While undeniably cute and the perfect size for any collector to add to a shelf, the app-controlled Star Wars Droids by Sphero are kind of expensive. If all you want is a little Star Wars-themed Droid you can drive around like an RC car, you can get away with spending less than $50 in most places. If you want something a little nicer and a lot more featureful, Sphero has a kit unlike anything else you can buy today.
For the unconvinced, here's what makes these Droids special.
LOTS of detail
These aren't just little toys to be driven around. Sphero put the time in to make sure these Droids are all movie-accurate and meticulously detailed. You won't find any leftover plastic or bleeding colors on these, and the materials used are engineered to last. The sounds that accompany these Droids are movie-accurate as well, and while BB-8 and BB-9E use the speaker on your phone for all the sound, you'll find R2-D2 has its own speaker that is plenty loud enough to enjoy. These are collector-quality models with lights and sounds to match, and plenty durable enough to survive actually being played with.
For example, R2-D2 has a mode in the app where it will rock back and forth and then fall over on purpose. That fall is LOUD, and is accompanied by internal sounds that would leave a casual observer to believe some serious damage had been dealt. Star Wars fans will immediately recognize this as a recreation of the scene when a restraining bolt was forcibly attached to the Droid, but it's a little alarming to see a $179 toy fall like this. I've pressed that particular button about 50 times since taking R2-D2 out of the box, and you won't find a single scratch on this thing.
The BBs are just as durable, even when driving the Droids over gravel and coarse sidewalk and even picking a fight or two with my dog. You'll need to wipe down the bodies after rough play, and probably shouldn't let the dog chew on the heads for too long, but there are no defects. These Droids are built to last, and that's great for people who look forward to playing with these for a long time.
No hands required
Driving these Droids around is a lot of fun, but there's an automated "sentry" mode in the app that will send your Droid into autopilot. It will drive around your room and appear as though it is inspecting things and keeping an eye out for you. This drive mode is really more so you can enjoy these characters the way you would in the movies, and is complimented by an mode in the app that helps trick you into thinking the Droid is actually scanning and plotting.
BB-8 and BB-9E are not at all alike
We don't know a lot about BB-9E as a character yet, the general assumption being that we'll meet this little Droid in the next Star Wars movie, but it's easy to look at the model and wonder of this is just a black version of the BB-8 model that has been out for a while already. The designs for these two units are basically identical, right down to being able to swap their heads. That's kind of the point though, since they are both BB units. Outside of this detail, playing with these two Droids offers very different experiences.
Both BB-8 and BB-9E have "personalities" that include reacting to bumps and turns differently, and the app has a whole set of commands that are unique to each droid to give a unique look and feel too. BB-8 is generally more bubbly and positive, while BB-9E is terse and downright grumpy with some of the sounds it makes. The app is also themed to match the Droid you are driving, but that's not as big a change obviously.
As for actually comparing the two Droids themselves, the blue positioning light in BB-9E is easier to see through the semi-transparent black shell when playing outdoors. BB-9E is also noticeably faster than the BB-8 released on the first Force Friday, and both are way faster than R2-D2.
AR Mode is a lot of fun
BB-9E comes with a secondary dock, something the original BB-8 did not come with and R2-D2 does not include. This dock is for the Augmented Reality mode in the app, which is a lot more fun than I expected it to be. With BB-9E, you are exploring Supremacy, the Mega-class Star Destroyer where Supreme Leader Snoke currently lives. This AR mode lets you drive around Supremacy as BB-9E, and as you explore, you'll learn things about the First Order and its capabilities.
BB-8 and R2-D2 also have AR Modes in the app where you get to explore other ships, but the most immersive experience is absolutely BB-9E. If you own both BB-8 and BB-9E you can share a dock and make the BB-8 experience better, but out of the box this is something particularly great for the First Order's little rolling ball.
Watch your favorite Star Wars movie with your Droid
You can set these Droids on the coffee table in front of you or beside you on the couch and watch Star Wars movies with them. The app on your phone syncs up with the movie, and each Droid has unique reactions to key points in the movies. BB-8 will appear afraid when the bad guys are doing something, for example.
If you have kids, watching them as they interact with the Droids during a movie is amazing. If you don't have kids, do this anyway. It's a ton of fun, and one of the things that make these Droid truly unique.
Are these Droids worth it? Absolutely
For the build quality, feature set, and general style of these Droids it's easy to see why they're priced at $129 a piece. The battery life is great as well, on average getting about 45 minutes of nonstop play time on a single charge and recharging in less than an hour. Whether you're considering one Droid or all three, these belong in the collection of every Star Wars fan.
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