Here's my personal recommendation to all parents, aunts/uncles, educators, etc. who might possibly consider buying one of those cute play laptops for toddlers in their lives this holiday season: don't.
Even if I haven't already long been of the opinion we adults generally underestimate what children are capable of understanding, it's a fact that kids today are incredibly technologically sophisticated. Chances are, they, even at age three, are used to seeing the adults around them with notebook computers, smart phones, PDA's and other gadgets. They'll know and resent it if you try to give them fake versions of these, which is exactly what this NY Times article (via Marginal Revolution) says.
Instead of toys, I suggest giving them a go on a real computer. It doesn't have to be fancy - you can get one for cheap or maybe even free on Craigslist or Freecycle. But considering a how huge a role computers and technology are going to play in the lives of the next generation, doesn't encouraging them to learn and experiment with the real thing make sense?
If you're worried about damage to the computer (even if it is a cheap or free one), there are programs like AlphaBaby and BabySplat that let babies and toddlers have fun pounding on keyboards without hurting files, and also PixelWhimsy, which is slightly more advanced, but still allows a comfortable platform for children to understand how computer input works. There's also Toddler Keys, which disables all the potentially dangerous keys and gives kids free rein on the others. All of those are free downloads, by the way, the first one for Mac and the others for Windows. There are also scores of worthwhile educational games (take the little one to the Apple Store to test drive some for free, or try the library), and websites toddlers can participate in with a little help.
You don't need the fake, expensive toys that you'll have no use for in a few years. The kids in your life are good enough for the real thing.