1 Month With… Sphero

10/17/2012 2:29:35 PM

On the outside it’s a ball but on the inside it’s a sophisticated, app-controlled robot. Jools White horn spends four weeks with the most futuristic, most spherical toy in town…

Price: $170.5


Despite appearances this isn’t just a ball – it’s a polycarbonate-clad robot, controlled via iOS and Android app. That translucent shell takes plenty of punishment and surface swirls give it grip on land and water alike (yes, it floats) – though it struggles with thick rugs and bump terrain.

Description: Sphero


LEDs shine out from the Sphero’s translucent shell to help you pick it out in a crowd. Apps allow you to choose from any one of 16.8 million hues, making night time rolling seriously impressive. It’s also a feedback mechanism: the ball will glow red when it’s time to put it back into the inductive charging cradle.

It takes a little while to get used to driving (or rolling?) the Sphero. Tight turns and sharp stops are off the menu; wide corners and lots of anticipation are the key. The driving app allows you to change speed, or hit the boost button for a sprint. The balls will reach up to just over 2 mph – faster than it sounds.

Rotate two fingers on the screen and you’ll see blue light moving around inside the Sphero – simply point it in your direction to calibrate it. The Sphero does a surprisingly good job of keeping itself on course, but it needs resetting fairly often after a while it begins to wander off, like a forgetful spherical granny.

Switch your Sphero on by giving it a good old shake. The Bluetooth connection is easy to set up, using a clever flashing color code for pairing (if it’s flashing green-yellow-blue, it’ll show up on your smartphone as ‘Sphero-GYB’), which means you won’t confuse it with anyone else’s translucent glowing robot ball.

Straight up ballin’ with Sphero

Water buoy

Not many of our gadgets are waterproof, but Sphero’s sealed shell means it floats beautifully. Shock friends as you ‘accidentally’ roll it into the pool, then amaze them as you blast it through the 100 m like a ball shaped Michael Phelps. Pro tip: a strategically placed rubber band gives it more purchase on the water, helping it paddle faster.

Squaring the sphere

Beginner tinkerers can set Sphero to run through a list of basic actions with the free MacroLab app. Power programmers can use the software development kit (SDK) to make it do all sorts of things flashing Twitter alerts, motion controlling Parrot AR.Drones or synchronized dance routines with other Spheros are all just the beginning.

The dark light rises

The Internal LED lighting can produce 16.8m colors and given that the human eye can only see 10m colors, it’s probably get your favorite hue covered. Setting up multiple balls with separate colors makes night races great fun, and long exposure photo fans will get hours of fun from swooping colored balls around in the dark.

Multiplayer melle

While it won’t manage big hill climbs or scale any surface that’s too lumpy, there’s plenty of amusement to be had with two Spheros, a mate, and an obstacle course you’ve jury-rigged out of empty bottles, packs of cereal and used toilet roll. And once you’re done dodging the toaster, you can mark out a circle and play Sphero sumo too.

Spherious control

As well as being controlled by your phone, Sphero can itself be a controller. The number of compatible apps is small but growing, with the likes of Last Fish ($1) letting you use the ball’s accelerometer and gryometer to move your onscreen character. Throw in AirPlay and you can control games on your TV with a magic ball. Cool!

Also consider… Parrot AR.Drone 2.0

Price: $455


Description: Parrot AR.Drone 2.0

Parrot AR.Drone 2.0

Our other favorite futuristic toy at the moment is this smartphone-controlled quadricopter that beams back 720p HD footage, and even does flips. It too is open to developers making AR games, which should be good. Sure, it’s almost three times the price of Sphero but it does fly, after all…

Stuff says 5/5 stars

Tech specs: Sphero

Outer shell High-impact polycarbonate

Interior Orbotix Smart Robot

Max speed 2mph

Communication Bluetooth (15.3, range)

Charging Induction cradle

Description: Tech specs: Sphero

Tech specs: Sphero

Stuff says 4/5 stars

Amazing tech, hardy package. Bags of programming potential, but for the average user the novelty soon wears off.

Now add these

Sphero Drive

Price: free

With this basic control app you can use driving controls, draw a route for Sphero to follow and mess around with its color. The starting point for a whole load of spherical fun.

Description: Sphero Drive

Sphero Drive

Sphero Chromo

Price: free

A game that uses the Sphero as a physical controller – Tilt or Spin your ball around in search of the right hue. Impressive, but limited more of a demo app than a long lasting game

Sphero Cam

Price: free

This app combines driving mode with camera controls, allowing you to film your Sphero as you fling it around the world. Cue thousands of Sphero Vs Cat videos on YouTube.


Price: $2.5

This polyphonic synthesiser app is a bit light on instructions but lets you tilt and lift Sphero to adjust frequency modulation, delay and more in your bleepy compositions.

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