The Sphero 2.0 is, in the simplest possible terms, a remote-control sphere that you can drive around using any Bluetooth-enabled device.
If you would prefer a more dramatic description of the Sphero, you can check out this video which features the device looking like a cooler, more-spherical James Bond:[embedvideo id=”71720862″ website=”vimeo”]
Awesome. I’d do anything to be as cool as the Spheros in that video.
The main way you interact with your Sphero is by driving it around using the standard driving app. How fast and responsive it is depends on where you’re using it: it’s easier to control on carpet than on a hardwood floor, for example, but can’t reach the same top speeds.
Driving the Sphero is a ton of fun, thanks in part to the personality and sense of humor provided by the driving app. What could have been a basic and bare-bones driving interface is instead a futuristic portal, complete with music and sounds that bring your Sphero to life. There’s even a “game-ified” version of the driving mode which features simple quests (with goals such as “crash into 10 objects in 20 seconds), levelling up, and unlockable abilities that will have your Sphero dancing, shifting colors, or throwing a temper tantrum. It all adds up to a great driving experience, and the little “oof” sound the Sphero makes when I crash it into a wall still brings a smile to my face after hearing it dozens of times.
Controlling a rolling sphere with a flat touch-screen is probably a technological and programming nightmare, so it’s impressive that the Sphero 2.0 handles as well as it does most of the time. You drive the Sphero by moving your finger in the direction you want to go, with the added quirk that your Sphero has its own sense of which direction “forward” is, based on how you have oriented its taillight.
Here’s how that plays out in practice:
- Before you start driving you Sphero, orient the taillight so it’s facing towards you.
- Drive the Sphero around, knowing that “forward” on your tablet will roll the Sphero away from you.
- Race around, crash into stuff, have fun.
- Realize that the orientation of “forward” and “backward” has gotten a bit screwy as you and the Sphero have moved around the room.
- Re-orient the taillight and go back to step #2.
Once you become familiar with the Sphero, this re-orienting process becomes kind of second nature, and hardly even qualifies as an annoyance. It does detract a bit from the joy of just driving the Sphero around, though, and will have you longing for a version of the Sphero that automatically detects the location of the driver and adjusts directions accordingly.
Sphero the hero
The Sphero 2.0 impresses in just about every way when it comes to performance and durability. The battery lasts for an hour or more of driving time on a single charge, and fully charging the device involves leaving it in its cradle for about three hours. It can reach an impressive top speed on smooth surfaces, and isn’t a slouch on a carpet either. It can crash into walls and drop off tables onto rugs without issue (though I would hesitate to drive it off a high shelf onto a hard surface), it’s tough enough to withstand most attacks from your pet (which WILL happen, since the Sphero is a great pet toy) and it’s even waterproof, which I haven’t yet had a chance to try out for myself.
The Sphero 2.0 comes with two small plastic ramps that can in theory be used for jumps and tricks. I didn’t have a lot of success actually doing this myself, but it was a blast just to try. I brought the Sphero to a recent party and we set up the ramps on a hardwood floor, then took turns trying to complete successful jumps. After some close calls and a LOT of laughing, a few of us finally managed to do it — and it felt great.
The games we play with our Spheros
Orbotix, the manufacturer of the Sphero, clearly has big dreams for their little device. At the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show they were proudly showing off both their upcoming 2B model and their “MacroLab” application, which is designed to teach the basics of programming to both kids and adults. I didn’t spend much time with the MacroLab app myself, though the potential of the idea is clear. The Sphero is a device that could potentially be used in a hundreds different ways in games and apps, and Orbotix wants to make that happen. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have really caught on yet. The available applications that take advantage of the Sphero in some way are sorely limited — and most of them aren’t interesting for more than a few minutes. I tried just about every app I could find, but apart from a few standouts the selection was underwhelming.
I have high hopes that Orbotix is successful in their efforts to encourage more people to design games for the Sphero, because the idea of controlling games with an glowing sphere is almost unbearably futuristic and cool. But as it stands now, gaming with your Sphero is much more of a diversion than a core feature of the device.
Here are the criteria I consider most important for judging the Sphero 2.0:
#1 – Controls – 7/10
After a small brief learning period most people will be able to get the hang of driving the Sphero, but it’s inevitable that you’ll run into some control challenges or oddities during your time with the Sphero.
#2 – Personality – 10/10
Unless you have a dog or a cat that you are REALLY fond of, the Sphero could easily become your new favorite pet.
#3 – Performance – 9/10
The battery life, color options, speed, and durability of the Sphero 2.0 are all seriously impressive.
#4 – Games and Apps – 5/10
Orbotix has done an admirable job of trying to make the Sphero a gaming device, but there just aren’t very many decent apps out there yet.
Overall score: 7.8/10
In the end, I had a blast using the Sphero 2.0. It was a hit with the people in my office, at parties, and with my cat. There’s room for improvement in the controls and with the available apps, but as it stands now anyone with a bit of imagination can have hours and hours of fun with aSphero.