Following Force Friday 2017 we got our hands on Sphero’s brand-new app-enabled droids; one of Star Wars’ most beloved characters, R2-D2 and newcomer to the franchise BB-9E.
Here we unbox and test out the pair of them to see whether we’re won over by the Resistance’s loveable bucket of bolts or the First Order’s new metal.
Sphero’s original BB-8 served as the perfect way for the company to showcase its robotics prowess and its new partnership with Disney and The Force Awakens back in 2015, it also left fans wanting after more droids, chief amongst them being Artoo, to undergo the Sphero treatment.
Whilst it’s been a bit of a wait, thankfully the blue, white and silver ‘trash can’ has been rendered in impressive detail with Sphero’s 1:24 scale interpretation of the astromech droid hitting all the key beats you could hope for. The paintwork is clean and accurate and his domed silver head adopts a brushed finish that makes for an almost perfect reproduction of the real thing.
Unlike his well-worn existence in the current cinematic canon, having survived the Death Star trench run, the swamps of Dagobah and years lying dormant waiting for J.J. Abrams to further the plot, by comparison, Sphero's pint-sized version of the Artoo looks squeaky clean. That said, a skilled model painter could add the necessary weathering, scuffs and scrapes to better represent how he appears on the big screen (just like 2016's Force Band Edition BB-8).
Pair the 'bot to Sphero’s Star Wars connected droid app and, as with BB-8, you can manually control Artoo and muster a range of emotes, including some iconic bleeps and screams - many of which are paired to distinctive head-turns or waddles on his two protruding legs.
One particularly recognisable behaviour even has him emulate the short-circuit action we saw on the silver screen on more than one occasion that crescendos with a full-on face plant - one move we only recommend testing out on softer surfaces.
To really sell the legitimacy of this recreation, Sphero has also included multicoloured LED arrangements on the droid's head that again highlight the company's attention to detail concerning diffusion and colour, as well as a third retractable leg that pops out when you steer the droid or it decides it wants to rove around on its own.
An integrated speaker also places this creation apart from the rest of the Sphero crowd in that, as a result, Artoo is able to output his own signature sounds locally, rather than through the app and your smartphone’s speaker(s).
The app also includes a path mode, where you can trace a path for Artoo to follow, along with an AR (augmented reality) mode that has you control the droid from its perspective through a 3D environment on your smartphone, spouting facts about locations from within the Star Wars universe dotted around the space. As before, the ability to have one of Star Wars’ most iconic droid react to the feature-films as they watch along with you is also a novel extra that kids will undoubtedly love.
There’s a notable juxtaposition between Sphero’s newest Star Wars-related offerings. Whilst R2-D2 is one of the longest-standing staples of the franchise's universe, BB-9E is a comparative unknown; expected to make its on-screen debut in the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
A member of the First Order’s droid contingent, physically both in-universe and in reality, BB-9E resembles the far more adorable and approachable BB-8 that accompanied Poe Dameron in The Force Awakens and served as the most desirable connected toy at the tail end of 2015.
For the most part, its ball-based design echoes that of BB-8 almost exactly, save for a darker colour palette accented with silver and a new flatter head (which again attaches/detaches magnetically).
The only other big physical difference is that Sphero has not only used induction for charging the droid, but also for powering a pair of new red and blue LEDs that reside within BB-9E’s head.
In-box BB-9E also comes with what's called a droids trainer - a display plinth with a low-friction base that doubles as a way for the droid to roll around on the spot as you play with the app’s AR mode.
Aside from a red interface, some more sinister, less musical sounds and some slight interface variations, BB-9E is as easy to control and shares in much of the same functionality as BB-8 and R2-D2, all of which are supported by the same Sphero app. You can even have them connected simultaneously to interact with each other.
Even with its £179 price tag, Sphero’s new R2-D2 connected droid has already charmed us and could well build a reputation as BB-8 before, to become one of the most desirable Star Wars toys this Christmas for fans both young and old. The £149 BB-9E has more to prove, not only as it appears to be much the same as the company's original BB-8 robot, albeit with a new paint job but also as a result of its yet unannounced significance in the Star Wars movies.
Fans may fall in love with this new First Order bot if it serves as Kylo Ren’s, or perhaps Snoke’s right-hand droid, however, if it merely remains a background character in Episode VIII its popularity may instead be limited to only the most die-hard fans of both Star Wars and Sphero.
Watch Sphero's official announcement trailer for the new Star Wars connected droids below: