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Sphero 2.0 hands on review

Fri, 2014-07-18 04:02

I’ve recently gotten my greasy hands on a Sphero 2.0 remote controlled robotic toy. Did it deliver the giggles promised in the advertisements?

Overview

The Sphero 2.0 is the latest evolution of the Sphero toy. Inherently comical, the tennis ball sized toy created a lot of buzz on the Internet when its first edition came out. Made possible mostly by the fact that they can sell it without a remote control since it requires a tablet or smartphone to control it which helped keep the costs down. The range if the original Sphero was limited at 50ft and the speed 3ft second, it did glow in millions of different colors and was waterproof.

Sphero 2.0 though, is supposed to whizz along at “breakneck” speed, performing stunts and “grabbing air.” It’s also waterproof but three times brighter than the original Sphero.

Form and function

Yes, the ball is white when it’s off, with some blue on it but mostly a glossy, pearly white. However, turning it on also lights it up, and with the remote iOS app it can display a staggering amount of colors, reportedly more than the human eye can distinguish! Sadly though, not simultaneously as it can only be one color at a time. OK, this is not exactly true, when calibrating the steering control it does have a fixed, blue spot.

It comes with a charger base which is blue to match the Sphero badge. Sadly when the ball is on its charger, the base emits a blinding blue light which is almost enough to read by. At first, this prompted me to remove it from its base whenever I was trying to sleep. The makers of Sphero might not realize it but a lot of people charge these in their bedrooms, and an option to at least dim the charging light would’ve been nice. I’ve since solved it on mine with a piece of dark electric tape.

The Sphero feels heavier than expected when you first pick it up but it makes a hollow plastic sound whenever it knocks against the floor, rolling it around doesn’t improve the sound, and frankly the noise it makes is not reassuring. Things improve slightly when the knobby envelope, aptly named Nubby -bought separately for 15$!- is used. This however slows it down, prevents it from drifting (see below) and blocks out the colors which well, sucks.

Why not make a transparent Nubby?

The ball moves about by using a counterweight that you steer with one of many apps from your smartphone or tablet.

Fun and SPEED!

Yes, it’s very fast. So fast indeed that it easily drifts across the floor, which is probably among the coolest things it can do other than float, did I mention it’s waterproof? Initially, it  was too quick to control but the app developers have built in a handy governor for the maximum speed available so scaling that down to a more manageable 25% max was necessary in order to come to grips with the way the device reacts. There’s little or no lag in controlling it although the range is somewhat limited by the fact that it’s Blutooth.

It should be noted that all our family pets, and we have a myriad of them, are terrorized by Sphero. It could probably be used to help control a pesky dog, I know I got ours to stop fussing about with its teddy bear whenever Cookie got home from errands. The bird didn’t care much for it, and the guinea-pig reacted to it by trying to break out of the opposite end of its cage with a comical chattering of teeth.

I’ve not tested it on the rabbit yet, failing to obtain permission from my daughter for me to go bug it with Sphero.

Yeah, that’s pretty much the most fun I’ve had with Sphero so far, annoy the crap out of everyone around me who aren’t actually playing with it. I’ve since learned to control it better and can now use the ramps -included!- to jump it from the living room onto the dining room floor, a height of about 1/2 inch because of different flooring materials, and back. I’ve also switched it back to full speed, it is indeed quick at a reported 7 feet per second.

Apps

I’ve tried most of the apps including the pay ones, nothing really innovative about them. They have two attempts at Augmented Reality (AR) with the first being a game where you control Sphero around your living room, disguised as what seems to be a beaver, navigating it to gobble up some gold pieces and candy to earn points. Another AR game is a weird Zombie bowling, fire throwing game I’m still not sure what to make of because the controls are about as obvious as programming a BetaMax VCR was in 1979.

 

Then there are the apps that aren’t really AR, for example a misleadingly named Sphero Cam which doesn’t actually use a camera that would be on the Sphero to take covert pictures, but instead allows you to use the tablet or smartphone camera to take a picture of the Sphero while you control it.

The Sphero 2.0 doesn’t have a camera built into it. Too bad but at the same time I can see how difficult it would’ve been to implement in a spherical object like that.

Another app changes the Sphero color, cycling it through about a dozen shades until it hits the color assigned to you by the computer, then prompting you to pick up the Sphero as fast as you can to earn points in what is essentially a 130$ twist on reflex games. Actually make that a 130$ + .99$ app twist on reflex games, the app is .99$…

On the box it says the Sphero has “over 25 apps” but I could only find about a dozen on iOS. I didn’t check Android but they probably have the other 13…

Conclusion

Yeah, it’s fun to play with Sphero 2.0. Until it becomes boring which is way too quickly, within three days it found its place atop its charger where it remained ever since, as it is now I might just move it to the living room where it will look great on a library shelf and might make a great conversation piece when we have people over.

Most of the apps are okay at best, the only good being the simple remote control app which includes a few “missions” but no real challenge. As you’ll have probably noticed my main quarrel with Sphero is not so much the use you can make of it, which is obvious: None other than playing. The issue I have with it is the cost. I imagine it’s expensive to build and I understand that whoever makes it wants to make some money, hey we all do, but I find that 130$ for a Blutooth receiver in a ball that has a counterweight and probably some kind of gyroscope built into it is much more than what it should cost if you consider that you could probably reuse most of the hardware inside a 40$ WiiMote.

As such, it’s going to be reserved for children who are tired of their ponies…

Until they realize that’s all the Sphero is: A one trick pony.

Hey, at least you don’t have to feed it or clean up after it!

Pros

-Colorful

-Cute

-Rechargeable

-Waterproof

-Doesn’t require a remote control as long as you already have a tablet or smartphone

-Comes with ramps in case you absolutely want to make sure it breaks

-Fun to bug pets with

Cons

-Makes a cheap breaking plastic sound

-Not enough useful applications

-No camera

-Waaaay to expensive to be justifiable by mortals

-Should really come bundled with a Nubby

6/10

 

Categories: Gadgets

Better Cooking Through Rocket Science [Flare Pan]

Wed, 2014-07-16 01:32


The pan that you use can make a tremendous difference to its heating efficiency and cooking quality. Flare Pans, which use FIN-X technology are the work of Oxford engineering professor Thomas Povey and his team of masters students. They claim that their pots will reduce the amount of energy required to reach temperature parity by 44%.

These more efficient pots unfortunately come with pretty hefty price tags. A small 20 cm saucepan will set you back a hefty GBP 49.99 (~USD 85.00) – prices get significantly more expensive for bigger pots and pans. Then there is the other little issue of the team’s use of aluminum – which they use for its excellent heat conduction. The problem with aluminum (or aluminium if you prefer) is that it is not ferrous – which renders it useless on IH stoves. It would likely make a good buy if you have a gas, electric or halogen cook-top, but will be rendered an expensive souvenir if you ever decide to switch over to induction cooking.

Price: From $85 [Via Oh Gizmo!

Categories: Gadgets

Star Trek Phaser Universal Remote [Preview]

Wed, 2014-07-16 01:15


At this year’s San Diego Comic Con, Think Geek will be pulling the wraps off their officially-licensed Star Trek Phaser Universal Remote Control.

The remote, which works with a wide range of infra-red compatible electronics, can store up to 36 commands, some of which can be activated by flick and tilt gestures. On top of that, it also includes a TV-B-Gone-esque TV killer. Mix all of that together with flashing colors, phaser and Enterprise sound effects and vibration feedback – and you have a remote that is probably a lot more interesting than the stuff it controls. As for build quality, it is a 1:1 scale model that was designed using 3D laser scans of Original Series Prop phasers and is built from nickel and brass-plated die cast metal. It comes with a magnetic stand and an Enterprise screwdriver for assembly.

I must admit that this has me tempted. I have separate remotes for my lights, air conditioner, TV and media player – and would love to handle everything by phaser.

Price: $150

[Via Technabob]

Categories: Gadgets

George R. R. Martin Issues PSA to Worried Fans (When He Should be Writing)

Tue, 2014-07-15 02:01


To the growing contingent of Game of Thrones fans who are concerned that he might not make it to the end of his series, George R. R. Martin has two words to say – and one of them isn’t pretty. But are the worried fans really that far out of line? All men, as the saying goes, must die (or Valar Morghulis if you prefer).

Martin is a husky man in his mid-sixties, which makes him a prime candidate for heart attack and stroke. He has been well-compensated for the many thousands of hours that he has no doubt spent writing the series, and many more hours have been collectively spent reading them than he did writing them – so while he is right to be offended, some might say that he has something of an obligation to uphold. Others would say that nobody has an obligation to create and that people who suggest otherwise are acting like entitled children.

In case you didn’t know, Martin has clued in the folks at HBO about how the series will end, should the unthinkable happen – fans will still be able to get some closure on the small screen. Fans of his books, however, would likely be left high and dry. That kind of sucks, but people die all the time, and when they do they often leave behind plenty of unfinished business. Death can be a major inconvenience and as sad as it all is – it is often a letdown. A year or two before my grandfather’s untimely death (at the same age that George R. R. Martin is now) from a major heart attack, he told me that when I was old enough, he would let me drive his tractor. As sad as his death was, I still remember that pang of disappointment, that the he was never able to fulfill his promise. Life, you will find, is full of such trivial disappointments that come about when people who are close to us shuffle of their mortal coil. If you haven’t learned that the hard way yet, you should have at least learned it from Game of Thrones.

If George R. R. Martin doesn’t make it through, I will be disappointed, but I won’t hold it against him. It has been a long time between books and I would be devastated to have to watch the rest of the television series without an all-knowing, self-satisfied smirk.

Long live George R. R. Martin.

http://youtu.be/jQv90HLUGto

Categories: Gadgets