Sphero Mini is the best $50 you can spend on your kids this year

This past week, my life has been consumed by a particular game that has nothing to do with an erstwhile plumber with a magical hat.

No, the game is a ball, a literal ball, that moves with the help of some innovative tech and a very cool Android app. It's Sphero Mini, a pint-sized version of the popular Sphero robot that has been delighting people for years. At $50, it's less than half the price of the regular version, and while it doesn't have the same overall capabilities and battery life, I've found it to be just as enjoyable.

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What is it?

Sphero Mini is a small motorized sphere and uses magnets, sensors and a bunch of programmatic magic to respond to movement from a smartphone app. The Mini is considerably smaller than the mainline version, and as a result can zip through corners and under couches (and more easily annoy pets) than its larger counterpart ever could.

Who's it for?

Sphero Mini is aimed at kids, and that's reinforced by its cutesy packaging, neon color options (blue, orange, green, pink, and one) and straightforward charging options. That guidance also extends to the app, which in addition to controlling the little sphere with a virtual joystick also encourages kids (and kids at heart) to use facial expressions to move the ball up, down, left, and right.

What can you do with it?

Drive it! When I was young, I loved remote-control cars, and Sphero Mini is the next step in that gaming evolution. Instead of winding up a Matchbox Car and letting 'er rip, this little thing lets you ride around for around an hour on a full charge, doing tricks and smashing into things (or knocking down the small bowling pins that come in the box), which on their own is a lot of fun.

But there's also three games included in the app, allowing you to use the Sphero as a controller to accomplish tasks. It's fun and rewarding, and teaches kids that there can be a physical element to virtual play. The company promises more games in the near future, too, which is exciting.

I heard you can program with it, too

Yep! Sphero is interesting because it uses its robots to teach kids how to code using a simple-to-understand language and a familiar app-based interface.

Available through the Sphero Edu app, the idea is to help kids understand the basics of coding using macros and templates that make the Sphero perform tricks or recall an obstacle course.

It's the best $50 you can spend on your kids this year

I'm not going to lie — I've used the Sphero Mini a lot in recent weeks, but one of my favorite moments was giving it to my five-year-old niece and watching her go wild with it. From the ridiculous Face Drive feature (which isn't accurate but it's terribly fun) to the built-in games (with more to come) the Sphero Mini is great value.

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Daniel Bader

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central.