The Test Pit

We test things


20 March 2013

REVIEW: Sphero

Belle of a ball

Ah, the humble ball. Once upon a time the only ball we humans had to gaze upon was the creamy disk of the moon. These days however they are everywhere - in the hands of every child, as component parts in our vehicles and machines and at the feet of every over paid, under-educated footballer.

But... a ball is just that: a lifeless sphere, an empty vessel. They are dull and interesting only to toddlers and mathematicians. UNTIL NOW!

Sphero is basically a remote control ball. And when we say basically, we mean in the very basic of descriptive terms. That is because Sphero is so much more. We had heard the hype and seen the many YouTube videos, but were anxious to get one all to ourselves. We weren't disappointed.

Straight out of the box you have a ball. It's about the same size as a tennis ball, but made from tough feeling white plastic. The first thing that struck us was the lack of any opening, both to the internal workings or to any charging port. Things made a little more sense when the Get Started leaflet informed us that the eggcup-like device also included in the box was the charging cradle which, once plugged in, charges the Sphero via induction. We were impressed.

Once you've charged your ball (tee hee) you need to download the Sphero app for your phone. This well designed piece of software is how you control the ball, after pairing with it via Bluetooth. You can drive the ball around with this app, change the LED light colour, make it perform pre-set actions like going in circles or flashing and also connect to other apps that are available. It's here that Sphero truly becomes an incredible little gadget.

Meet our new best friend.
We call him Roland.
We spent hours just driving it about the house. The Bluetooth connection was always strong and all of our phones found and paired with it almost immediately. Learning the basics of control took just a few minutes of practice before we were tearing around, jumping off ramps made of books and cycling through a choice of what seemed like thousands of colours from the internal LEDs.

You're probably thinking "Its a remote control ball. Who gives a damn?" If you are, read on. Playing with the Sphero was akin to our first ever go on the Nintendo Wii last decade. It just felt ground-breaking and loaded with potential. For a start, driving it around your living room carpet is not the be all and end all of Sphero. In fact many of the things you can do with it don't involve the ball rolling at all.

It can be used as a game controller; the perfect answer to the problem of comfortably playing games on your phone. With the built-in motion sensor you can turn, flick, shake and spin the Sphero in Exile, a genuinely well made and playable game. How about golf? Reminding us once more of the Wii, Sphero Golf involves using your phone as the club to "hit" the ball into holes. The Sphero reacts amazingly well to even the slightest nudge of your phone, and the game made for a great crowd pleaser at parties (we have lots - we're very popular you know).

One great app to accompany any Sphero, and one we recommend you download as soon as you purchase, is Macrolab. With it you are able to programme the ball with simple macros which really make use of the Bluetooth connection to your phone. We could imagine further integration with something like IFTTT, with users being alerted to emails, tweets and updates by their little spherical pet flashing, chirping and ploughing into the cat. It's also completely water proof as well, which is handy in case the cat retaliates by peeing on it.

Although there aren't many apps out there at the moment, we can just feel the potential Sphero carries with it. Connectivity and versatility are the device's strongest assets, and clearly the hooks that will provide future programmers the opportunity to experiment and expand the horizons for apps and games.

The kids will love it, you mum will love, the cat will be terrified – but more importantly you'll feel like you've bought something that will continue to get batter and better as time goes on.



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