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Bargain buys: Try these top toys for under $20

In part five of “Toy Test 2005,” Herb Weisbaum offers a look at top toys that won't break the bank. Check out the winners.
/ Source: TODAY

Many times, the toys kids find most appealing are also the most expensive, but there are exceptions. In “Toy Test 2005,” consumer specialist Herb Weisbaum asked kids to test hundreds of toys. In this fifth installment of his special report, he shares a look at the top choices for under $20. Check out the winners in the bargain category:

Our annual “Toy Test” is open to toy makers around the world. Toys must be new for the year, non-violent, appropriate for testing in a child care center and on the market by Thanksgiving. Price is not a consideration. We list that information so you can decide what fits your budget. The 383 toys we tested for “Toy Test 2005” range in price from $4 to $300. To be named a “bargain” a toy must make it into the winner’s circle and sell for $20 or less. For a complete list of this year’s bargains, in every age group, check out the “Toy Test 2005” guide. You’ll find lots of good toys that won’t break the bank.

Aquadoodle Go ‘N’ Doodle (Spin Master, $15)
It’s a drawing toy that doesn’t use markers, paint or ink — water makes the doodle “canvas” change color. Go ‘N’ Doodle is the latest addition to the award-winning Aquadoodle line. Just fill the drawing pen with water and your child is ready to get creative. Drawings disappear in just a few minutes as the water evaporates. The original Aquadoodle was one of our “Toy Test” winners last year. For 2005, Spin Master made the doodler portable. They packaged two doodle surfaces in a bright red plastic frame — that way one side is ready to go while the other side dries out. The Go ‘N’ Doodle frame has a cute design — it shows kids how to draw three basic pictures in three simple steps. Teachers told us the Go ‘N’ Doodle is “fun and easy to use.” (Manufacturer’s age: 24 months & up)

Today Toy Test 2005 - Click here for the full list of this year’s winners

MAGIC SCREEN Books (Publications International, $15)
These sing-along storybooks have a novel electronic twist. When kids push a button on the front of the book, they’ll hear one of their favorite cartoon characters and see them appear in the Magic Screen. Each page of the book has the lyrics to a different song. There’s a small picture next to the words, for instance: a bird, a butterfly or a bow. When your child pushes the button with the same picture, one of the characters from the storybook lights up inside the screen, says a few words and the music for that song begins to play. Characters appear at random — so push the same button twice and you may hear Tigger one time and Eeyore the next. “Kids never know who will show up in the screen,” one teacher told me. “That element of surprise is really appealing to them.” The three titles in this Magic Screen line are: Disney Winnie the Pooh “Surprise-Sing Along,” Thomas & Friends “Songs from the Station” and Disney Princess “Magic Songs.” (Manufacturer’s age: 3 & up)

School age
Flex K’NEX Space Patrol (K’NEX, $20)
K’NEX has come up with something new for budding builders who need a little help constructing three-dimensional models. Flex K’NEX sets come with EZ-Build Mats — full-scale, color-coded patterns of four different designs. Kids build a vehicle flat on the mat, and then flex it into shape. Just pop in the flex pieces and the model will hold its 3-D shape. It’s that simple. The Space Patrol set is pictured here — it rated the highest of the three Flex K’NEX sets we tested. The Cool Cruisers ($20) and the Construction Squad ($30) also made it into the winner’s circle. (Manufacturer’s age: 6 & up)

Super Mondo Inside-Out Ball (Play Visions, $10)
The first time I saw the Inside-Out Ball I couldn’t imagine what kids would do with it. The brightly-colored blob is reversible — smooth on one side and porcupine-like spines on the other. It also feels strange — cool to the touch — similar to the feel of Slime. When the public relations person assured me this toy was all the rage in Australia, I remember saying, “You’ve got to be kidding!” He wasn’t. Teachers agree, the Inside-Out Ball is “weird,” but they say kids “love” playing with it. Why? “I have no idea,” one teacher admitted. So I asked a few of our kid testers. Julie told me she liked the way it feels, “all squishy and gooey and stretchy.” Kayla and Maya also liked the feel and “the cool colors.” And what do the kids do with this soft, gooey, colorful blob? They put it on their head, wrap it around their wrists, put it on other kids’ heads, roll it around the floor, throw it, squeeze it, squish it, stretch it and shoot baskets with it. It sure is a good thing the Super Mondo Inside-Out ball is washable! (Manufacturer’s age: 5 & up)

Consumer expert and “Today” contributor Herb Weisbaum has been helping people across the country for more than 25 years. His award-winning reports have exposed everything from quack medications to bogus investments. Since 1990, his Toy Test has helped millions of parents and grandparents select the best toys for their kids. To learn more about Herb Weisbaum and his latest consumer reports, you can visit his Web site,