Review: Sphero Battle-Worn BB-8 with Force Band

Never mind Kylo Ren. The Force Awakens‘ most precocious character was BB-8, the globular droid that rolled across the deserts of Jakku and straight into our hearts.

Now he can roll across your living room, and with Sphero’s new Force Band accessory, you can control the bot with a flick of the wrist.

Photos are deceiving, so if you aren’t already familiar with Sphero’s earlier BB-8 robot make sure you realize that it’s decidedly tiny, a mere four inches in height. A new “Battle Worn” version of the first-gen robot offers some cosmetic upgrades (we told you about it a couple of months ago when it was announced). It can be purchased only as a $200 bundle along with Sphero’s new Force Band controller. The Force Band can also be bought separately for $80. It works with either version of the robot.

WIRED

The Force Band is a Bluetooth system that pairs directly with the robot and works with a smartphone app (you’ll need to install it for basic training and to download firmware and audio updates, of which there are many). Strap the band to your wrist and you’re underway. A classic “Force push” sends BB-8 rolling forward. Rotating your wrist aims him, and so on. The first time you nail it, the Force Band erupting with zoom zoom Star Wars noises, is a giddy moment you can only experience once in your life.

Like the BB-8 itself, a USB-powered charge is good for about an hour of playtime, which is more than enough time to last until you get bored. And if rolling around your house gets tiresome, the Force Band has other simple mini-games included, namely a Pokemon Go-like system where you use the Force (i.e. vibration) to locate various Star Wars artifacts, building a virtual collection through the app. As well, if you run out of juice or patience, the BB-8 can still be controlled directly via a (separate) smartphone app that features much more granular control and many extra commands.

TIRED

The big problem here is that the Force Band is arguably more difficult to master than the Force itself. Even after hours of tutorials and practice, BB-8 was still running uncontrollably under bookcases and crashing into walls and for the life of me I still can’t seem to get him to roll in reverse. The most annoying issue with this is that BB-8’s magnetically-attached head frustratingly flies off after even a modest impact. Sphero has surely been quietly cursing J.J. Abrams for this delightfully impractical design decision, profits be damned.

But here’s the thing: The Force Band may be incredibly hard to use, but kids don’t seem to care! My son can still barely get BB-8 to roll more than 10 feet without crashing, so I showed him that he could use the phone instead and have near-perfect control over the droid. He simply wasn’t interested. “I still think the Force Band is cooler,” he says.

He’s not wrong.

RATING

7/10 – Very good, but not quite great.