New Hatchimals Versions

Unless you were living under a rock in 2016 you should know about the smash toy hit known as Hatchimals, those cute little interactive toys that would hatch and mature as they are played with.  The problem was they sold out almost immediately after release and they were nearly impossible to find all the way through Christmas.

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Original Hatchimals – 2016

But now Spin Master, the company behind the craze, is release two new versions of their Hatchimals.  They are not available yet, but will likely hit stores in a few months.

The first is Hatchimals Glitter (priced at $59.99 each), which enhances the original Hatchimals concept with some sparkle. The new creatures’ names are “Sparkly Pengualas” and “Shimmering Draggles”, both of which sport sparkling fur, new sounds, songs and games. Hatchimals Glitter will hit stores in July.

Also new are Hatchimals Colleggtibles, which will hit stores in May.  The are smaller versions of the the original Hatchimals – mini plastic creatures that live inside a mini egg with a large purple heart on it.  These are self-hatching like the original version – kids have to help hatch their Colleggtibles by rubbing their hearts until they changes from purple to pink, which means it’s ready to hatch.  Manually crack open the egg and hidden inside are mystical animal-inspired creatures with glittery wings.

The first line of Colleggtibles will have 70 creatures, including severak limited editions. The Hatchimals Colleggtibles will be sold in packs ($2.99 for a single and $9.99 for a 4-pack).

Disclaimer: This post may contain Affiliate links. Prices may change at any time. Do your own research before purchasing.

Black Friday 2016 – Tips and Tricks

Although Black Friday does not hold the same punch it had just a few years ago, it is still the official kick-off to the Christmas shopping season. Retailers are holding pre-Black Friday sales starting a week or even more before Thanksgiving. For example Costco started their sales on Nov 18 this year. Also, there are many retailers that are opening their doors Thanksgiving evening, a good 12 hours before they used to open. All of this has (thankfully) reduced the craziness and stress of heading out for Black Friday shopping, although it is now interfering with the Thanksgiving holiday.

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But there is some good news – many retailers have publicly come out and announced that they will be closed for Thanksgiving, and some are closed even for Black Friday. This benefits primarily their employees who are not forced to work when they should be spending quality time with their family.

So what kind of Black Friday shopper are you? Maybe you are intense, maybe you are just casual. Or maybe you couldn’t be bothered. Also, are you primarily and Online shopper, constantly scanning various websites for sales and deals? Or do you like getting out there in person, hitting the malls and navigating the crowds? Whatever kind of shopper you are you may benefit from our suggestions here.

Black Friday Planning

Every Black Friday shopper should start planning about a week ahead. This planning should include:

  • Putting together a comprehensive gift list
  • Putting together a Wish List for yourself
  • Note which items might be in very high demand, based on information found on various sites such as Hot Toy Guide. This may influence what price you are willing to pay right now, and whether you should risk waiting for a better price later on.
  • Finding out the schedules of the stores you plan to visit in person. You certainly don’t want to show up to a closed store.
  • Planning your shopping schedule, by coordinating with your family and friends. Don’t forget to leave extra time for snack or meals, and for the inevitable waiting in lines.
  • Taking note of the regular prices of some of the key items on your list, and setting some price targets for them as well.
  • Regular visiting of “hot deal” websites
  • Check out the newspaper ads on Thanksgiving day (and before). Play close attention to any restrictions and limits placed on the hottest in-store deals. Often a store has a very small number of the hottest items for sale at the best prices.

Toy Shopping on Black Friday

FurReal Friends Bootsie

Toys and electronics are historically two of most targeted and frenetic areas of Black Friday buying, and for the whole Christmas season as well. When the little ones insist that they want a particular toy, some parents will stop at nothing to fulfill their wishes. Sometimes that spills overs into the what we see on some news reports where people go crazy grabbing and shoving in order to get their hands on the hottest items in the store.

So we have a couple of suggestions to make your toy buying go a little more smoothly:

1. Be willing to buy early and to pay a little more

Is it really worth it to fight the crowds, and to risk coming away without that targeted toy just to save a few dollars? Why not just check out the prices now (before Thanksgiving) and buy at least a few items on your list, just to have the peace of mind that you are part-way through your shopping list.

2. Know what’s Hot

Cozmo Robot

Keep an eye on the hot toys, as found on our Most Wished For Toy List, our Top Ten Toy List, and many other pages on this site. For those Hot toys, watch out for special deals and grab them when you think the price is right. If you wait until December you may find the toys are impossible to get, or you’ll have to pay higher prices from 3rd party re-sellers, such as on Ebay or some shady character on Craigslist.

3. Impress by Being Up to Date

Parents often buy toys which are past their prime. There’s nothing worse that finding out that what you bought makes you look old and out of touch. If you want to impress Tweens and Teenagers you really should try to focus on the “in” products, especially related to electronics, and to entertainment (movies, TV shows, and music). So if you’re not sure what to buy that 13-year old, ask around and try to find out what kids that age might like.

Good Luck with your Christmas shopping!!!

Disclaimer: This post may contain Affiliate links. Prices may change at any time. Do your own research before purchasing.

Hatchimal Alternatives

hatchimalsAs expected Hatchimals have turned out to be the hottest and hardest-to-find toy this Christmas season.  What is surprising is that they have completely sold out in early November and prices are sky-high (through 3rd-party sellers).  We don’t know when there will be more supply to satisfy the demand, but in the meantime if you would rather spend something like $40-$60 for a reasonable replacement toy, rather than spending $150 and up for a Hatchimal then we have some ideas for you to consider.

FurReal Friends – Interactive Animals

FurReal Friends Torch

FurReal Friends Torch

FurReal Friends has a few different animals that your child can interact with rather than just hold.  For example the FurReal Friends Torch, My Blazin’ Dragon responds to touch with 50+ sound and motion combinations. Fill his tank with water and he breathes flame-colored mist (and burps).  He also give fun responses when you touch his nose.

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FurReal Friends Bootsie

FurReal Friends Bootsie

There’s also FurReal Friends Bootsie – a playful cat that looks and acts just like a real kitty. Wave at her or tap her mouth with included treat for fun expressions.  Pet her head to discover her current mood.

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Little Live Pets

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Little Live Pets – Snuggles

Another alternative to Hatchimals is Little Live Pets.  First up is the Little Live Pets Snuggles My Dream Puppy.  This is a fun little interactive puppy that responds to hugging and feeding.  It is a very soft animal and kids seems to love it.

The only possible issue with this toy is reported quality issues.  If you absolutely must get this toy do so with the expectation that it might not work properly and might need to be replaced.

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Peppy Pets Dog

Peppey Pets Toy Dog

Peppy Pets Toy Dog

The Peppy Pets Kid Powered Dog can be a nice cuddly companion for little kids.  The dog is soft and can perform tricks like flipping.   The pet is not battery powered – it flips using the tug of the leash.  So it is not as advanced as the more technological interactive pets but it can be a fun friend for a younger child.

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Disclaimer: This post may contain Affiliate links. Prices may change at any time. Do your own research before purchasing.

Hands-On Test: Merge VR Goggles

I spent some time testing out the Merge Virtual Reality (VR) Goggles over the past few days.  These goggles are an interesting way to get started with virtual reality, and I’ll describe my experience while trying to use them with various VR media.

Disclaimer: These goggles were provided by the manufacturer free of charge, but we are providing an honest review that is not influenced by the manufacturer or anyone else. Now on to the review.

(No time to read the whole review? Then jump straight to our Conclusion)

Overview

First of all I’m no VR expert – in fact I’ve never used any type of VR hardware before at all.  So my review is coming from the point of view of a true novice, who is most likely the target market for these goggles.

Merge VR Goggles

Merge VR Goggles

There are two general classes of VR hardware available:

  • VR goggles that use a smartphone inserted in them to provide the visual experience.  These are less expensive, usually well under $100.  The most basic of these is the Google Cardboard.
  • Dedicated hardware like Oculus, Gear VR or Vive.  The full VR experience with these products can cost from $200 to $1500

The Merge VR Goggles are clearly a step up from the simplistic Google Cardboard goggles, with the following features:

  • They are made from a comfortable foam material, as opposed to, well, cardboard
  • Secure and comfortable head straps
  • Adjustable lens controls
  • On-screen Smartphone controls
  • Anti-fog vents
  • Support for camera operation during usage

360 VR Media Selection

Regardless of what model of VR goggles you use you need a source of 360 degree VR media to view.  I found that the quality of this media was a big factor in my enjoyment of the goggles.

I started with the Merge website Vrstart.com, as suggested by the product packaging.  This site lists a selection of Apps and YouTube videos that support VR viewing.  This website is a convenient starting point, but this is not the only way to find VR-supported media.  E.g. You can go directly to YouTube.com and search for 360 enabled videos.

Goggle Operation

I had a range of experiences with the Merge VR Goggles, to some extent driven by the quality of the media I tried. But for now let me stick to the goggles themselves.

The first issue I ran into is that my personal phone is a little too small to work in these goggles.  I have an older Samsung Galaxy S4. So I had to borrow an S5 from a family member for this testing.  So if you want to buy these goggles make sure you have a more recent smartphone (within the past two years).

Inserting the phone was a bit difficult – it was a tight squeeze.  This often caused me to press a button accidentally on the phone which forced me to take the phone out and get back into the proper mode.  It took a while to figure out how to insert and then later remove the phone from the goggles without pushing a stray button.  Once the phone was inserted properly I was good to go.

The adjustable lenses worked quite well.  They allowed me to set them just right for a sharp viewing experience.

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The control buttons were useful, but only for certain media.  When experiencing 360-enabled YouTube videos a button press would allow us to control the video (pause, restart, mute).  When using the Google Streetview app we were able to move our position by pressing the buttons.  But other media did not seem to react to the buttons, so these were not as rewarding to experience.

VR-Enabled Apps

I tried a couple of free apps but I was not particularly impressed.  One app would not run on my Samsung S5.  Another app was of surprisingly low quality.  Also the goggle control buttons did not seem to do much good with the apps. I’m sure if I tried some more apps I’d find some that I liked.  Although there is one I did like …

Google Streetview App

I really liked this app.  There are two kinds of media available here:  user-submitted 360-degree photos, and Google Streetview scenes.  The Streetview scenes allow you to walk through international tourist destinations, like Amsterdam and Rome.  All of the media that I watched is high-resolution and very sharp. Once I’m done writing this review this is the first app I’m going to go back to since the opportunities are almost endless.

streetview

YouTube Videos

I enjoyed watching 360-enabled YouTube videos on the goggles.  The goggle controls allowed us to start and stop the video and to adjust the volume.  There is a huge variety of high resolution 360-enabled videos on YouTube so this source of VR media alone may be worth the price of admission.

Conclusion/Recommendation

Considering that this is our first VR viewing experience we enjoyed using these goggles.  They are somewhat higher priced than the bare-bones Google Cardboard, but far less expensive than dedicated hardware.  Plus the foam construction is certain to last longer than cardboard.  Using these goggles with certain media is a very rewarding, and as an entry-level selection we give a THUMBS UP to the Merge VR Goggles.

Blank Mug Design

buy-amazon-button2P.S. Be sure to switch to WIFI mode when using the goggles.  We noticed a high amount of data usage when watching 360-enabled content.

Disclaimer: This post may contain Affiliate links. Prices may change at any time. Do your own research before purchasing.