Sphero 2.0

Sphero 2.0 – SWITCHED off and motionless, the Sphero 2.0 is an unassuming piece of tech, likely to attract the advances of a passing household pet. Turn it on, however, and its tricks and quirks will reveal it as the best kind of gadget – inimitable, intuitive, affordable and most importantly, superb fun.

The creation of Orbotix, a Colorado firm that prides itself on combining the latest technology with an old-fashioned love of toys, the Sphero is an agile and speedy robotic ball that can be controlled with smartphones and tablets. Within minutes of opening the box, our review sample was up and running. After an entertaining approach to calibration – rotating Sphero until a blue light faces you – it was soon hurtling around the floor and headlong into furniture and skirting boards.

A few minutes later and the pared back touch screen controls of its main app – downloaded via the App Store or Google Play – revealed a hidden dexterity to the system, with flicks of an index finger allowing the robust little sphere to spin, twist and burst forward, building to a brisk top speed of six feet per second, before sharply avoiding obstacles thank to its sharp deceleration.

Yet velocity – and the control of it – is not the Sphero’s greatest strength. That accolade goes jointly to its versatility and fluent, uniform design. As well as driving the Sphero around with the standard software dozens of other free downloadable apps demonstrate the variety of play and learning on offer. Whether it an app allowing children to learn core programming skills, a sports-based title that turns Sphero into a golf ball, or games that will have cats chasing the sphere around the floor, Orbotix have something for everyone.

Along with the slick design of the ball itself – capable of changing colour with a touch – the apps have a uniform, easy to understand interface. Each offering is easy to pick up but takes some time to master. Were that not enough, the physical device also comes with two ramps, a joy for younger users to just want to fire up the sphere and make it jump as far and high as possible.

Tested using both an Apple iPad 2 and an HTC One S smartphone, the Sphero paired easily to different devices via Bluetooth, although on occasions, the connection became severed at around half the distance of its purported range of 50 feet. Even so, that allows for plenty of room in the majority of living rooms.

The Sphero may look like a gadget that will only hold your attention span for a few hours, but its longevity is assured thanks to the range of its applications. It may require considerable powers of persuasion to convince educators that its is a legitimate educational tool, but be in no doubt – Sphero is a hugely entertaining piece of tech that will appeal to a broad audience.



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© Martyn McLaughlin 2007 - 2016 unless stated otherwise

Portrait by John Devlin