The Sphero is about the size of a billiard ball, but much lighter. It's covered with an opaque, high-impact polycarbonate and it's waterproof. It charges via induction, which is cool in itself, and it glows in an endless range of programmable colours. It connects with your mobile device (iOs or Android) via Bluetooth and there are several different ways to play with it.
First things first - the set up. The Sphero was (theoretically) super easy to get started with. I just plugged Sphero's base into the wall and set the ball in the base. I followed the directions and let it charge for three hours before interacting with it. But this is where I ran into a tiny bit of trouble. My Sphero wasn't actually charging - I never got the solid blue light.
The in-package directions didn't really cover this, so I hopped over to the Sphero help website. Their online help was actually quite helpful. I figure out how to determine where the charging part of the Sphero actually was (vs where it LOOKED like it was from the sticker). So, I tried for another three hours and .. success! At about the three hour mark, Sphero stopped blinking and stayed a solid blue; it was ready to go. The charge lasts for about an hour of play.
Once it was fully charged, I shook the Sphero to activate it and then paired it with my iPhone 5 using the Sphero app. Very painless. Controlling the Sphero took a little getting used to, but the controls were fairly responsive and before too long, I had it zipping up and down the hallway. They say the range is about 50ft - it certainly never went out of range while in the house, but I didn't test it outside.
There are many free Sphero apps in the iTunes store to get you started (for you Android folks - Sphero works on those devices as well, don't fret!): I had fun playing the Sphero Chromo game, using the Sphero as a controller, and messing around with colours and patterns in Sphero Macrolab. The Sphero Draw N' Drive app was also pretty amusing. I was really keen on the Sharky app. It uses augmented reality to have the Sphero appear as a gopher-like creature on your iPad, but there was some hand-eye coordination lacking on my part :) Oh, I didn't try this one, but there is a new AR app for Sphero - The Rolling Dead. Yup, you guessed it, zombies.
There are several other free and paid apps, including Sphero Pet, for those of you wanting to create the ultimate pet toy. Sadly, our elderly dog, Emmy Lou, didn't go for it - but she's surprisingly unenthusiastic about toys (Yes, yes .. I see that on the floor. You want me to what? Chase it? Denied.) But I imagine most toy-loving pets would go nuts for it.
Ultimately, I think the Sphero would be great for folks with kids, folks with fun-loving pets and developer/programmer types who like to create their own games. For me, it was a fun distraction but not something I would spend hours on end interacting with. Still, the Sphero offers nearly endless gaming possibilities, between the growing list of free and paid apps available or your own programming ingenuity. I'll be interested to see where the developers take it next.
You can get the Sphero at several online retailers in the US, Canada and around the world. It retails for around $129 Cdn (make sure you check around for the best price).
Photo Credits: I was super lazy and took none of my own photos or screenshots. This is where they are from: