Orbotix has released Sphero 2.0, a better-faster-stronger version of the robotic ball that you control with your smartphone.
When they came by our offices in 2011, the Orbotix team introduced us to the already very capable first incarnation of Sphero, but the new model still manages to kick it up several more notches.
With a combination of improved hardware and software, Sphero 2.0 is speedier, more responsive, and more accurate to steer than its original design. So even though it’s mostly identical to its older sibling in the looks department, it’s radically different under the hood.
Driving Sphero is pretty delightful, even when doing so without a purpose. A couple weeks after getting my hands on it, it’s still fun to steer this sphere around my apartment and marvel at what the heck goes on inside to make it work so well. It has lost zero allure, and there’s that inner child in you that comes alive when driving Sphero into a coworker’s feet, over a ramp, or down the hallway to escape a house cat in hot pursuit.
Wondering what the heck you do with it? It’s a gaming device! Orbotix has proved more than capable at reimagining how people play with the little gadget. The company’s catalogue of Sphero-compatible apps now numbers more than 25 titles, and each one draws on a non-obvious idea to make the robotic ball way more fun than you thought it could be. A number of apps offer up a “Sphero-ized” version of a sport, such as bowling or golf. While totally playable and fun, these are a bit obvious. Of course they have a golf game. What else is there?
Quite a lot. Got a bunch of friends with Spheros of their own? Fire up the Sphero Tag app and make other people “it” by bumping into their Spheros. A number of games make use of augmented reality, like The Rolling Dead, a game that overlays animated zombies in your real-world environment that come after your Sphero. Drive away to stay alive and kill the zombies with fireballs! And a third class of games are played on your smartphone while holding the Sphero and using it as a controller, such as Dark Nebula, which puts you in the middle of a hellish marble maze full of booby traps. Rotating the Sphero in your hand guides your on-screen ball down its precarious route.
Sphero 2.0 will operate on an RPG-like system, letting you earn points to “level up” as you accomplish tasks like rolling a certain distance or jumping really far. Higher levels unlock faster speeds, and the team even alluded to special weekends where points are doubled.
You even get to give your Sphero a name inside the app. Co-founder Adam Wilson told us that this is an effort to get people to feel a little more attached to their devices, rather than think of their new Sphero as one of a nameless many. It’s no longer a Sphero, it’s my Sphero, etc.
This only scratches the surface of the impressive collection of available apps, and Orbotix is wise to focus so strongly on turning out game after game. While I’m still enthralled just by driving the thing around my house, I doubt other customers are that easily won over. People want cool paradigm-agnostic stuff, and that seems to be exactly what Sphero’s all about.
The bottom line: If you currently have the original Sphero, you already know the lay of the land — if you’re happy with good ol’ Mark I, there’s not much onus to spring for Mark II. But if you thought Sphero was cool the first time around and (for whatever reason) didn’t buy one, Sphero 2.0 is for you.
It’s available right here for $US129.
Here’s a 30-second video demo of the previously-mentioned (and totally awesome) Rolling Dead.
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