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Sphero's BB-8 tackles sand, cats, and dogs in our review

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BB-8 by Sphero is the droid every iPhone and iPad owner has been looking for.

BB-8 is on sale (opens in new tab), the teaser trailer for Rogue One is out, and The Force Awakens is available on iTunes (opens in new tab): 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.

Patrol time

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.

Drive mode

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 (opens in new tab) 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.

The downside

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.

Bottom line

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 (opens in new tab)

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.

35 Comments
  • Looks like a lot of fun!
  • I actually saw this a few hours ago. I'm all tingly inside. Posted via a touchscreen, excuse the typoos. Sent from the iMore App
  • I want one. This is the droid I was looking for.
  • is you live in the US, target has a special edition of this toy on sale for $80
  • They do, but it isn't the Sphero BB-8. Not an app controlled one or anything.
  • Yep. Sadly, this one is just an RC bot. It is larger with embedded sounds, though!
  • I don't see your video. Sent from the iMore App
  • Embedded at the top of the article! You can also find it on iMore's YouTube channel.
  • now I really want one...
  • Thanks for the review! Sounds like I don't want one (yet).
  • I really want one, but the price is a bit steep. I get why and all, but with the iPhone 6s Plus around the corner I'll have to take my chances and wait.
  • Shame how it doesn't support any of the regular sphero app despite looking like it's essentially a regular sphero with a special shell, the head, and special app. They've said support might come but only if Disney/Lucas allows it.
  • What are some of the missing features?
  • I don't see an embed or link for video. Sent from the iMore App
  • Great review, looking forward to getting my own BB-8!
  • I'd pay $500 dollars for one that had a working camera, sounds, a two way microphone, and better battery life. It could be my home sentry robot.
  • just bought one on line privately and I'm charging it now. checking out the tutorials and video's on it. Looks like fun. Don't think my 2 American bull dogs will give it a second look.......we'll see. I'll update after I play with it for a day or so. BTW I paid $135. for it
  • Cool beans! This little guy would be a load if fun!
  • Great review, awesome droid
  • My daughter loves BB-8! Looks like a lot of fun!
  • Is the force hiding under my tree?
  • Such a fun, quirky little toy.
  • Awesome little toy. Would love one of these! Thanks for the review.
  • This cool toy would be awesome to try out.
  • Oh, man! This would be so amazing to win! I've been wanting this Sphero BB-8 since it came out but haven't had the funds. Winning this would make me and my brothers extremely happy.
  • This droid is very cool, want one.
  • This is the droid I am looking for!
  • Sphero on steroids, BB-8, haha! hope to win one!
  • I want one!!!!! He makes my heart melt!!!!
  • Very cute!
  • It looks like a lot of fun. So cute!
  • Awesome.
  • OK, sure looks like fun, for sure!
  • I love that this guy came from J.J. Abrams' simple sketch, and is already as memorable as R2-D2!
  • It still is a great collectable. I wished I had gotten Robby the Robot, or Gort in the day. They are a pretty penny now if you can find them. I did get K-9 from lost in space. Now I wish I had the old Tupperware planters to make Crow from MST. Tom servo is easy to make. I am a Robot nut Sent from the iMore App