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Star Wars BB-8 toy review (App-Enabled Droid by Sphero)

Seth Barton
18 Dec 2015
Sphero BB-8 droid
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
130

A smart piece of engineering but Sphero's BB-8 doesn't provide enough long term entertainment

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Specifications

Bluetooth interface, 60 minute battery life, USB-powered wireless charging dock, 114x73mm

With the new Star Wars movie now showing around the world and hailed a great success, the stock of the ball-like BB-8 can only rise, if that's possible. The droid featured heavily in trailers before the film's release and its ingenious two-part design made it intriguing as well. Just how did that head stay on top? Amazingly it's not CGI trickery and even more amazingly you can buy a BB-8 droid of your own.

We were most pleased to see Sphero had been drafted in to create the toy version – giving us the Star Wars BB-8 App Enabled Droid. Sphero has created ball-shaped, app-controlled robots before of course, in the form of the Sphero itself. In fact BB-8 feels like a modified Sphero, with the addition of the head section that stays (largely) on top of the droid as it rolls around, if nothing else it's an impressive bit of engineering.

Sphero BB-8 droid head

Sphero’s BB-8 certainly looks the part, its tough polycarbonate shell has all the right markings and is a good colour match, though it's a bit shinier than the real thing. Of course it’s much smaller than the 'actual' droid, which is around ten times the height of Sphero’s 73mm version. It comes with a very cool-looking wireless charging dock, which runs via USB and fully charged can apparently last for 60 minutes of use, not that we ever played with it for that long.

BB-8 is controlled by a smartphone app, originally available for Android and iOS, there's now also a Windows app for the device as well, though your Windows 10 device will need a touchscreen, camera and Bluetooth in order to work properly. Using the app you can drive BB-8 around at speeds suitable for indoor play. There’s also a handful of buttons which make it do special moves, like little dances, or just wobbling on the spot and looking confused. It’s occasionally adorable, but not for very long.

The original Sphero had, and still has, a really good reason to exist. The idea was that developers could write their own apps for the robot via a simple API. It’ was also a great way to get kids into programming, via its SPRK program, as they can see their efforts played out in the real world rather than simply on a screen.

Without that angle, the BB-8 has a rather short lifespan. You drive it about a bit, build a little maze and drive it through it, get it stuck beneath the sofa and knock its head off a few times bouncing down steps, and then me and my kids were kind of stuck. It's cool and cute but it’s not fast enough to give you a thrill, it has no sensors in it, nor can it interact with anything, except by bumping into it.

And you’ll do quite a bit of bumping into things. Despite having used previous Spheros it’s still rather confusing about just which way the droid is about to head off, as it has no obvious front. You'll be driving it around fine but then it'll go past you, or you'll follow it around a corner and suddenly everything is off by 90 or 180 degrees. You can either try and adjust or stop and recalibrate where 'forward' is by spinning the droid around. If you're stood in one place driving it around a room it's fine, but if you want to chase it around the house it's a pain.

The only other key feature are the augmented reality messages, where using your phone you can record a short video message and then (again looking at BB-8 through your phone) watch it ‘project’ the message in a Star Wars style upon a nearby wall. It’s fun, but only once. Since launch Sphero has added additional messages you can project, these come from C-3PO and R2-D2 and include dialogue from the new film. Still it's a bit of a gimmick and not likely to hold you attention for long.

So I’ve given BB-8 three stars, it’s not a bad score, but it reflects this is an expensive device that will only please diehard fans and collectors. It simply doesn’t have enough longevity or play value (that I can find) to justify its price unless you factor in a very strong Star Wars bias.

This review sample was kindly provided by Firebox, which sells some much better stuff than this.

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