Ever since I first laid eyes on it, I wanted it. It goes by an interesting name: Sphero. It’s a toy, and like you might have derived from the name it’s a sphere. Not just any sphere. Nope—this is a sphere that you can control with your smartphone or tablet. It glows, it sounds like R2D2 and it comes with a ramp. In short… it’s awesome. There’s a reason why I had to include it on my list of The 100 Best iPad Accessories.
I’m not just saying that—I know from experience because I recently got my hands on one. I already knew that the technology and the team behind Sphero was cool (more on that in my interview with Adam Wilson, founder of Sphero’s parent company) but the experience is every bit as fun as you might think. Taking it out of the box is an Apple-like experience—you know there’s something good inside but you’re blown away by the incredible packaging job. With Sphero, you can just tell a lot of care and thought went into the packaging—you almost hate to undo it all… but that feeling quickly passes as curiosity gets the better of you.
Once the ball’s out of the box, setup takes just a few minutes. A quick double-tap on Sphero itself wakes it up so you can pair it via Bluetooth with your devices. In my case I am using an iPhone/iPad setup so I headed to the app stores to download the free Sphero app. Once everything’s connected up, it’s time for the fun to begin.
The main Sphero app has two modes. “Just Drive” lets you do just that—drive. There are no goals—just fun. Aside from driving you can hit a button to make the Sphero freak out a little bit. Good for when it gets stuck in a corner or on a surface where it’s hard to get some traction. Hitting this button will elicit the R2D2-ish sound from your device’s speakers and is worth doing many times just because. Additionally, there is a button whose icon looks a bit like a rainbow; pressing it makes your Sphero turn colors… lots of colors. It’s fun (especially in the dark).
The second mode found in the main Sphero app is called “Level Up” which lets you earn upgrades the longer you play. Sphero doesn’t run at full speed right from the get go. Brilliantly, the experience is designed to get better the more you use it. Things you can upgrade include: colors (number and brightness), top speed, core reactors and boosts.
If that was all Sphero was—a ball that could be controlled via Bluetooth—it would be well worth the price tag for anyone looking for an awesome and unique toy (especially around the Christmas season—hint, hint). But Sphero does a lot more. On the one hand, it’s a fairly simple and straightforward device, but thanks to apps that work with it, Sphero can be made to do things I never would have dreamed it could.
For instance, there’s a free app that turns your Sphero into a racing beaver using AR (augmented reality). Using the camera in your phone or tablet, the Sphero literally turns into a beaver that races around your floor. Coins appear on the screen for you to collect. Imagine controlling a racing game by holding the Sphero in your hand and turning it to turn the wheel. You can even control your music using a Sphero.
Know who else loves Sphero? My pets. They chase it endlessly as it zooms around the house—and when it’s resting? They conk out next to it waiting for it to come back to life.
As fun as Sphero is, there’s actually more to it than games. Sphero can actually teach programming. That’s right—Sphero itself is programmable. Enter commands and create routines and watch it go.
For the price, you’d expect something durable—and Sphero is just that. It’s made from a sturdy polycarbonate shell that oozes sci-fi (it could easily be something you’d see in a TRON movie). It’s also waterproof and shock-resistant. In other words, it isn’t just made to look pretty—it’s very usable.
Finally, one of my favorite features about this product is the wireless charging. Sphero comes with a cradle that plugs into a wall outlet. When you’re done playing, just sit Sphero on top and let it charge. It’s easier than plug-and-play.
Sphero spells intense, lasting fun for kids (and pets) of all ages. You don’t have to be a tech-enthusiast to enjoy Sphero. This is a next-gen toy that heralds the future of fun. Don’t think—just buy.