Toy Review: Sphero Robotic Ball
When my husband brought home a Sphero from the Apple store last month, I was a bit upset. First, he spent over $100 on a gift for our son Jack’s 9th birthday and we usually discuss the pros and cons of expensive presents before buying them. And second, the Sphero was just a white plastic ball that didn’t really seem to do much. “How boring,” I thought. “We’ll definitely be returning this thing.”
But I admit that I was wrong. Way wrong.
In fact, it took only two minutes of Jack playing with his Sphero for me to decide that my husband had hit a home run with this purchase. Simply put, Sphero is awesome and a great gift idea for both younger and older kids.
Per the maker, “Sphero is a completely new type of gaming system. It’s the world’s first robotic ball that you control with a tilt, touch, or swing from your smartphone or tablet. You can drive Sphero, play tabletop and multiplayer games, hold Sphero in your hand to use it as a controller for on-screen gameplay, learn basic programming, and even explore augmented reality.”
More simply put, download one of the 20+ Sphero apps to a smartphone or tablet (iOS or Android), then use that to transform and control the Sphero into different remote-control toys. It’s a smart robot on the inside and it has a waterproof, opaque, high-impact polycarbonate shell on the outside. (You can supposedly put it in your pool, but we’ve been a little nervous to try that. Somebody else do it first and let me know how it turned out, pretty please.)
The Sphero zooms around the house at a pretty fast clip and it glows in thousands of colors that the user can determine. There are literally thousands of things you can do with it (their website is great about detailing them), including using the “augmented reality app” where your robot can come to life as a beaver named Sharky. The Sharky the Beaver app lets you take a virtual 3-dimensional character for a walk around your house and feed it cupcakes. Jack got a big kick out of this.
Another way Jack plays with Sphero is he sets objects up around the room in an obstacle course, then, via the Sphero app on his iTouch, steers his Sphero through them. He also downloaded the Sphero Pet app to play with our 7-month-old kitten, Lola. Users choose either a dog or cat interface, then drive the Sphero in joystick or tilt mode and it’ll change colors, spin wildly, shake, flip, and move in any direction you want for the pet’s enjoyment. Lola went nutso for it and chased it for hours. (And she seemed to like it a lot better than our Furby.) Due to its hard shell, the Sphero is supposedly bite and drool proof, so it seems like a good choice for dog owners.
Another cool thing about Sphero is that it was engineered so developers can easily create apps for it. (A Full API and Mobile SDK for iOS and Android invites developers to dive right in.) Older and more tech-savvy kids can start with Sphero MacroLab to design their own fun. (I’m strongly encouraging my computer-loving son Sam to get into this.) Your family can also play Sphero ColorGrab, a multiplayer board game, set up an at-home golf course with Sphero Golf and kids can sketch with Sphero Draw N’ Drive.
There’s also the DJ Sphero app where users can “spin like a club DJ” by loading music tracks from their iPad to the Sphero. They can then select between decks, cross-fade between tracks and speed up or slow down the music by spinning the Sphero ball. We haven’t tried this yet, but it sounds really cool.
There are so many ways to use Sphero that I can’t possibly discuss them all here. Luckily, their website is very good about detailing what you can do with it and it seems to be a good resource for all Sphero owners. Of course, the downside to this toy is the $120-130 price tag, which I think is pretty steep for a kid’s gift. However, most or all of the apps are free, which helps offset the cost. And, the Sphero is really a gaming system not just a single-use toy. It’s so unique and inventive that I think kids will find a ton of ways to play with it.
Like Jack, for example, who is currently laughing his head off while he zooms his Sphero right at my foot.