BB-8 by Sphero is the droid every iPhone and iPad owner has been looking for.
BB-8 is on sale, the teaser trailer for Rogue One is out, and The Force Awakens is available on iTunes: What better time to revisit our review of everyone's favorite little ball droid, BB-8? It's "the closest thing to a droid companion Serenity has wanted since she was six." Does it hold up to its promise? READ (or watch) ON.
The droid deets
BB-8 is, of course, the leading droid in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And thanks to iOS robotics company Sphero, you can have your very own miniature BB-8 rolling around your home. Sphero's BB-8 is about the size and heft of a softball, sporting a magnetized truffle-sized head. Like the Apple Watch, BB-8 uses inductive charging on a smart little stand that doubles as a nice little display for the droid when he's not on patrol.
You may think I'm joking about "patrol", but no: Activate Patrol mode on the companion app, and BB-8 can explore all on his lonesome—no manual joystick controls required. I set him exploring the basement, where he awoke to find a most fiercesome creature. (You can see all the fun between cat and droid in the video up above.)
I really enjoyed watching BB-8 drive around on patrol, in part for all the walls, feet, guitars, and tripods he accidentally smashed into while mapping his terrain. The droid has no internal sensors letting him know where edges and walls are, so he has to figure it out by feel alone—and that means smashing into a lot of objects.
Those objects get represented as tiny Stormtrooper heads in a digital "terrain" map that BB-8 makes while out on patrol. I'm not sure if those maps get saved as individual locations for BB-8 to refer back to—he doesn't seem any smarter about my office than when he first rolled around, though he does continue to prefer under the couch as a hiding place when he smashes into something.
BB-8 will lose his tiny little head when he goes too fast into an object: The magnets are strong with this one, but he is not a Jedi yet. Thankfully, it's an easy task to pop his head back on his body.
You can also, of course, drive BB-8 manually, using a circular digital joystick. Driving a sphere is a little odd at first, but BB-8 has a helpful blue taillight to help you orient which side of his little robotic body is "up". In Drive mode, you can even prompt BB-8 to react with yes or no responses, joy, fear, circular and square patrols, and more.
It's in Drive mode where you can trigger BB-8's (admittedly rudimentary) voice commands, too: Say "Hey BB-8" to get the droid's attention before giving it any number of commands—"It's a trap!" being my favorite.
I drove over a variety of surfaces, including carpet, all of which were functional enough; I will say, though, that smooth, flat surfaces seem to work best for BB-8. The only indoor surface where he failed entirely was my couch, with its various divots and creases. Everywhere else, he blipped along like a little speed demon.
Watch with Me
If you happen to own a copy of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on DVD, Blu-Ray, iTunes, or your other format of choice, you can plop BB-8 in his charging stand and open the BB-8 app to have your droid watch — and react! — along with the film. If you enable "pop-ups," BB-8 will occasionally fill your iPhone's screen with information about new characters, or warnings about nefarious First Order troops about to storm the screen. (He's very thoughtful that way.)
As with the rest of the droid's features, this requires you to have Sphero's app on during the entirety of the film, both so BB-8 can "hear" what's going on and react accordingly: You're going to want your iPhone plugged in if you don't want a massive battery drain. And make sure you have your sound enabled on your iPhone, or you won't hear any of BB-8's commentary.
This droid is probably my all-time favorite Star Wars toy I've ever owned. (Sorry, numerous R2D2 items in my office, but you aren't actual robots.) That said, even with this distinction, BB-8 isn't without a few flaws.
1: BB-8 gets dirty, quick.
Yep, his little robotic head may connect to his body with magnets, but it also uses little wheels to move around his body—wheels that very, very quickly get clogged up with dirt, hair, and all sorts of unpleasantness.
2: Don't go chasing sand dunes
Your first thought upon getting BB-8 might be "Let's reenact the Force Awakens trailer!" Sadly, while Sphero's little droid is waterproof, it doesn't do so well with dirt and sand—it frequently got stuck in divots and grass patches in my backyard, to the amusement of one of my dogs.
3: The app does the heavy lifting
BB-8 has a battery life of about an hour; to keep the fun going for a maximum amount of time, Sphero understandably had to move some features from the robot itself to the iOS app. BB-8's sounds and "holographic videos" all come from the device you're controlling it with, and you can't get any cute little interactions unless you have the app running in the foreground. It's a bit of a bummer—I was kind of hoping that while in the charging cradle, BB-8 would make occasional beeps and boops as I was working. I'm also sad that the microphone for listening is via the iPhone, not BB-8 himself: It prevents you from giving BB-8 any voice commands unless you're actively running the app.
Those nitpicks aside, BB-8 is still the closest thing we've gotten to having a droid companion in our homes—he's adorable, shed-free, and oozes of personality. You can currently find him in half a dozen major outlets online (including Sphero's own store and Amazon) and in person, though I'd hurry: droids this cute don't last long on store shelves.
- Sphero BB-8 - $129.99 - Order now
Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.