Sphero has been a busy connected toy manufacturer over the last few months.
While the tiny Sphero Mini shares many similarities with the second-generation Sphero 2.0 that was released way back in 2013, the smartphone-controlled toy also features a few surprising improvements over its predecessor.
The ball controls more accurately thanks to an improved app, which in turn offers a more responsive driving experience — though perhaps the Mini’s navigation improvements are also related to the toy’s smaller size.
Other upgrades include an impressive 10-metre range, the ability to charge directly via micro-USB and 45 minutes of playtime from one hour of change. In comparison, the Sphero 2.0 took three hours to charge and lasted approximately one hour.
Size-wise, the Sphero Mini measures in at 42mm in height, 42mm in width and a weight of 46g, allowing it to sit comfortably in the palm of most people’s hands. The device, which feels significantly slower than the Sphero 2.0, hits a top speed of 1m/s (approximately 3.6km/h), which is significantly slower than its predecessors approximately 7m/s (approximately 25.2km/h) speed.
Unlike the original Sphero, the Mini also features interchangeable shells in five colours: blue, green, pink, orange and white. The shells are easy to disassemble and they snap-off with minimal pressure, revealing the actual internal mechanism that powers the tiny toy.
This new feature does have some downsides though, including the fact that the Sphero Mini isn’t waterproof like its predecessor and that it doesn’t feel quite as durable.
This modular enclosure contains the same gyroscope and accelerometer technology that powered previous versions of Sphero’s app-connected ball. As a bonus, the Sphero Mini also includes tiny brightly coloured, fluorescent bowling pins and pylons that can be used as obstacles for the toy to navigate around.
Sphero has also made an effort to ensure that the Mini’s novelty doesn’t wear off as quickly as previous versions of the toy. For example, a new feature called Face Drive allows users to smile to make the toy move forward and frown to shift it backwards. Amusingly, making an angry face causes it to run away; and winking changes the Mini’s colour instantly. The toy can also be controlled with a virtual in-app joystick, or by tilting the smartphone, similar to Sphero’s other products.
On the game front, Sphero has added simple games to the Mini’s app, though none of them are particularly compelling. ‘Exile II’ utilizes the mini as a game controller in order to shoot down an in-game spaceship; ‘Lightspeed Drifter’ controls a futuristic ship racing through a tunnel and ‘Round Trip’ allows player to rotate the Mini to destroy bricks.
While these tiny experiences are a welcome diversion from aimlessly driving the Mini around, it would’ve been nice to see the company explore the augmented reality (AR) space when it comes to expanding the toy’s software options. Driving the Sphero Mini around an AR obstacle course would have been a lot of fun, especially with Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore now out in the wild.
While the app isn’t available yet, the same educational features that the company eventually added to other versions of Sphero are also coming to the Mini in 2017 through a new coding-focused Sphero Edu app.
In general, much of the Sphero Mini is an incremental improvement over the Sphero 2.0, though the former’s significantly cheaper price tag could convince more people to pick up the smartphone-controlled toy. To put this price in perspective, the Sphero 2.0 costs $149 CAD, whereas the Mini version of the toy is priced at only $69 CAD. It’s worth noting that, if you enjoyed driving the Sphero 2.0 at high speeds, the Mini likely isn’t for you since it’s significantly slower.
Sphero says that the Mini is compatible with iOS 10 and above, as well as any Android device that features Android 5.0 and above.
The Sphero Mini is available now for $69 CAD at Best Buy Canada, as well as directly through Sphero.com.