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If you are not familiar with the toys of Sphero, you’re in for a treat. The company has recently had great success with its fantastic Star Wars-themed BB-8 toys and the unbelievable lifelike Lightning McQueen toy from the Pixar franchise Cars.
Trying to reclaim some of its former glory, the original Sphero is back, in a smaller package with some serious cool upgrades. For a toy that is effectively a remotely controlled ping-pong ball, I was pleasantly surprised at just how much you can do with it.
Sphero has clearly put a lot of its learning from its other toys into the Mini and I was very impressed with it.
The Sphero Mini is a small, plastic ball. But the plastic shell is simply encasing the actual device. Sitting inside the colorful shell is a little robotic device full of motors, LEDs, and gyroscopes.
The plastic shell is replaceable and changeable and it comes in five different colors: green, pink, blue, orange, and white. When you buy a Sphero Mini you only get one colored shell, and you’ll have to buy the others if you want to swap it out.
The color customization doesn’t end there; the LEDs inside the Sphero Mini can paint a whole rainbow of color and are easily adjustable from inside the app(application). If you want to just leave it to do its own thing, it will choose a color to glow as it moves along.
The app is also beautifully designed. You can download it for IOS(APPLE) and Android devices and it’s made to be simple and colorful without feeling dumbed down.
The menu interfaces take a little exploring as the buttons are often just icons without any words, but it’s simple enough to get used to and it’s a pleasure to use.
One concern that I have about the Sphero Mini is that being small and plastic makes it potentially easy to break. You can imagine it being stepped on, as it would be easy not to notice it under-foot when walking through a room.
Its diminutive size also means that there is a possibility of losing it. It hurtles around at such a pace that we did lose sight of it several times while playing with it. It was easy to find again thanks to the whirling noises it makes and the LEDs but I can imagine if it was left there and the battery ran down, it would be pretty hard to find again.
I was pleasantly surprised with just how much you can actually do with the Sphero Mini. The multiple driving modes help to add a variety to play that raise the Sphero Mini above being a simple controllable ball.
The new driving mode introduced with the Sphero Mini is “Face Drive”, which allows you to control your Sphero Mini by making faces at it. You smile to move it away from you, frown to move it towards you, tilt your head to move it left and right. Slightly worrying was when I turned “Face Drive” on, it took my resting face to be a frown and the Sphero Mini shot off at full speed behind me.
If you’d rather keep your face out of the equation, you can control it using one of the other driving modes included in the Sphero Mini app. There’s Joystick, which is a very simple controller; Tilt, which lets you use your phone gyroscope to control the Sphero Mini; and Slingshot, that allows you to fire the Mini off.
Rather than a bolt-on, this is a fully fleshed out educational app that if you give the time to, can really teach you the fundamentals of coding in a fun way.
There are different levels of access to the control of the Sphero Mini, starting with the simplest where you can draw a path for it with your finger, followed by one where you can drag, drop, and customize blocks that change location, locomotion, color, and more.
There are also games that work in the opposite way, where the Sphero Mini is the controller and the game happens on your phone. These include a couple of spaceships themed games and a block destruction game.
The Sphero Mini is charged via a micro-USB cable and it promised 45 minutes playtime from an hour’s charge. In my experience, a full charge actually took a little over an hour, and gameplay was a little under 45 minutes.
It’s worth noting that it doesn’t retain the charge, so even on days when I didn’t use the Mini, it would still run down from a full battery to almost empty the next.
I, ideally would have liked a longer battery life, it’s so fun to use that I frequently ran it out, but given how small the Sphero Mini is, I suppose a short battery life is understandable.
Sphero Mini is programmable in the Sphero Edu application (this app is fully downloadable and is free).
There are three different levels of programming for the Sphero Mini.
I was seriously impressed with the Sphero Mini. While it isn’t quite as characterful as some of the offers from Sphero, it more than makes up for it in how fun it is to play with. It’s easy to control and moves at a satisfying speed.
The Sphero Mini is a brilliant toy that manages to take the best things about Sphero and distill them down into a ping-pong sized shell. The plethora of driving modes, games, and educational elements make this a far more multi-faceted device than you’d assume it to be, and for the price, I highly recommend the Sphero Mini.
The Sphero Mini is available in pink, white, green, orange, and blue.
Pros: Adorable design, Approachable and easy to use, Well-designed App, Slick interface, and Many different functionalities.
Cons: So-So battery life, small size could make it easy to break or lose.
The Sphero Mini is designed for children 5-8 years old.
For a quick video overview of the Sphero Mini click here.
I hope you have enjoyed this review and if you have any questions about the Sphero Mini, or if you want to leave your own personal review, please leave a comment below I will get back to you as soon as I can.