Hands on: Sphero

By Pat Pilcher

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Who'd have thought a robot ball could be so much fun?

Turns out that our greyhound is now also officially nuts about Sphero, a smartphone controlled ball.

In Use

Unboxing Sphero not only revealed the Sphero ball-bot, but also an induction charger and several stunt ramps.

After placing Sphero on the charger for several hours it was good to go and delivered an hour or so of play before demanding some quality time with its charger.

Tapping Sphero twice wakes it up and it flashes a bunch of different colours (Sphero has RGB LEDs inside it and can change colours on the fly) until it is paired with a smartphone using Bluetooth when it turns solid white.

Getting set up was a simple matter of pairing it and then downloading the Sphero app to drive it (Sphero supports Android and iOS). Tap the on-screen joystick on your phone or tablet and Sphero roll in the corresponding direction.

Its simple, but oh-so-addictive.

Driving Sphero takes a wee bit of getting used to and Orbotix have cleverly programmed Sphero to get faster the more you use it. Several weeks after my initial clumsy attempts at driving Sphero, I'm now driving it like a pro and our greyhound loves to chase it.

In short Sphero is a lot of fun and has to be the most high tech (and fun) pet toy I've ever seen. Out of the box Sphero rolls at a brisk walking pace, mine now rolls at a jogging clip, which indoors is faster than our greyhound can usually move.

But Wait There's More

If that was it, then this would be the shortest robot ball review ever, however Orbotix have put a lot of thought into the playability of Sphero. This has involved them releasing a ton of Sphero apps (at last count there was 20+ available) and one even turns Sphero into a game controller where holding Sphero in your hand and tilting it moves a spacecraft on a smartphone galaxian-like shoot-em-up game.

If you have friends who also own a Sphero, download the Tag app and you can play tag against other Sphero's by bumping them with your Sphero. Then there's the Rolling Dead game (no word on when HBO's lawyers will be in-touch), which uses your smartphones screen to drive Sphero and the smartphones camera to overlay tiny computer animated zombies wherever your phones pointed and your Sphero is rolling. These tiny undead will pop up out of the ground to chase Sphero (who can also zap them). It sounds bizarre, and trust me - it is - but it is also about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on whilst driving a robotic ball with your smartphone.

My favourite though has to be the Sphero pet app which lets you drive Sphero around the house and has "boost" modes to add a level of excitement to your pets play as Sphero bounces and rapidly zips away in a seemingly random directions - it drives our greyhound bonkers.

Sphero is also pretty tough, thanks to a polycarbonate outer casing that is water and seemingly greyhound proof. Sphero can also be driven in water and floats, but really needs a small rubber "Nubby" which resembles a ribbed condom for robotic balls to get traction and move on water.

Verdict

So will Sphero change the world? I doubt it, but it sure as hell makes it a whole lot more fun (especially when our greyhound gets involved). I honestly expected to find myself bored after a few hours of play, but the sheer volume of apps and cool tricks Sphero was able to perform have kept me (and my greyhound) amused for weeks.

Tech Specs

RRP: $219.95
Connectivity: Bluetooth
OS Support: Android, iOS
Colours: 16.8 million
Range: 10-20 metres
Battery: Lithium Polymer
Charging: Inductance

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