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Review: BB-8 by Sphero

Smartphone-powered toys are not a new idea by any stretch, and there aren't many lists of the best in this category that don't include at least one of the little robots from Sphero. When the first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens found its way to YouTube and the small soccer ball droid raced across the screen, several of us here at Android Central immediately thought of Sphero.

In fact, when we ran into a couple of Sphero folks at CES this past year, their awkward and somewhat coy refusal to answer any questions set fire to our imagination. After nearly a year of waiting, BB-8 by Sphero is real and ready for a spot in your home.

Here's our review.

BB-8 by Sphero

slight learning curve

BB-8 by Sphero Driving Mode

As you might have suspected by its design and the company behind the project, BB-8 by Sphero is a rolling robot powered by your phone or tablet. Just like Sphero and Ollie, the app is designed to make an effortless connection to your robot and get you driving as quickly as possible. Just start the app, hold your phone or tablet near BB-8, and when it lights up you're good to go.

BB-8 by Sphero

The driving portion of the app gives you a large virtual joystick and an orientation pad. Point the orientation dot to yourself, and whatever direction you slide the virtual joystick is the direction BB-8 will travel. The interface for driving couldn't be more simple, but since you're driving a rolling ball there's a bit of a learning curve. If you've ever used the original Sphero ball you've got the basics, but the addition of BB-8's head adds a layer of complexity in driving.

You can drive BB-8 on just about any flat surface, but things are a little different on each surface. On most carpets, BB-8 will be the most stable but not quite as fast when you first give a movement command. Hardwood and similar hard, flat surfaces are the best for BB-8 for movement, but it's easy for the robot to slide out of control for a moment or two. Gritty surfaces like pavement are the best of both worlds as long as the surface is nice and flat, but if you're on a road or a similarly imperfect surface, BB-8 tends to overcompensate any time there's a bump which frequently leads to pauses while the robot re-orients.

BB-8 wobbles

As a brief aside, there's no need to worry about those gritty surfaces damaging the outer shell of BB-8 as long as it is driven on the ground. Like all Sphero robots, the outer plastic is tough and stands up to quite a bit of abuse. That having been said, one of the fastest ways to deal permanent damage to BB-8 is to drive it off of something and let it fall off a table or down a flight of stairs. As long as you drive it on the ground, and that ground is nice and flat, BB-8 is a lot of fun.

Above all else, BB-8 will try to keep the magnetically attached head connected to the body. This means it turns a little slower to keep the head on the top half of the body, and while its top speed is right around the same as a Sphero ball it takes a little longer to get there. If you're not happy with how long it takes to reach that top speed you can tap the boost button in the interface, but if you lose control and there are kids around the results can be a little on the traumatic side when the head goes flying. Fortunately, all you need to do to remedy the situation is set the head back on top of the ball.

BB-8 crash

The rest of the driving interface is accessories for making BB-8 feel more like the bot we'll see in the upcoming Star Wars movie. You can make it shake the head yes or no, spin all the way around, shake with fright, and perform simple movements like a square or a figure-8. Each of these actions is accompanied by some audio, much in the same way you'd hear R2-D2 chirp as it moved. These sounds all come from your phone, which is cool when you're in a small room where everyone can hear BB-8 but somewhat less exciting when outdoors. Ideally, BB-8 would have its own speaker for this sort of thing, but when it works the audio accompaniment is cute.

BB-8 patrol mode

little rolly robot

BB-8 by Sphero Patrol Mode

If you'd prefer BB-8 drive itself, you can slide the app into Patrol Mode and tap the play button in the center of the instrument panel that keeps an eye on the robot while it rolls around without you. The Patrol Mode interface also has a couple of visual options for your phone, map readouts and gyro visualizations that are fun to cycle through. If nothing else, it's a fun thing to keep on your desk while the robot roams around. As long as the app is open and running, BB-8 will patrol the area you place it in. By patrol. we mean it picks a random direction and rolls around until it bumps into something.

This mode is really more for messing with you cat or surprising your kids, and as long as you have a large clean space with few obstacles it's a cute demonstration of how lifelike Sphero made some of the behaviors. When BB-8 bumps into a wall, it surveys the area and attempts to course correct. The behavior is almost like a Roomba, but when it gets stuck somewhere BB-8 will keep trying to wiggle out until the batteries are low.

BB-8 by Sphero

"come in, BB-8"

BB-8 by Sphero Voice Commands and Messaging

While they weren't available at launch, it didn't take long for Sphero to sort out some bugs and bring voice commands to the BB-8 Android app. You can enable voice commands in the app settings, and in doing so you can call out "OK BB-8" or "Come in, BB-8" and the app will flip to a voice recognition screen to let you know it's time to speak your command.

The list of commands you have access to right now is a little on the slim side. You can instruct BB-8 to explore if you want a few seconds of random behavior, ask how it's feeling to get a yes or no animation, and a handful of other basic movement commands. It's a cute accessory for showing off to friends who don't have a BB-8 for themselves, but there's only so many times you can shout "it's a trap!" at your robot and watch it peel off in a random direction before you find yourself wanting either new commands or the ability to make your own.

BB-8 trap

Included in the original announcement for BB-8 was a holographic messaging system, that looked as though you could record messages and send them to others to view on their BB-8 droids, but in reality the feature is a lot less exciting. You can record a message and view it yourself, or hand your phone to someone so they can see it, but the experience is currently a little underwhelming. It works through an augmented reality interface, the thought here being you can point your phone at BB-8 and through your camera and screen it will look like BB-8 is projecting a holo recording for you to watch.

In our extensive testing of this feature across multiple phones, it never really worked as advertised. The video frequently jumped around or failed to sync with BB-8, which quickly removes any lingering fascination with the ability to see a message in true Star Wars fashion. Hopefully this is something that will improve over time.

BB-8 by Sphero

the movie isn't even out yet

BB-8 by Sphero Final Thoughts

It was difficult at first to separate the excitement over a Star Wars product you can drive with your phone with the excitement over another Sphero product. While it isn't lost on any of us just how weird it is to get excited over a toy verison of a Star Wars character none of us know anything about yet, there's something surprisingly emotional about using this toy. The familiar audiovisual experience when navigating the interface, the way BB-8 reacts when something goes wrong, and the highly personal way you interact with the toy make it easy to feel a desire to slam money on the counter that never really existed with the previous Sphero products, even though they are equally fun to drive and play with.

On a technical level, BB-8 does almost everything Sphero promises it will do. The battery lasts at least a full hour of constant driving, and with exception to the holo messaging feature everything works well. The most impressive part about that is knowing how great Sphero is at improving their products over time with software updates. Anyone who has ever owned a Sphero robot before BB-8 will tell you this is a toy that will undoubtedly get better with time, which is great.

It's a solid experience if you're a fan of phone-powered robots, and when we all get to see The Force Awakens later this year it's likely this will be the big toy everyone is trying to get someone for Christmas.

BB-8 by Sphero

Should you buy it? YES.

Without a doubt, if you like Star Wars and robots and smartphone-controlled toys, BB-8 by Sphero is worth the $150. It's a genuine pleasure to use, looks nice, comes in quality packaging with a nice charger that looks good enough to display somewhere when it's not in use. While there's no denying the price is steep for a toy, even a Sphero toy, this experience deserves a spot in the home of any fan.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

222 Comments
  • My 4 year old, 1 year old, and Bengal kitten love chasing mine around. He has been a big hit in our house.
  • I want one! It looks so cute and fun. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I bought one just so I could sell it for 10 times the price at Christmas.
  • I snagged a couple in case my folks wind up getting caught out with the grandkids, but if no one's biting, I am thinking that I may be turning a profit come December 15th.
  • I would of consider one for myself if that head had a built in camera and worked as a drone.
  • I'd like to be able to get that video feed from work. I'd be constantly checking to see if my Amazon package was delivered or stuff like that.
  • Don't be that guy. As someone that grew up in a single parent household, there were times when my mom couldn't afford to get the gifts we wanted. What's worse is when she could afford the set price, but some assholes bought them all and sold them to the rich parents for inflated prices. Thanks for ruining some kids' Christmas!
  • Supply and demand. The mfg's purposely create shortages so their products become a fad. If they truly anticipate things the way they should, there will be more than enough. Also, it's really early in the season. If someone is buying them now for the purpose of selling them, I see nothing wrong with that. Sounds like therapy is in order here.
  • Mfg's try to manufacture as many as they thing will sell without having left over stock.  Remeber that it costs companies money to make the thing in the first place.  If they make too many and it doesn't sell well, the company can find itself out huge amounts of money. And buying up a bunch with the intent to resell them to desperate parents at 10 times the price later is kind of a dick move, and not just to the kids.  It sounds like this guy is trying to create a shortage so that he can rip people off.
  • Therapy? Thanks, Freud, but I'm doing just fine.
    There is a reason that things are priced the way they are, and a reason when distribution chains are established. That's the desired sales scheme for a manufacturer. For some d-bag to come in and add an additional middleman that gets a stupidly large cut at the expense of regular consumers... that's just douchey. You aren't part of the company. You aren't part of the intended distribution. You're a scab.
  • Meh, I will wait for the BB-9 It is rumored to come with a sd830, 5gb ram and of course sdcard and replaceable battery. On a serious note, I couldn't spend the 150 on a toy like that. Kids are gone and while my really dumb dog could be fun to mess with, the smart one would eat it. +++ Insert witty signature, watch as others not get it, profit +++
  • "Chuckles" Delivered by my Shamu
  • I really want this. 150$ is steep, but I am sure I will eventually justify it. It is good to know that it is a quality experience. Thanks for the time spent on the review.
  • Only issue I have is the message portion won't record video. The stock one plays but that's it.
  • On my incredibly cheap Samsung Azure I can record video but can not play it back
  • I wound up by returning mine. The controls weren't as good as I would have liked and the head came off really easily. It was fun messing with the dog/cat, but other than that, I couldn't justify keeping it.
  • I am debating returning it. My son and I played with it for about 10 minutes and now we're bored with it.
  • Yeah, it's cool. But, for $150 I need to get more use out of it. If it was about half the price, I may have considered keeping it more.
  • :( My BB-8 will not connect to my Galaxy S6 Edge. I have some goofy issues with Bluetooth LE I think.
  • Yet another reason not to get the Galaxy S6. Sorry. Had to. :-)
  • Turn off wifi?
  • I enjoy driving mine around but I wish it drove a little bit better with the head. Without the head it gets a much faster start and maneuvers very well. With the head, the head will just "lean" back and the droid doesn't move at all. The head just adds that little bit of extra counter weight when rolling on my carpet to keep it from starting a roll or making a tight turn or stop. Also, I can't have the head on when my cats are active. It's the first thing they go for and try to run off with.
  • Yea, I agree. They should allow you to use it just like the sphero ball and use all those apps with it also. Otherwise what is the point. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I am so glad I got one on launch day, I have had so much fun with it, I feel it is worth it. Also I am a massive Star Wars geek so that helps!
  • My turds are bigger than this thing. It's the size of a soccer ball in the movie. The head wobbles all over the place when it moves. It costs $150. Not worth it imo Posted via the Android Central App
  • You should go see a doctor. Posted via the Android Central App
  • From what I can tell from pictures of the real prop the body looks to be about twice the diameter of a soccer ball. This toy version is the size of a Sphero. While the head on mine does move, it seems to be close to what we see in the movie previews. I wouldn't say that it "wobbles all over the place". It is quite stable (until it gets knocked off).
  • I came here just to say the gifs were adorable as hell.
  • I do wish it had some real instructions. The web site is a mess to find things in and their online FAQ actually contains some incorrect information.
  • Ordered the day it was available. Told my wife it's for our 16mo old, but who's fooling who
  • R2d2 brother huh...ijs Posted via Android Central App
  • Can't stop watching that slam into the wall gif
    http://www.androidcentral.com/sites/androidcentral.com/files/styles/larg...
  • Hey, I'm signing myself up already for your eventual "We're Giving Away A Free BB-8" contest. :-D Awesome review, by the way. I've seen plenty of videos of people playing with them (gotta love the "Everything BB-8" Facebook group), but not much on the "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope." feature.
  • So how is it they didn't expect it to be a huge hit when launched that you cannot find it anywhere and if you buy it at Amazon it's 2-3 months. Come on its a Sphero ball with a magnetic topper. I want one but by the time I can get one it won't be cool anymore.
  • Can it roll on the water (float)? Anyone have it ever test with water? I think BB-8 water proof right? Posted via the Android Central App
  • First, the price is outrageous.
    Second, that bloody plastic ball made in China (literally) doesn't want to connect to your device. Search for connection problems regarding the Sphero BB-8 on the net, and you'll find plenty of customers having connection issues.
    I'm really pissed right now, paying over CA $200 for a ball that just blinks in different colors when I press the reset button on the base...
    Tried connecting through my Samsung Galaxy S4, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.5, Blackberry, another Samsung S4... Nothing....
    It is trending right now, but think twice before buying this thing, and make a research before buying it!
  • Hi guys i love my bb8 but the only problem i have is i got mine 2 days ago and now the internal gyro system isn't working the same
  • My phone is Galaxy S6 edge plus, says it can't find BB-8. Why can't they find a patch?
  • Unless you have an Apple phone I suggest you pass this thing by. It does not like Android , if one does get it to connect there is nothing but problems. Doesn't respond or simply will not connect. Bluetooth connect errors. Problem after problem. This toy cost to much to have so many issues.
  • It's definitely a BB8 thumbs up from me.
  • Definitely want one. And so does my wife!
  • I would love to have one too. Posted from android central.
  • Soccer ball droid!
  • I WANT ONE!
  • BB-8 contest FTW!
  • mmmm... waves hand.
  • looks fun!
  • cool
  • It would be nice to see it rolling over my home or office. Totally want it!
  • Would love to have this little guy cruising around our new hardwood and ceramic tile floors. My cats need a new playmate and who better?
  • This would be cool to have!
  • I would love one.
  • looks amazing!
  • What a nice holiday gift!
  • awesome
  • Cool
  • This looks like fun and would be cool for my daughter.
  • wonderful item everyone will wish to have one
  • Totally want one! Enter me.
  • It will be the best present for Christmas
  • BB-8 for Christmas! Thx AC!
  • I might try to go see it Christmas Eve (reserved seating) if it's not too crazy. Otherwise, probably Monday. I want the BB-8 Sphero badly, but there's just too many much more practical things I can spend $150 on (food, rent). I'll take a free one though!
  • I hope to win this robot.
  • I'd like to give it a try on a wet surface!
  • Like one I would!
  • Pretty cool!
  • For my boy, I would like.
  • Modern anime robot. Better than Ultraman.
  • I'm not sure if I want to win this... My kids will destroy it instantly...
    But than again... It's just too cute to miss on this opportunity...
    So here goes nothing
  • I love this little guy in the movie. It's an expensive toy. Still I'd love to have one.
  • This sphero is pretty awesome.
  • I am really hoping to get one for Christmas, and if I don't, maybe I'll buy myself one.
  • BB-8 rulezz!
  • I need some BB8 in my life. Plus my kids would love it.
  • I want one! my 5 year old would love one and get asked Santa for one but OMG they are not easy to find and sold out everywhere!
  • If i can get my hands on one, i would get it for my daughter...
  • Love it but its too much money for a toy.
  • May the force be with you.
  • i really, really want one! Russel! Hook me up man! lol
  • Looks like fun!
  • love the bb8 sphero
  • I would love to have one of these. Amazing how much personality they worked into a robot that looks so simple in the movie.
  • I want one SO BAD! Please pick me for the BB-8 Contest!
  • Please pick me for the BB-8 Contest!!
  • BEST.TOY.EVER
  • BB8
  • Nice droid! Posted via the Android Central App
  • Awesome toy... Would love to have for my kids.
  • So Awesome!!! Would love one for me... err I mean the kids.
  • Would love to have this fly around my house and mess with my housemates
  • Now THIS is cool :D
  • This would be amazing to have. The cats would probably try to take the head apart, though :/ In any case, count me in, please :)
  • I want one!
  • My 27 year old son wants this more than the Red Rider BB gun. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Looks really cool. Would love to have one.
  • BB-8 was really cool in the movie, which prompted me to look at reviews for this little guy. The kid in me would love to have one.
  • Totally want one!
  • The little boy inside loves to play with one of these.
  • i want this
  • Very thorough review, which I will definitely re-read if I win the BB-8!
  • good luck!
  • Here's my entry for the giveaway!
  • I like it. Good luck!
  • My 7 year old loved this little droid in the movie. He giggled every time he was on screen.
  • BB-8 for life!
  • I need that BB-8, may the force be with me.
  • Great review. Would make a fun family gift.
  • I'm in.
  • i want one!!!
  • Is the sphero hiding under my tree?
  • Love this thing!
  • This little guy is the best
  • Kids would love this. .
  • Martini!
  • I want one!
  • So cool. Cannot wait to see what Sphero has planned for the next couple of years.
  • Yes please :)
  • Plz
  • Sweet!!
  • YES! What a great time for winning such a giveaway! Hope I win :)
  • I want this!
  • BB-8 is great. I want it!
  • [Sticks out hand and lights lighter]
  • Very cute. :-P
  • Looks like fun
  • I got this BB-8 unit for Christmas! I will say that I do really love it. It is just adorable. Water proof, fun, it works very well with the App. Yes, I do want one with other features (head camera, retracting arms. rockets, etc...); the point is that it is just a good time. I mean it is baseball sized body, 1/2 golf ball size head; so all of these additional things would mean bigger batteries and a cost that would be too much right now. I saw how it was made, very impressed; and it works just as well as the commercials show. I am sure as time goes on, there will be copies, knock offs; or other unit sold; but nothing like this unit. I think this is the droid of the future. I could see it being used as a planet rover, as a guard; or a family friend. This app has great features and just makes it so much fun to use. The app itself will have more updates I am sure. I do not know about the other units I have seen, but this Sphero one is really something cool. It does cost a little, but most things worth while cost a little. I can say I am very pleased to own one, consider myself grateful to have gotten one as a gift; and am excited for the future of robotics!!!
  • I want one!
  • What a neat little toy! :)
  • great thing but I am still saving money for lightsaber :D
  • This is the cutest character in recent memory right now... ^_^
  • Want one!
  • The kid in me really wants one, but knows his kids would just take it.
  • I Want one
  • I want to awaken my forces with this BB-8!
  • Meesa want. Wow, that was bad.
  • A nice comprehensive review of the BB-8. I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was afraid that it was not going to live up the hype, but it definitely did and exceeded it, a must-watch. Hope I win :)
  • I want one of these so badly!!
  • Oh man! My kitteh would love this little guy! he's orange, too (my kitteh, I mean). BB-8 is such a cutie <3
  • Me likey...
  • I have a wife and child that would love this. Of course, I wouldn't mind it either.
  • This is pure awesomeness
  • Your review is making me drool..
    Would love to get my hands on one of them..
    Oh well, just need to drool more for now due to budget constraint..
  • I NEED DIS
  • Awesome stuff!
  • I'd love to have this to get my toddler son to chase after.
  • Roll to me!
  • Run to me, dude. You are cute and I want you!
  • It's a fun looking but expensive toy. I would love to win it! I wish BB-8 did more in the movie though. We will see more in the future though. I can feel it...
  • I got to play with this at work, would love to win one to play with at home!
  • BB8
  • Thanks for the opportunity to win AC. Keep up the good work.
  • This seems to be a promising toy. Would love to have one.
  • Looks cool! :D
  • Would be lots of fun for me and the kiddo to play with.  I see inventing games that combine this and the nerf guns ;)
  • Looks pretty neat... Would love this.
  • neat-o
  • Get me one!
  • Looks like a fun toy to me!
  • I MUST have this! WOuld be nice to win something for once in my life ;)
  • I bet my mom's dachshund puppy would love to chase BB-8 around!!!
  • Man I would love one
  • now i really want one
  • Such a cute thing!
  • This would be really cool to win, thank you!
  • Beep beep boo loo loo
  • I need it!
  • Sphero on steroids, BB-8, haha! hope to win one!
  • Nice
  • That's too cool! Would love one of these... :)
  • Sweet!
  • Would be awesome to have!
  • Contest Entry.
  • I want ittt so much!!!! #dream
  • After seeing the movie, I really want one now!
  • I have the Target one but it's kind of pokey and lame next to this guy. I need one of these!
  • The toy for the grown ups...I would love to own one and rule the world. May the force be with me and make me win the contest :D
  • beep beep beep
  • Nerf herders
  • I have wanted one for some time now. These little dudes are sweet!
  • Awesome. Need.
  • Awesome!
  • Ohhh! Looks like a blast! I want!
  • Do want. so badass.
  • BB-8 is awesome.
  • Looks like fun! BB-8 > R2D2
  • This would be a cool win, looks like so much fun
  • Looks like fun! I'll take it!
  • Looks fun would love to have this!
  • I'd love to play with this toy. I've seen the cheaper version on its not great.
  • Awesome! I'd love one!
  • This thing was a blast at Christmas! I wish BB8 would have come home with me and not my stepbrother.
  • Give it to me~~
  • I'd love to win one please !
  • Would love one...
  • Awesome. Would love to win!
  • HELLO ANDROID CENTRAL TEAM Star wars .... what is this? a new religion ? ... a healthy way to burn calories? .... the name for a third world war ? no. Two words, one world. Trillion of hearts burning and soaking in everlasting desires for a galaxy far far away .... *deep breath* My mom is from Tatooine and never had the chance to buy me a droid. I had to work hard during my teenager hood as a slave for couple bucks of bread while living in Jakku where Rey used to live before becoming a ... a.a. ..... u know ... uhn .... sorry ... I won't give you spoilers as you said .... but we were almost neighbors. I was then forced to live in Dagobah and to make this story short I came to earth and lived plenty of my time in Brazil killing moskitos and chupa-cabras to make a living. Then I was raised in Rio De Janeiro and exported to United States. As you see, my life has not been only roses. I came through many galaxies and suffering during the hunger ages. Everything that I ask is that you please, consider me for this chance to get a BB-8 droid for me so my family could be proud of me. I'm broke and need your help. May the force be with you ... Always
  • BB8 is my favorite!
  • We bought a sphero for my son at Christmas a couple of years ago. He had fun with it for a while. THIS looks amazing! If only the head had a camera in it. :D
  • give me bb8!
  • BB-8 really is one of my favorite new characters. Would like to have one of these.
  • Looks so cool! It's like one.
  • Hello
  • This is the droid I'm looking for
  • I would love one!
  • it's so cute! i would love one!
  • Need one BB-8!!!!
  • Winner winner chicken dinner! Posted from my LG V10
  • My 12 year old daughter would love this!
  • Please let me win this toy. Christmas day may be over, but this would still make a solid new year gift.
  • I always wanted to get one for my daugther. For me in this part of the world availability is an issue. Hopefully I can win one.
  • Sweet toy.
  • Awesome! Looks like a ton of fun!
  • Great review, thanks! I already wanted one, now I'm yearning)
  • Very, very cool!
  • nice.
  • I'd love to win one!
  • I would definitely like one, this is very cool!
  • These look awesome
  • Too good, really feel like I need one of these in my life. :)
  • Dude, love that little droid.
  • Would love to have one here to track and destroy the evil Storm Troopers...!
  • Is BB-8 hungry?
    .
    .
    .
    BB-8 already... :)