23 October 2014


Beyond the ball.

One of The Test Pit's first ever reviews was of a remote-controlled ball called Sphero. We absolutely loved it (as you might have imagined) and have therefore kept a close eye out for the next product from Orbotix. It seems that the re-reinvented ball is actually tubular, and the next generation in connected toys is not called Tubulo (as we suggested), but rather... Ollie. We took it for a roll.

Looking far more aggressive and, well, robotic than the Sphero, Ollie is a twin wheeled RC toy that can reach speeds of up to 14 mph - all while being controlled by yet another excellently easy to use app. As with Sphero, Ollie connects to your iOS or Android device with Bluetooth and is then controlled via a touch interface. Although we've often slammed touch interfaces for RC planes and helicopters, for controlling a land-based vehicle it works really well.

Driving Ollie around is a very simple affair, as you drag the centre of a circle's cross hairs around the screen. If you're quite used to controlling a Sphero there will be no great shocks here, but it is worth noting that Ollie has 'a front', whereas a ball does not. Because of that Ollie has to turn around if you suddenly change to move in the opposite direction. We found that often this made it get a little stuck, especially where space is tight. But still, when you get Ollie out in the open (and it works fantastically outside over rough terrain) you can achieve some whooping speeds.

There is also a fun little element of the control app that lets your Ollie perform some stunts and tricks. These are pre-programmed and are activated by swiping your finger across a section of the touchscreen, causing Ollie to flip and spin and (our particular favourite for bothering the cat) leap around like a mental cyborg. Also, the tire treads and hub caps are replaceable, allowing you to customise Ollie to your style, and also to replace parts that get scratched and damaged.

To be honest this is a different animal to a Sphero and will appeal to a different crowd. Whereas Sphero was very much about games and developing programmes (there's a whole section about educational use on their website), Ollie seems to be aimed at people who just want to drive a little robot about extremely quickly. We salute those people.


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