Hands On With Sphero’s BB-8

Hands On With Sphero’s BB-8

Meh, whatever… What is that?! OMG, that’s amazing! BEST. DROID. EVER! Oh… BB-8 brings out mixed emotions.

Force Friday is a genius bit of marketing and brought us some exciting, and some not so exciting toys based on characters and ships from the eagerly anticipated seventh Star Wars installment, The Force Awakens. Perhaps most talked about is Sphero’s app controlled miniature BB-8, the droid we’re told we should be looking for.

BB-8 made its (people tend to refer to it as him?) way into public conciousness in the first teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens way back in November 2014 and honestly? At the time I wasn’t at all enamoured with the little ball droid. Admittedly, at the time I had assumed what I was seeing on screen was some CGI wizardry. How wrong I was, as the video below from CNet, published in April, shows, BB-8, in the film, is a live action, remote controlled droid made possible thanks to the dark magic coming out of a Disney acquired company called Sphero.

How prophetic that footage turned out to be. Presenter Bridget Carey exclaims “can you imagine if Sphero makes a mini version of BB-8? It could be the biggest Christmas must-have toy ever!”. Fast forward to Force Friday and Disney released a glut of new The Force Awakens toys including… yep, a mini version of BB-8. Anticipating the Christmas shortage of this trending gadget, friend of The Unheard Nerd – and sometimes contributor, Keith Wilson, has a pair of balls droids. One to play with now and one as an investment. He was kind enough to let me get his little fella out for some hands-on fun.

The first thing that strikes you about Sphero’s BB-8 is the size. Standing at a diminutive 11.4cm tall you certainly don’t get a lot of mass for your £129.99 ($149.99). Pick it up though and the build quality and weight (200g) instill a sense that this is a quality product, though the inductive charging cradle doesn’t quite match the design and aesthetic of the droid itself.

After an initial charge, getting started is a doddle. BB-8 is controlled by a free android or iOS app. Simply open the app, hold your phone or tablet next to the droid whilst sat on his charging cradle and the two will pair via bluetooth, simple, then you’re good to go.

By more witchcraft BB-8‘s head stays atop the moving ball section of the droid. Directional control comes from the left side of the screen on the app whilst the right side orientates the head. The controls are no different to a standard RC, just used in a slightly unnatural way. Moving BB-8 around isn’t hard to do, achieving dexterity in control is a whole other discipline to master. In little time I was able to navigate around obstacles without too much difficulty, though it is easy to lose your sense of direction if you’re not moving directly behind. Importantly there is no lag between the app and the droid allowing for fast and accurate response to commands, and this little ripper is capable of getting a lick on boasting an impressive top speed of 4.5mph. Though I’m assured that with a few hours of practice it is possible to keep BB-8‘s head in place during play, I found it incredibly frustrating every time the little arse’s dome popped off whenever I hit a bump or turned too sharply.

A three hour charge will grant you a full hour of play, which is probably enough. Yes, when I saw the announcement of Sphero’s BB-8 toy on Force Friday I was sucked in… then I saw the price tag and was a little less sucked in but still curious, ultimately though, I’m really glad I got to try it out before making an unwise impulse purchase. As cool as this tiny bit of tech is (and it really is impressive and mind boggling), and regardless of the touted increased functionality to be released by way of updates at a later date, I don’t see much longevity in it. BB-8 is lovely to look at, it feels great and it is fun to play with, but I dabbled for 10-15 minutes and felt satisfied enough to satiate my craving to own one. I predict an awful lot of BB-8 paper-weights not long after Christmas.

For more information, specs and to buy the Sphero BB-8 droid visit the official Sphero website.


Now… the Air Hogs Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens Remote Control Ultimate Millennium Falcon Quad RC drone… I think I really do want one of those.

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Will Harrison

About the author | Will Harrison

Founder of The Unheard Nerd. A husband and father of two girls, Will is a fan of Nerdcore Hip-Hop, a comics fiend, a podcast host and champion of independent nerd culture. | Follow will on twitter: @TheUnheardNerd

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