When my Sphero arrived, I was eager to rip open the box and immediately start whizzing around my apartment with it. The app-controlled robotic ball, first launched in 2012 and second-generation Sphero 2.0, reviewed here, unveiled in 2013, has seen a lot of press since its debut and I couldn’t wait.
On receiving it, I was surprised by how well it was presented. It is gorgeously packaged. This is something Apple fans will appreciated — the unboxing of your new iDevice is a rewarding experience for most.
Sphero sits in a sleek, tall black box. The long lid slides up and off to reveal Sphero comfortably cocooned in a hollow hemisphere, the first thing you see is its little blue face looking up at you. N’awww.
Sphero was both smaller and heavier than I expected. About the size of a tennis ball, it has a sturdy plastic shell to protect some fancy internals. At 168g, it feels densely packed and solid — something that definitely comes in handy during usage.
Also in the box are neatly packed ramps for performing jumps, a user manual and inductive charging base. The latter is surprisingly pleasing — just pop Sphero into the rounded holster, watch it quickly rejig to properly align itself and light up to signify charging is underway. Neat.
While charging, it might be an idea to get to grips with said user manual. Sphero is uncomplicated in its looks, but requires a little patience and care to set up. First, you’ll need to download the Sphero app from the App Store — try not to be confused by all of the results when searching for “Sphero” though. It’s this one.
When Sphero is fully charged (a solid blue light will let you know), you’ll need to remove him from the cradle. Out of the charger, Sphero is asleep — double tap on its surface with your fingers to wake.
Don’t be shy, give him a good couple of prods. Sphero will then blink three colors on repeat until paired with an iOS device — the three colors your Sphero blinks are unique so you know which Sphero (if in a group) to pair with. In my case, Sphero blinks blue, white and yellow and shows as Sphero-BWY in the Settings app. Tap to pair and you’re almost ready to roll.
Launch the Sphero app, download a number of updates in my case (annoying), and then you’re finally good to go. A lot of steps, but you only have to do it once as your Sphero is remembered from then on.
The basic Sphero app talks you through the controls for the device. A virtual joy-pad controls direction and speed, with a separate speed setting to limit or increase the overall device speed. At 100% speed, I found Sphero to be too difficult to handle.
On my mainly wooden flooring, Sphero was off like a shot — I found myself setting this gauge to 50% just to aid controllability. Having bumped into all manner of walls and furniture, Sphero didn’t pick up one sign of damage thanks to its sturdy build quality.
I also tested the Sphero outdoors. On hard concrete surfaces it fared well but not so great on grassy areas as it struggles to roll properly.
There are a number of other buttons in the app for setting Sphero’s lighting color, performing tricks, completing missions and earning achievements. It’s quite overwhelming at first, but once you get to grips with all of the functions then it becomes fun to try and complete missions and earn newer abilities.
The included ramps are nothing to rave about. About an inch in height, you hardly catch big-air and that’s if you can actually manage to hit them dead on — no mean feat, by any means.
Where Sphero really shines is in its plethora of apps and gaming options. There are around 25 custom-made games on the App Store, from Draw n’ Drive to Sphero Golf to Flappy Ball to The Rolling Dead — there are all manner of additional experiences from mini-games to fully-fledged augmented reality games.
With the vast majority being free to download, this is where you stretch the value of Sphero and get hours of gameplay.
Speaking of hours of gameplay — Sphero will unfortunately give you just one hour from three hours charging. That’s better than RC-cars of old but slightly disappointing given the amount of play there is to be had.
Check out more pictures of Sphero 2.0 in the gallery below (click for larger):
The wrap up
The good: Fantastic packaging and presentation. Solid build-quality. A plethora of apps and games to keep you playing. Easy to charge in inductive base.
The bad: Battery life is not great. Tricky to get set up and begin playing. App selection and playing options can seem a little overwhelming at first. Expensive for a toy.
The verdict: Sphero is an impressive, app-controlled toy for the today’s tech-loving kids (or kids at heart!). Despite its punitive size, it packs a punch and has plenty of pace — so much so that it is hard to control at times and is perhaps best for those with an abundance of space if you want to hit top speed.
It’s a bit fiddly to set up and has an almost overwhelming selection of playing options but Sphero can provide hours of gameplay which is potentially enough to warrant its considerable price tag.
Sphero 2.0 is available to order now from the company’s website. It’s usually priced at $149.99 but is currently available for $99.99 for the holidays so you can snag one for a third off. It’s also available on Amazon.