Figuring out what kind of robot toy a kid would like is not as simple a task as one would think. Sure, there are some kids who would appreciate anything in the genre, but the rest-well let's just say that having specific tastes is pretty common for kids. To help you folks figure out the various robot toys you will find on store shelves, what kinds of audiences they are made for, and also, if you might want one for yourself, here is our absolute list of all the robot toys you would ever want.
Going Branded: HASBRO's Transformers
Some kids just want robot toys because they're the latest buzz among their peers, and no other robot series is as permeating to the growing up period of children all over the world (across generations!) than Transformers. Originally launched as a cartoon-toy combo intended by HASBRO to sell toys, Transformers has been around for almost three decades -spanning a several hand-drawn and CG animated TV series, a 1986 full length animated film, and just recently (starting in 2007) a trilogy of live action Hollywood films that has brought plenty of attention back to the franchise.
Of course, three decades worth of media has certainly spawned a literal smorgasbord of toys to choose from, thankfully, the internet is full of resource sites to help you out. The basic idea is that the newest line of toys will always be cheapest and most readily available and are the ones most likely to appeal to kids.
If you want the latest series, aim for figures from the new animated movie, Beast Hunters: Predacons Rising, and from the current running TV series, Rescue Bots. It may spoil the surprise (or not, depending on how clever you are), but the best thing to do before buying children a Transformers toy is to ask which characters are their favorites, and also, which ones they already have. Also, useful: try to remember the names, if they already have a full line up of Autobots (which are the protagonists), then buying an antagonistic Decepticon/Predacon or two will certainly liven up the playtime experience. For a kid, the surprise of a gift is less important than having two of the same toy, so don't be afraid to ask -and that applies to almost any toy you may want to buy as a gift.
As cool a Transformers are (they're robots that transform into vehicles and giant animals, that's an awesome playtime combo right there), there are also other robot toys you may want to consider getting for the little gearhead.
First off, if you've got a child in mind that is truly into the spirit of robotics, try Wowwee's Robo-Sapien series. This remote controlled bipedal robot comes with a wide range of pre-set movements and can be "taught" to provide reactions or feedbacks to certain user-input actions.
If they already have the Robo-Sapien, or if you feel that it is still too simple for the child, then perhaps you may want to consider that the little genius is worth a good investment of a basic laptop and the LEGO Mindstorms NXT playset. Playset is a misnomer here since the package comes with what are basically the makings of your own programmable robot. The learning curve for this toy will take a bit of effort from both the parent and the child -but the end result is nothing short of wonderous and satisfying. The best part is that this toy could very well be the item that inspires a child to take up a path in science.
While not yet on store shelves, the play-i project is turning out to be something worth looking forward to. Bo and Yana are a pair of programmable robots designed in both form and features with children in mind. It combines various technologies to create a pair of toys that serve two distinct purposes, Bo is an active piece that learns and reacts to the way a child plays with it, while Yana serves as a media output specialist that provides interaction in the way a storyteller would. Since the product is still under development, it will be a while before these become available -but at least you can be part of the community effort to make it happen.
Batteries Not Included
Robots are fun and great, but always be sure to check in with parents or the kids themselves to see what would be appropriate. Toys that have plenty of articulation and easily breakable parts would not do well with those who like to play rough -but they would certainly appreciate robot-themed masks and squirt-guns when play-acting. Those who like to get busy with their hands are more likely to appreciate toys that require a bit of assembly. Last but not least, check if the toys need batteries! It may not seem like a big deal, but adding a small pack of batteries in the gift box will mean a lot to the child -just don't insert it immediately inside the toy (if the toy remains untouched for a while, the battery may eventually leak).