Finally, the droid you’ve been looking for. BB-8 is the new droid featured in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The droid made its debut in the 2014 teaser trailer and has since then garnered a wave of fans across the Interwebs. Now thanks to toy startup Sphero, you can take home a miniaturized version of the beloved droid.
Unlike most Star Wars toys out there, Sphero BB-8 actually feels alive and reminiscent of its movie prop version. One of the main reasons being is that Sphero actually helped Disney develop the BB-8 prop seen in the film. The Colorado-based startup, which has been quite popular among early adopters in the tech sphere, was actually funded by Disney’s accelerator program.
Sphero is a master of product packaging. BB-8 is no exception, and in fact, it’s probably my favorite product wrap out of the whole Sphero family (Ollie included). The box itself is themed with Star Wars all over. Colors, fonts, textures, and even word choice ooze the lore of the galaxy we know and love.
Opening up the box reveals a tight foam mold that encases the BB-8 sphere and head. An instruction manual and USB charger also await inside. Overall, it’s a well-designed package that delivers a superb first impression of BB-8, and I don’t think I’ll be trashing this box anytime soon.
BB-8 is similar to the rest of the Sphero lineup for the most part. It’s main spherical shell houses all of the electronics and it has a companion app that acts as the controller. The only differences between BB-8 and previous Sphero robots are the glossy paint job, internal magnets, and the magnetized plastic head. The plastic head has no tech whatsoever on the inside. It’s just a hollow piece of plastic with a pair of rollers to glide across the main sphere as it rolls around. It’s magnetized, but it’ll still fall off should BB-8 bump into anything.
As for quality goes, BB-8 is a top-notch droid. The parts are made from a durable polycarbonate plastic that’s smooth yet surprisingly scratch-resistant. I’ve had BB-8 roll around on stone, tile, and hardwood, and I have yet to see any sort of scratch on its body.
Being a completely watertight shell (though I don’t recommend placing BB-8 in water), Sphero has kept it simple with a wireless induction charging system. BB-8 features an induction receiver while its charging cradle is the power transmitter. In simple terms, you place BB-8 on top of its charger, and it charges wirelessly.
BB-8 is personified through the advanced technology that it’s made of. The companion app, even though it’s just software, makes up half of the droid itself. Once powered on, BB-8 does a little spin around as if its observing its environment. Connecting to the app is the next step, but that just requires turning on Bluetooth and placing your phone next to BB-8. The app then launches a barrage of Star Wars: theme song, logo, colors, visual effects, and even subtle sound effects.
BB-8 provides you with four different options for play. Manual touch controls, voice commands, patrol mode, and “holographic” messages.
Manual touch controls are simple for the most part, but that’s after you taken BB-8 for an initial spin. The app’s touch controls allow you orient BB-8 in any direction and drive it up to speeds of 4.5 miles an hour. If you’ve never driven a Sphero toy before, it’ll take about 5 minutes getting used to.
There’s a set of basic voice commands that BB-8 will recognize. Say things like “move forward,” “it’s a trap,” or “run away” and BB-8 will respond accordingly. The voice commands are picked up most of the time, but it’s better if you speak a little louder than usual.
Patrol mode is where BB-8 wonders around on its own, bumping into objects and occasionally making a cute sound effect. I’ve got to say it’s my favorite mode out of all the three; just watching BB-8 roam around and explore is pretty fun to watch.
Sphero has thrown in a novelty feature reminiscent of R2D2’s holographic messaging technology. Through the app and with a little help of augmented reality, BB-8 can display video messages. It’s not actually BB-8 displaying the messages, but rather your phone displaying the video as you point the front-facing camera at BB-8. Here’s a screenshot I took to better explain this feature.
Holographic messages is a quirky feature that’s fun the first time but not the second.
Playtime’s over after about an hour’s worth of use, but the included charging dock can recharge BB-8 in just three hours. However, by the time you’re done playing with BB-8, you’re likely to notice how much battery your smartphone has lost. The BB-8 app is pretty heavy on battery consumption, so you may want to keep your phone plugged in while driving BB-8 around.
BB-8 is offering something new for Star Wars toys (and merchandise in general). It’s an intelligent, friendly device that can interact with its fans, and this is something rare for your average Star Wars collectible. Rather than collecting dust and being forgotten about, BB-8 is a premium product that can be praised as the ultimate Star Wars toy in the galaxy. At least for a long time.