Sphero's BB-8 brought the magic of the movie to our living rooms. I don't know about you, but I thought it was impossible to produce a real world version of the computer generated character. Yet, there it was!
Unfortunately, it is hard to catch magic in a bottle twice.
This year's R2D2 from Sphero, though of high demand by Star Wars fans, is something of a disappointment. Yes, it has R2's working retractable third leg. Yes, it makes the requisite noises. Yes, it can even pull off R2's most demanding screen performance by pretending to be hit and literally falling over. Yes, it looks kind of like R2D2, maybe more than any toy before it.
Ok, ok. You don't care. You just think it is cute, takes up just amount the right of space on the shelf next to your Bounty Hunter helmet, and you want to know what it can do. Skip to the good parts.
The app starts with John William's theme and R2D2's unmistakable sounds! You can drive R2 like an RC vehicle using an app on the phone. He has a number of preprogrammed sounds and animated moves that are available at the press of a button. You can also draw a path on your phone and it will try to execute that in the room. You'll find this same feature in a toy car for preschoolers from Fisher Price this year, so forgive me if this didn't excite.
Theoretically, R2 can find its way around a room by itself in sentry mode. However, in my house it was just sad to watch. He'd get hung up in corners, and spent an awful lot of time just pushing against walls instead of find a new route. He also seems to move a bit too fast and his motors make too much noise to really make you think you're looking at R2.
There is a particularly strange play-mode where you can drive your droid on your phone through an outline only view of various Star Wars ships, and your robot will attempt to move in your space as if he was on board. It isn't exactly AR, because you're seeing through the droid's eyes as you look at the phone. How does moving your droid augment the experience, when you really are looking at the screen?
Finally, those of you without friends can watch Star Wars (and selected other films) with your droid. This sounds cool, particularly since you can link it up with your other Star Wars toys from Sphero and have a robotic party like Mystery Science Theater. Unfortunately, since the app relies on cues from the soundtrack, it doesn't work with all formats of the movie. I was told it works best with DVDs, but that is so '90's, no? It barely worked with my downloaded copy, triggering a reponse only a few times, and not in the attack on the Death Star or when R2D2 gets hit while looking for ObiWan.
I think you'll be disappointed for what nearly $200 gets you (note, the price has come down to $169.99 on Amazon as of this writing).
First, it is small. How small? Well, I'm pretty sure it has less volume than those teeny droids that whipped around the Death Star's hallways. It just doesn't quite "feel" right. Now, here we may be in the "uncanny valley" of the robot world. According to Wikipedia, "The concept of the uncanny valley suggests that humanoid objects which appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit uncanny, or strangely familiar, feelings of eeriness and revulsion in observers." Who knew it could apply to robots! But, truly, R2D2 is as much of a "real" character as many portrayed by people, and this little miniature gets so close to the real thing that where it deviates it magnifies its flaws.
It isn't just the size. It is missing certain features that probably should have been included at this price: No antenna, no probe, for starters. Also, and perhaps more important, no programability. The Sphero's had the ability to be programmed. There is no mention of this ability here.
I know. You don't care. You just want it. Get it: R2D2 is a guilty pleasure.