There’s always been something magical about Hot Wheels toy cars. Introduced in 1968, they were among the first children’s toys that looked just like the real thing, but were meant to be played with. Kids have been racing, launching, and crashing Hot Wheels for decades. And now, thanks to the new id lineup, they’re learning to code with them.
Mattel launched the Hot Wheels id product line earlier this year. It taps the fun of playing with Hot Wheels toys as a conduit for learning STEM skills. The company today officially launched an update that adds support for Apple’s Swift Playground. Kids aged eight and up use a Bluetooth-enabled “Portal” to scan their cars into an app on their iPad that takes them through various coding exercises.
Before we get into the experience – which has you solving code challenges to thwart the evil Draven, who’s stolen a car – let’s talk about what you get with your id play set. Individual vehicles cost $6.99 and each car produces a unique identifier when scanned. In order to scan vehicles you’ll need the $39.99 Portal, a Bluetooth-enabled device that let’s you bring your cars from the real world into your app, or you’ll need the full $180 Smart Track Kit.
The Smart Track Kit comes with a Portal and everything you need to build fun, exciting tracks. But you don’t necessarily need it. You can purchase the portal and use it with standard Hot Wheels tracks sets and even any generic track sets that work with the same sized cars. You will, however, need a Portal to use the app.
I wasn’t able to check out the full Smart Track Kit, but Hot Wheels did send the Portal and several id-enabled vehicles. The Portal feels solid, it looks good with track snapped to it, and it’s simple to charge and use. The cars are magnificent.
Toy cars are a matter of personal preference, but I really loved the variety that Hot Wheels sent. From the animal-inspired Street Beasts to the Hot Wheels Greats, there’s plenty of limited edition collectibles to enjoy with the Portal and app. And at $7 a piece, they’re not too expensive to take out of the box and play with.
Honestly, I’m content to run tracks along stacks of books and around stuffed animals and watch my cars zoom around for hours on end – even if most of it’s in my imagination. But now, with the new id series, we can watch our cars in digital format and in augmented reality. It adds a layer of cool that kids with iPads will enjoy.
It’s important to point out here that this is my first experience with Hot Wheels id. I’m not typically an iPad user, but I found the app simple and fun to use. There’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to physically swiping the cars across the portal – sometimes it didn’t seem to matter how I swiped, other times it called for a precise movement. The coding events are simple and work really well within the context of the story. Depending on your particular coding skill, you might find yourself a little underwhelmed with it – this is definitely geared towards kids with little or no experience in Swift Playgrounds. But the story is fun and engaging, and parents shouldn’t have to worry about it being too difficult for age-appropriate kids.
I couldn’t find any reason not to like the new Hot Wheels cars, Portal, or app. I did find that having to re-scan the vehicles in the middle of an event – presumably because the system lost them – can be annoying, but it’s not a deal breaker.
I like how Hot Wheels has chosen to package the id products. If this is your first time delving into the world of Hot Wheels, the $180 Kit might seem expensive, but it has everything you need and it’s a great start for your collection. Those who aren’t sure if they’ll become lifelong fans and collectors should opt for the $40 Portal so they can dive into the STEM aspects. If you already have a Portal, the Apple Swift Playground update is free.
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