Sphero Mini Review: [Big Tech Squeezed Into a Tiny Robot Ball for Very Little Money]

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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.

There are loads of different driving modes, there are games you can play on your phone using the Mini as a controller, and there is even a mode where you can program it using JavaScript, helping you to learn to code in a practical way using a fun toy.

Sphero has clearly put a lot of its learning from its other toys into the Mini and I was very impressed with it.

 

sphero mini kit contents

Design

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.

Functionality

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.

It’s also compatible with the Sphero Education app which allows you to control it with JavaScript code, and look behind the curtain to analyze sensor data.

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.

Finally, there’s an option for you to write true code that dictates the actions of the Sphero Mini. There are loads of lessons for you to take where you can learn JavaScript basics(a truly valuable skill), and it’s so satisfying to have your code turn into a whirling ball of excited movement when the Sphero Mini comes to life.

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.

 

Programming

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.

Draw Programming: This simpler method, or entry level, of programming, is intended for grades PRE-K thru Second grade. Users draw lines to program the “MINI” and can modify the speed and color. You can view the JavaScript text code behind a “draw” program by selecting the three dots menu in the top right of the program canvas, and select ‘JavaScript Code’.

Block Programming: Intermediate coders(grades 3-5) can utilize the familiar block-based drag and drop interface. Pre-programmed blocks allow for a wide variety of actions and variables. You can view the JavaScript text code behind a blocks program by selecting the three dots menu in the top right of the program canvas, and select ‘JavaScript Code’. You can also copy the text code, create a text program, then paste it to edit the code.

Text Programming: A more advanced method for grades 6 and up where users can program with a text editor to write custom syntax. An integrated interface will support users graduating from blocks to text; the same type of tool real developers use. All text coding is done using JavaScript. Text code cannot generate block code.

Verdict

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.

 

Get the SPHERO MINI at The Lowest Price 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.

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “Sphero Mini Review: [Big Tech Squeezed Into a Tiny Robot Ball for Very Little Money]”

  1. Why is the battery life around just 45minutes? Because of the diminutive size of the robot can a simple locator be incorporated into it in case of misplacement?. This robots when looked at from the angle of the materials (  this this case plastic) could be easily destroyed thought every other quality of the sphero mini robot is fantastic. The $50 tag is a good offer and I will definitely say its not bad price for the sphero mini. Thanks for sharing. 

    • I know, the worst defects of the ‘mini’ is the short battery life, and the size, but I looked at some other mini robots in the same price range and they were not comparable to the’mini’. Thanks.

  2. Hi! I’m also seriously impressed with the Sphero Mini! I have been exploring fun ways to learn how to code and also to teach the basics to children. And I’m so happy that by reading your post I have discovered an excellent option.

    I’m more than happy it teaches JavaScript. But do you know if there is also an option to include other code languages? I’m excited with this discovery. Thank you very much!

    • Thanks Henry, I will find out if the mini can include other coding languages

      Henry, I just sent an email to the company asking them your concern. Thanks again.

  3. The sphero mini robot would be the perfect for my nephew as he turns 6. This would be a really fun gadget for him to have around. I’m worried about the battery life of this product and it’s lack of durability. Hope he can fully control this mini robot wth the joystick, because he doesn’t have an android device.

  4. Hi Alfredo, this is a great post, I really have never heard of Sphero mini before, it’s through your article, I get this amazing information. I’m glad that I came across this article at the right time, as I was looking for a cool gift for my 6-year-old niece. As it is educational, good fun and well under my budget, I’m gonna consider it buying.Thanks a lot for this information. Looking forward to more of such educational games from your website. I’ve bookmarked your site.

  5. Hi, I read your whole review about sphero mini. I’ve never heard of sphIero mini before and it was the first time I saw it. This gadget is a great discovery of science. Sphero mini is the most interesting thing that is connected to the phone and can be played. If I give small children to sphero mini gifts they will be very happy to get it. Sphero mini will be away from the addiction of their mobile game.

    Thank you so much for sharing this.

    • Thank you Rjpollob so much. I emphasize these things, because as you said we must get our kids away from all these video games. Again, Thanks and have a great day.

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