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Monday
Oct142013

Review: Sphero 2.0

Text and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

Sphero 2.0 is the sequel to the innovative robotic ball that one can control with their iOS or Android device. We recently had a chance to check out Sphero 2.0 as well as test this very promising high-tech toy that also involves various levels of traditional outdoor play.

Sphero 2.0 is an update to last year's model and is reportedly 2x faster, 3x brighter, and 'smarter'. Sphero 2.0 rolls at speeds of up to 7 feet per second and pairs to your device via Bluetooth with a range of up to 100 feet. 

Paul Berberian, CEO of Orbotix, the company that creted Sphero told me that while a lot of today's kids seem immersed in mobile devices, Sphero was an ideal way to integrate the love for apps with a real-world gaming experience. With Sphero and Sphero 2.0 apps are the drivers and link to the robotic ball which is designed to be maneuvered, raced, and interacted with using iPod Touches, iPhones or Android devices.

Sphero is quite the conversation piece. The glowing white ball (some versions sold in the Apple Retail Stores are tranluscent) zips rapidly on most surfaces and easily caught the attention of various conference goers at the hotel where the demos were being held.

"What does it do?" Asked most of the persons passing by who looked at this curious gizmo that seemed it came right out of Tron's world.  The answer, as Barberian and Orbotix' marketing manager Chuck Leplay spent an hour demonstrating, was "quite a lot."

The basic premise is that Sphero is like an avatar that merges virtual and real gameplay. More than using the smartphones as a remote, there are various games and applications designed around the toy. One game has you control Sphero 2.0 around but on the screen of your device, there are Zombies attacking. While it is a bit strange to be seeing content on the small screen that isn't there in real life, the game is quite receptive.

Another app had the Sphero representing Sharky the Beaver, in an augmented reality game which had really impressive graphics. Another app uses the Sphero as a gyroscope controller for the game on screen sort of like a Wiimote.

Sphero 2.0, which retails for $129 from Future Shop as well as the Apple Retail Store, is packaged with a wireless charging base as well as two ramps that can be used to do tricks with Sphero. Orbotix also offers a rubber sheath called a Nubby which has a bunch of rubber studs designed to protect the Sphero when used outdoors.

Barberian explains that aside for an open API (which allows anyone to write apps and games for Sphero), children can also learn to program using the Sphero to run various commands and settings in any combination you choose to let Sphero drive autonomously, follow unique patterns. A simple yet novel way to get kids to learn and appreciate code.

My personal impressions of Sphero 2.0 is that it is a better realized toy than the original version and that it would make an ideal gift for techies who are already crazy about their smartphones (not just kids, mind you). You do need a lot of space and ideally, multiple Spheros, to really bring on the fun.

The device itself is very well constructed and rather tough but the Nubby accessory is a must-have for outdoor play just to keep it clean and relatively scratch free. There's a lot to like about the Sphero 2.0, it's a toy, it's a ball and it's a robot you control with your smartphone.

Aside from the range of apps and games available right now (most for free) people can devise various clever games to play with Sphero. Sky is the limit with this zippy and entertaining robot ball which now has a growing ecosystem to support it.

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