Review: Orbotix Sphero 2.0

The future of mobile gaming is bright. And round. And rolls on the ground while you steer it from the comfort of your smartphone.

At least, that’s Orbotix’s vision of the future. The company first released its Sphero robotic toy in 2011. Now, the ball is back — the newly updated Sphero 2.0 is ready for a second trip around the carpet.

Playing with Sphero is a lot like playing with an RC car, but with greater maneuverability and a lot more room for imagination. It’s not just a ball that you drive around. You can use it to play specially tailored games with the switch of an app.

My first impressions of Sphero when I reviewed the old version were that it showed promise, but that it was really just a glorified cat toy, and an expensive one at that. But some significant hardware and software upgrades have made it more compelling, more interactive, and heck, just plain more fun. It’s available for pre-order today, and like the previous model, Sphero 2.0 costs $130. That’s still pricey for what is essentially a remote-controlled ball, but now, it may actually be worth the money.

Sphero still makes an entertaining pet toy, too, of course. I tested it against a fat cat, two Boston terriers, and a corgi. The cat found Sphero mesmerizing and whackable, but too much work to chase when it starts hitting top speeds. The corgi was cautiously afraid of Sphero. The Boston terriers enjoyed chasing Sphero, but with the silicone casing on, my efforts were thwarted when they realized they could just pick up Sphero in their mouths as a glowing prize and take it back to their dog bed. The casing attracts dirt and pet hair from the floor, but is easily washable.

Through its more robust app offerings and higher speed capabilities, Orbotix has managed to completely level up the Sphero experience. While I still don’t know if a robotic ball has the sort of mass appeal to gain a wide following, Sphero 2.0 is an undeniably high quality product that holds a lot of promise for future mobile development, but has enough available app options to make it a dynamic toy today.

I can see Sphero being especially appealing to people who love future toys — the AR games, the hackability of the thing, and the fact that you control it from a smartphone really pluck all the geek strings.

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