Sphero is a cute, cricket-ball-sized robot that you can control wirelessly via your iPhone or iPad. Here's our review of Sphero.
There are other iOS-controllable toys with more immediate visual grab (such as SilverLit's 1/16th-scale Ferrari). But Sphero, an eccentric, glowing robot ball that rolls around via wireless Bluetooth command, has a bit more depth behind its limited first impressions.
This cricket ball-sized, gyro-powered robot toy seems simple at first: you either make it roll around on the floor, controlled via an iPhone or iPad and a free app; or you hold it in your hand and use it as an input device for various iOS games. The key to Sphero’s appeal, though, lies in the range of apps the makers have come up with, recruiting various third-party developers and opening up the API so users can make their own.
There's a variety of (free or very cheap) apps you can download to add new elements to the basic package, so you can, for example, draw a picture and then watch the Sphero trace it out in real life, play golf, or control a three-dimensional beaver in augmented reality.
In Sphero Exile, a free-to-download app for the iPhone and iPad, the motion of the Sphero device controls the movement of a spacecraft
Conversely, the device’s gyroscope lets it act as an input device too, so that twisting it in various axes controls the motion of a spaceship on your iPhone screen. Most of the apps we’ve tried have quite a brief novelty period - we tended to try each one out a couple of times and enjoy them a lot, then get bored fairly soon after that - but the number of them is fair compensation. Potentially the best element of all this is the third-party development support (Sphero has opened up the API to other firms) but whether this will peter out after the initial rush remains to be seen.
Sphero is a fun little device, but we were left wondering about the ideal audience for its charms. Wealthy parents of tech-savvy kids may consider it as a birthday present, although it isn't the easiest device to master and we assume that youngsters will have even shorter attention spans that us. It's also pretty expensive.
It’s certainly not cheap, but this seemingly simple, well-made toy has surprising depth and a wide range of applications.