On first glance, the Sphero 2.0 ball is not immediately related to learning to code. It is a ball you can control via your phone, and it is incredibly fun (irrespective of any interest in coding). However, thanks to the apps that give it much more functionality, this is definitely one of those toys that is both very cool to use while having the added bonus of also being educational.
What is it?
Sphero 2.0 is a polycarbonate ball that is built with LED lights and sensors on a transparent shell. The ball is controlled (or driven) via your iPhone using the Sphero App using an onscreen driving pad or tilt controls. As its main functionality, driving it around is fun. It’s connected via Bluetooth giving it reasonable range (100 sq ft), has excellent controls and is fast at up to 14 feet per second. It’s basically a remote controlled ball so you will find yourself driving it around the house along an imaginary racetrack, or playing ‘chase after me’ with your kids or dog (lots of people online talk about this being a great toy for dogs).
The driving app is helpful for beginners as it gradually lets you level up. As you learn the ropes, it will slowly increase the speed and also unlock a series of upgrades. These might include speed bursts or colour shows displayed via the ball’s LEDs. In total, the app has 20 levels to get through for drivers who like competing tasks.
In addition to driving, there are around 30 apps you can download to get different uses out of the ball. Created by both Sphero and 3rd party developers, the games range in quality, but definitely increases the product’s value for money score.
The versatility and durability of Sphero 2.0 make it a product that kids and adults of all ages can have fun using.
This version is twice as fast, is brighter than the original Sphero and comes with two jumping ramps, encouraging you to set up trick courses from the beginning. You can also purchase a chariot and tires to give the ball a different look, and there are covers available to protect the sleek surface of the ball from scuffs and scratches. Maze tape can also be used to put the ball on different types of obstacle courses on the carpet, hardwood floors, or outside on concrete and spine ramps can be added to enhance the toy’s ability to balance and climb.
I found the durability quite impressive. Although most toys that my kids own take a beating (we also have a dog), Sphero 2.0, which can be used both inside and outside the home, was regularly dropped and still continued to work. It’s also waterproof, and can actually be full submerged and still be used, and also easily cleaned when you need get rid of the scuff marks picked up during household driving.
Some of the available Sphero Apps include:
Sphero Chromo – This turns the ball into a control device (as opposed to the phone), forcing you to move the ball in coordination with colours on screen. Simple, but very good for developing hand eye coordination.
Sphero Exile – A space invaders look alike game, again using the Sphero ball to control what’s happening on screen. It’s no better than a real space invaders game, but gets more use out of the toy.
Sphero Colour Grab – Multiplayer tabletop game using the ball. Sphero flashes different colours and you have to pick it up at the right time to score points.
Flappyball for Sphero – Shake the ball to move a white, fluffy ball (looks a bit like a duck) through obstacles a bit like Jetpack Joyride.
Rolling Dead – Direct a fire shooting Sphero ball to kill zombies in an augmented reality environment.
The thing about these games is that they are simpler derivatives of the original games, so they will ever stack up on their own. Eg. if you want a space invaders game, you will find a better one that via Sphero. But what it does do is give kids more options to use the ball, and there is definitely an increased hand-eye coordination element as they use both ball and screen.
The reason I wanted to review Sphero 2.0 in the first place was the ability to somehow program it. The Lightening Lab app uses drag-and-drop block style actions making it fairly simple to use and you can program actions, operators and controls to basically get the ball to do whatever you want. You can also view the written code next to the block sequence, helping to reinforce an understanding of the language. According to Sphero, you can ‘program a painting, navigate a maze, mimic the solar system, swim across the water, have a dance party… the only limit is your imagination.’ Not bad for an electronic ball.
An example of what you can do might include wanting to change the ball’s LED colour. You select the ‘set colour’ command by dragging the block onto the screen, then connecting it to the ‘on start program’ block. You can set actions like speed and direction, and relate them to an event. For example, when the ball drops or collides with something you can set it to respond – eg. when the ball hits something change the colour to blue. Fortunately, the app includes 12 sample programs which take you through all of the actions and allows you to amend them so you can learn by seeing an existing chain of commands rather than always having to start from scratch.
There is also a community element, like many coding initiatives, allowing you to publish your creations online to share with the world. Kids, parents and teachers can login to the online community to share and comment on individual creations.
This toy is simply incredible and hard not to like. Any kids (or parents) who enjoy remote control toys will immediately enjoy this out of the box. As a driving toy it is good enough as it is. When you then add the range of apps and ability to programme the device, it adds another layer of depth. Some kids may want to explore these, while others may not – it depends on the age and interests of the kid – but the beauty of the Sphero is that it doesn’t really matter because it offers different things to different people. The company behind Sphero (renamed Sphero from Orbotix) is doing great things with connected toys and I suspect this is just the beginning.
A tough little remote control ball
30+ apps give it lots of variety
Multi-player games make it social
Some users have complained of connection / app issues