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Sphero 2.0 is a brighter, faster, smartphone-controlled ball of fun

Susie Ochs | Aug. 22, 2013
With more speed and a couple dozen compatible apps, Sphero 2.0 is our favorite smartphone-controlled toy.

You can even drive Sphero in water-it floats. The nubby rubber cover helps it maneuver better.

Robots are undeniably cool. But the humanoid kind--Johnny Five, say, or the T--800--can be complex, sometimes sarcastic, and potentially deadly. But you know what's never accidentally assisted bank robbers or blown up anything? A friendly robot ball named Sphero.

Sphero 2.0 is indeed the second iteration of the hardware, so props to its developer Orbotix for giving it a name that makes sense. (Cough, cough, Xbox One.) Under the sphere-shaped hood, the motor is more powerful, the color-changing LED is brighter, and the center of gravity is lowered. So while it's faster--with top speeds of just under 5 miles per hour--it's easier to maneuver, as well.

The main driving app, also called Sphero, lets you steer the ball with a digital D-pad or tilt controls, and optionally take photos and video as you drive. It's sort of like driving a remote-control car, but because it's a white sphere with no visible front or back, you often have to realign the ball in the app by pointing its blue tail light toward you. This ensures that the driving controls on your screen match the ball's real-world orientation.

It's easy to get the hang of, and rookie drivers get some extra help, too. The updated Sphero driving app starts you off at slower speeds, and you actually level up your ball the more you drive it. That gradually increases your Sphero's top speed over time, as you get better at controlling it, so it's not just whizzing around your living room and getting stuck under your couch while you're trying to master the controls.

Each time you level up your Sphero, you get to select from a menu of upgrades. For example, you can unlock Rainbow Drive mode (which rotates through all the ball's colors at full brightness as you drive), or add boost sequences for an extra burst of speed. While driving, you can also earn points that can be spent on temporary previews of the upgrades--letting you know what's coming when you actually level up. Shero currently has 20 levels to beat (Orbotix says they can all be reached with about 8 hours of total driving).

More than just driving
Minigames in the driving app introduce a bunch of activities that can be found in other iOS and Android apps compatible with Sphero. With 25 ancillary apps in the Sphero universe, you'll discover there's much more you can do with the ball than just drive it around.

The other apps--from both Orbotix and third-party developers using the Sphero SDK--add a ton of extra value and replayability for older kids and adults alike. The excellent Sphero Golf app, for example, lets you set up a mini--golf course around your house and yard, then swing your smartphone like a golf club to send the Sphero rolling toward the pin.


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