who are older, were also eager to play with it. The pictures on the packaging were right on point with how the toy actually looks.
Educational value: 8. “It taught motor skills and hand control. Leila was able to see how her art was affected by using more or less speed. And since the toy attracted the attention of her older brothers, it taught them how to play together despite their large age differences.”
Functionality: 9. “We found the toy to be very easy to assemble and use. Even though Leila’s reading skills are not that advanced yet, with my help we were able to use the instructions included and put it together quickly. I would say five minutes tops, and she was making all types of beautiful swirl art.
Durability: 10. “As the days passed, Leila and her brothers became more comfortable with the toy and pushed it to its extremes. I think they were trying to see how fast it could really go and how messy it could get. The toy is relentless; it withstood even the most aggressive play times. I also appreciated that there weren’t any real small parts that a child could accidentally ingest.
Yariela’s take: “Leila has actually been wanting this for a while. Being able to test it out was a plus! She enjoys arts and crafts, and I love that this toy brings my kids together. I also like the creative possibilities from the toy. There are so many cool designs you can end up with, even if you’re not that great at art. This can actually provide positive reinforcement for a child’s creative abilities. My only suggestion would be to provide information on how to purchase more accessories.”
Leila’s thoughts: Yariela reports: “She loves that her brothers like it too, so they can play together.”
Yum! Candy Making Lab Kit
Hand2Mind; 8+; $34.99
Testers: Willow (11) and dad Jared; Royersford, PA
The gist: This kit brings science concepts to life with hands-on activities. The best part? Kids can eat the results.
Toy appeal: 7. It matched the photo, but they didn’t provide all of the necessary supplies. The activity is heavily guided by parental input.
Functionality: 10. “It was really easy to work with and the instructions told you what you needed for each of the 16 experiments before you started working.”
Durability: 10. “The materials lasted through the entirety of the work time and even longer. Nothing broke while in use.”
Jared’s verdict: I would buy this because it teaches you a lot and you learn new material in an interesting way. There is also the bonus of getting to eat food afterward.