By now, most of you have probably already seen the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie, right? For those of you who haven’t, I have one simple question: “Why not?” For the rest of the world, you know about the cute as hell droid: BB-8 – the brilliant successor to R2D2, and no, I don’t care if it’s design is flawed (I’m talking to you engineers). It’s the future… eh.. Past, so :p. Well, Sphero, a company that famously developed a similar product long before the movie, has released their very own smartphone-powered variant, and I got one… for Christmas.
I have to admit he (she or whatever gender you would prefer give this lovable thing) is awesome! It’s insanely cute. It comes with a wireless charging doc that you simply set the droid in until it’s charged. He does a few cute interactions while charging. As of this review, there have been a couple updates, but there really aren’t but three modes and only two of them are driving. There are some emotes that you can do to add a little life to him, as he scrambles around on the floor, but he’s great at beeping and moving all on his own. All of these modes are handled from your Android or iOS powered smart device.
You’ve got your standard movements, which is basically just a joystick, but it is a little tricky at first. The reason is because it doesn’t have wheels, so when it turns right, it doesn’t know which way it’s facing. You could have just been making it spin (I know there’s a better way of explaining this, but leave me alone). Basically, there’s a little blue light both on the droid and your phone that you use to determine it’s position. When you’re looking at the droid and the blue light is looking at you, the droid is facing the same way you are. That means your forward is the droids forward.
The second mode is called “Patrol.” This is really nothing more than BB-8 running, or should I say rolling, around on the floor until it hits something and backs away, shaking it’s head no in a ridiculously cute manor. Do not try this on a desk. It doesn’t have any sensors to let it know where the floor is and where it isn’t.
The final mode is really more of a gimmick than anything, but it’s pretty neat to show your friends. You can record a video or use a few pre-recorded ones which use the camera to augment a hologram of the video recording coming from BB-8. One amazing thing I have to say is that it knows where BB-8 is. How it picks up the position is a little interesting and does add a nice appeal to this feature.
As much as I love the droid, it isn’t without it’s flaws, and at $150 US, I would like a little more for my money.
For starters, BB-8 is small, but this small? With the size of the box, it’s slightly anti-climactic to open and find such a mini ball. I understand the technology is amazing behind this thing, but would it have been that much more difficult to make it bigger? Maybe so, but it would have been really worth it to me. Even if it bumped it up another ten to fifteen dollars.
Second, the droid itself doesn’t have a speaker, so none of the beeps or sounds come from the actual droid. They all come from the app. Want to put your droid on Patrol Mode and set your phone down somewhere while listening to him do his thing? You can’t. To be honest, this is the worst omission I could have thought of. It simply makes no sense to me. I understand, with it being so small, you could only cram so many things in, but if you fixed issue one, we wouldn’t have this problem, would we? Now, maybe there is some muffling issues or problems with it hitting walls, but there has to be a way to fix this. I personally wanted to modify the head by adding a custom bluetooth speaker internally, but it would be a really tight fit. If anyone has attempted anything like this, let me know.
Lastly, why oh why is it so weak? I’m not saying it’s necessarily slow, but while I’ve never owned any previous Sphero tech, I’ve seen enough to know they should be capable of more. Maybe the addition of the head forced them to dial back the speed and power, but it’s just frustrating that it simply doesn’t work well at all on anything but hard, flat surfaces. If you’re entire house is carpet, I would think twice about purchasing the BB-8 because it really doesn’t like carpet. One thing that is interesting, yet not many reviewers discuss is a little button to the bottom right of the app when you’re driving it. It basically gives BB-8 a nice boost that he simply can’t do no matter how far forward you hold the stick. I find this odd because it shows the potential for it to move much faster. Mods anyone?
All in all, this little BB-8 droid is a blast to play with. If you love Star Wars and have plenty of hard floors, It’s a definite win. At $150, it’s a little pricey, but it’s a nice piece to add to anyone’s collection. I ultimately give Sphero’s BB-8 droid a 4 out of 5.