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Sphero Mini Review: Big entertainment, tiny package

The Sphero Mini is an app-controlled gadget that proves great fun in quick bursts, especially where pets, kids or boozy get-togethers are involved. Here’s what we think after far too much time spent testing this tricked-out toy.

Sphero is best known this year for producing complex robot toys, based on popular fictional characters such as Lightning McQueen, Star Wars' BB-8 and Spider-Man. Of course, while those gadgets are incredible fun and impressively interactive, they’re also quite pricey.

Well, if your bank doesn’t stretch that far, or you simply want something to drive your cat bonkers, the new Sphero Mini might be the one for you.

Sphero Mini review: Design

This dinky version of the original Sphero ball is adorable. From the outside, it’s a plastic sphere which lights up when active, flashing customisable colours as it rolls around the place. That rolling is provided courtesy of some tiny motors, which can get the Sphero Mini moving at quite an impressive pace in no time at all.

Thankfully the Mini is quite rugged, as you’ll be slamming it into walls over and over. Although the shell does occasionally pop off when the ball drops, we never saw any signs of damage when that happened. Just snap it all together again and you’re good to go.

Sphero Mini review: Setup and features

Setup is incredibly quick and simply. Just charge the device (pop the case open and plug in via micro USB for an hour or so), and while that’s happening, download the Sphero Mini app onto your iPhone or Android handset. Open the app, tap ‘connect a device’ and you’re ready to rock.

With that done, you’re free to steer your sphere around the place using your phone. There’s actually a choice of control methods, with the best being a simple on-screen touchpad. You can also tilt your phone or - bizarrely - use your face by pulling expressions at your handset’s selfie camera. That last one is hilarious when you’ve had a skinful, but otherwise pretty pointless.

The Mini reacts instantly to your input and skids nicely across most types of flooring, including wood and carpeted surfaces. If it smacks into something its alignment tends to get confused, so the ability to quickly readjust at any point is essential. Thankfully it’s just a case of tapping an on-screen button and rotating the Sphero Mini so the light dot is pointing your way, and you’re good to go.

Steering the little glowing ball about the place is strangely therapeutic. You get some cones and bowling pins included to set up your own little games or courses, with the option to buy extra accessories on top. It’s a great little time waster for sure, especially when you start doing drunken challenges with mates.

The Sphero Mini is also essential for any owners of cats, dogs and small children. My toddler and my cat were in constant battle to see who could pounce on the ball first, while I bounced it all over the lounge. Endless entertainment for all.

Spheri Mini review: Mini games

Randomly, you can also use the Sphero Mini as a kind of makeshift controller for three mini-games that are tucked away inside of the app. These include a tunnel-based racing title where you have to rotate the environment, a Breakout-style game where you need to clear all the blocks in colour sequence, and a good ol’ fashioned space blaster which is surprisingly addictive.

At first, these games seemed like a gimmicky add-on. However, the block breaking and space blaster titles are surprisingly addictive and - just as surprisingly - the Sphero works pretty well as a controller. It’s like a tiny joystick you can take on the road, well suited to simple games.

Sphero Mini review: Verdict

The Sphero Mini is a simple pleasure on the surface, but the real joy is coming up with new games, tricks and other uses for it. And with the ability to actually program the Sphero Mini to perform special actions using the Sphero Edu app, the possibilities for this device are only limited by your imagination. As a stocking filler this Christmas, you’ll struggle to find something that’s as much fun.

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