Sphero – Star Wars BB-8: This IS The Droid You’re Looking For!*

*Look, everyone is going to use this pun, so shut it… <walks away>

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If you dig around the interweb you might have come across some obscure articles relating to a forthcoming little known movie called Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Yeah, this has caught me completely by surprise too!

A Long Time Ago…

Actually, it was just the other week, but on September 4th you may have noticed that the world went crazy(ish) for what was known as Force Friday. Essentially ally new Star Wars toys and merchandise Forced their way onto the market in the run up to the new film this coming December. Geddit? Forced? You can use that at dinner parties and other social occasions

All manner of merch hit the shelves – the expected action figures (some of which come in a multitude of sizes, including 31 inches!!!), Lego kits, spaceship models, t-shirts, pins, plushes, posters, masks, costumes, lightsabre replicas, and the like.

However, prize amongst them was something that probably caught your attention in the early trailers. A weirdly shaped yet oddly familiar Astromech droid called BB-8 (how DOES that head stay on?). Yes, there are the usual figures of this amazing looking character, but, coming out on top is the BB-8 App Enabled Droid by Sphero.

This Is The Droid EVERYONE Is Looking For!

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Those into their tech will know of the existence of Sphero – a robotic ball that you can control via an App on your compatible phone or tablet. I’ve never been overly interested in it, or even the various drones you can control via iOS or Android like Parrot, but I was so enamoured by this new droid, and I am SO fired up for the new movies, that the release of a BB-8 droid by Sphero had me throwing money at the screen. Nothing happened other than I had to tidy up, but, for a brief moment I knew what it felt like to be Jay-Z (well, not really).

I drooled over the advert for the droid, goggled at the posters and write ups, then promptly fell asleep as Force Friday kicked in. I knew that I really wanted this new bit of merch but I also wanted to check it out with my own eyes, I mean, it does like kinda small in the ads and at £130, well…

So, on a less Forceful Saturday I pointed my body towards to local shops. The major department stores didn’t have them (only one of which was carrying any actual Star Wars VII toys, and even then it was only a handful of the Lego kits). The electronic stores didn’t have them. The two Comic book stores didn’t have them – they didn’t have ANY new Star Wars merch. Toys R Us, Argos, Smyths, all were coming up empty.

One of my friends who works security at a local shopping centre claimed that the Disney Store had some in stock. Unfortunately, by the time I rang up (about 9.30am) they too had sold out and weren’t sure when they were getting any new stock in).

Saddened and dejected I decided to order it online, to heck with checking it out first. As you might have guessed, or found out yourselves, it was either sold out online or they didn’t have any stock at all anyway. Amazon, didn’t have it the first hundred times I looked. Zavvi, sold out. Toys R Us, nothing. Argos, nothing. IWOOT, sold out. Currys, sold out. Disney Store, sold out. You know where this is going…

Throwing caution to the wind I placed an order with Amazon anyway with an unknown delivery date. A couple of days later, whilst laughing at the prices people wanted for it on eBay, I caught sight of it in stock on the Currys website. Via the online chat service, the customer service rep told me it was in stock and I’d get it next day! I ordered one of those Bad Boys (hey, is that what BB-8 stands for?)

Keep rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ rollin’

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First off, the packaging on this thing is amazing, yes I know it’s only a box, but it’s beautifully presented with bespoke fitted slots for the various doo hickeys within. It’s the sort of thing you expect Apple to serve their iPads or iPhones in. It just oozes quality and class. Yes, I know it’s just a box.

To “build” the droid you simply put the head near the body and it attaches via magnets housed inside (though the website claims The Force is used). This in itself can cause gasps of delight, however, it is when you place the droid into its charging cradle, and then connect it to a power source, that true fans will lose their poop!

The droid starts glowing, the head starts moving, for the briefest of moments the child in you almost believes that BB-8 is alive. Charging is on a 3:1 ratio meaning that for 3 hours of charging you get an hours of play, and believe me, you will play, and then some.

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Of course BB-8 is a tad bit useless, but nonetheless pretty, without the App which is available for free on the App Store and on Google Play.

Wrrrrr, Beep, Moop, Moop (Probably)

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The App is very well designed, if a little on the basic side, but this makes it very easy to pick up and use without much effort needed.

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Your device connects to BB-8 through Bluetooth via the App. On the first couple of connections there was some sort of firmware update. I haven’t been able to determine if these updates were real, or just part of the experience of owning a BB-8. Subsequent connections did not notify me of a firmware update…

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Users can control BB-8 through input via a virtual joystick, but first you have to orientate the droid (done in the App) so that it knows which way is forwards, which is backwards, etc., this is a very easy setup involving positioning of a blue LED within BB-8.

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The droid is very responsive, slight drags in any direction causes BB-8 is first “look” in that direction and then move ever so slowly. Drag the joystick to the extremes and BB-8 picks up speed, there’ even a temporary speed boost (apparently he can haul robot buttocks at up to 5 mph) button for those occasions where BB-8 needs to escape your puppy, kitten, or toddler.  There are so pre-set commands.

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If your thumb can’t cope with having to manually drive BB-8 you can set him on Patrol mode where he’ll wander around your room bumping into things. He’ll eventually build up a rudimentary map of your room and try to avoid knocking into your table in future. Note I said rudimentary, this isn’t a Roomba vacuum cleaner, for example, which are packed full of sensors.

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I originally wrote this review claiming that despite bumping into things, the head always stayed on, that was until yesterday when I drove him into a box and it popped off. This is a shame as it takes you out of whatever scene you’re creating in your head, but easily corrected.

BB-8 also respond to a handful of voice commands. Say “OK BB-8” in your mobile device and he’ll begin “listening”, tell him “It’s a trap!” and he’ll run off and attempt to hide, say “Look around” and his little head bops around. There are not many phrases available but it is pure magic.

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What’s more BB-8 can record messages and play them back holographically (via your mobile device’s screen) so you can relive your Princess Leia message to Obi Wan albeit with a different droid, but, hey, beggars can’t be choosers…

Look Sir, Droids!

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BB-8 by Sphero is an immense toy. Although it’s a little on the small side and it doesn’t look like it’ll survive a fall down the stairs onto a hardwood floor, there’s no denying that it is great fun.

The controls via the App are intuitive and responsive, and I’ve experienced no lag so far, it’s a shame that it can’t map a room properly, and that it doesn’t have a camera in the head, though I would imagine these would push the price up to where even the most ardent Star Wars fan would baulk.

At £130 is isn’t by any means cheap nor is it so expensive that you would suffer buyers regret, I’d wager that you’d get a lot of fun out of it for your money. There’s rumour of updates to BB-8 as and when the developers learn more about his behaviour in the forthcoming movie. I just hope he isn’t a Sith Lord who’s murdered a load of Jedi younglings…

We give BB-8 by Sphero 4.5 Nerds out of 5.

nerd like you nerds 4.5

 

 

All pics mine.

David Cheng

I am an ex-lab scientist (though not of the evil kind, much) and currently (serious hat on) work as a test engineer on scanning systems for use in histopathology and cytogenetics. In my spare time (propellor hat on) I nerd out on video games, apps, movies, television, comic books, regular books, tech and martial arts. I am also (spouse hat on) happily married to my beautiful wife Jing.

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