Sphero Bolt Rolling Robot Review
A few months ago, my wife and I purchased the Sphero Mini kit for our kids to stimulate their brains during the summer months. And it was a pretty big hit! The kids enjoyed controlling the robot like a remote control car with my cell phone, playing a few games on the Sphero play application. Logan took it a step farther, and began dabbling in the Sphero EDU application, which allows kids (or adults really!) to program the robot to do specific things. With the Mini, those options are somewhat limited, but the Sphero Bolt – the topic of this review – has way more options, and Logan took advantage of them all!
The Sphero Bolt might only look like a larger version of the Sphero Mini – think a golf ball compared to a baseball here – but that Bolt comes with more options, most notably the 8×8 LED screen that can be programed to show any number of graphics, colours, and more. The Bolt also features a waterproof shell, and is transparent like the Mini so that kids can see the inner workings of the robot! But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s see what comes in the box!
Unboxing the Sphero Bolt
Although the Sphero Bolt is a pricey robot / toy, Sphero at least makes you feel the price you paid was justified. Even before getting the device onto the table, opening the box made me feel like I had just purchased a premium product, and that’s huge. So often, expensive products get put into shoddy packaging, but that isn’t the case here. Instead, when you open the box you’ll be presented with the robot and dock nestled nicely in a cardboard holder. The package also include a micro-USB cable for plugging the dock into a computer or USB outlet, stickers, and a guide. As we mentioned with the Mini, it is disappointing to not see USB-C being used, but it is a minor gripe.
There is so much going on with the Bolt, some of which I don’t even understand. The device can detect light, has an infrared scanner, and so much more. The Bolt can even connect to other Bolt devices, which can take the programing ideas in anyone’s head to brand new heights. The Bolt is almost limitless, and I don’t say that to throw in a catchy slogan, but because it’s really true!
The battery life on the Bolt is actually better than previous Sphero models, getting at least 2 hours of actual run time, not including the time you spend programing. There is one drawback to the lengthy play time, however. A longer playtime also means a longer charging time, nearly 6 hours to get the device from dead to fully charged. That length of time is not really an issue, although you will have disappointed kids if you forget to place it on the charger each night! I dealt with some anger on multiple occasions because of this!
The device itself, however, is incredibly durable. While not on purpose, our Bolt has fallen more than a few times from the desk to the carpet, and it is as good as it ever was, minus a few scratches on the ball itself. Everything internally is working as it should. While I grimaced early on each time the robot fell, I’ve come to expect it to happen from time-to-time, and understand it’s likely not doing any major damage.
— Adam Roffel (@AdamRoffel) August 10, 2021
I won’t go too in depth about the Sphero Play App and how it connects with the Bolt. Many of the same mini games and features from the Mini are once again available here, but my guess is most folks are not buying the Bolt to play the mini games built into the app, but rather to use the EDU application to do their own coding.
Controlling the Bolt via the EDU app (either desktop or mobile) can be done in three different ways, based on the users past coding experience, or their age. There is the simple draw method, where you can draw the path you wish the Bolt to follow. Then there is the drag and drop buttons coding method, which is outstanding on mobile and great for all ages. Users can simply drag and drop various commands, and the robot will perform those commands, one after another. You might decide to drive forward a few feet, change the logo on the screen, drive left, change the speed, and so much more just by using drag and drop commands. This is primarily how we used the device.
Ease of Use
While there are options for all ages, outside of drawing a path for your ball, programing the Bolt does take time and patience. If you are expecting to code amazing tricks, games, and more within the first few hours of owning the device, I’m sad to say you will be mistaken. This takes time. You need to learn the device, learn what you can do, learn how to change LEDs, learn how to incorporate sounds via the app, and so much more. But Logan took the ball once I opened it up, and disappeared in his room for hours.
Without any guidance from myself, Logan – 11 years old – had his first little program done within a few hours. He created an animation that recreated the famous game called Brick Breaker. The robot would maneuver itself in a small area moving from the bottom of the “screen” to the top of the “screen”, and each time taking bricks out of the wall. As the Bolt moved to the top, the animation on the device would change as another brick was eliminated. While he wasn’t able to figure out how to make it an actual game – as this was just a predetermined simulation – I was really impressed with how quickly he was able to create this few minute demo of the product using the drag and drop coding method.
Is it Worth It?
The Sphero Bolt is not a cheap toy, but there are tons of possibilities and hundreds of hours of enjoyment for those that want to put in the time and effort. We received this about 40 days ago, and can tell you that it has seen significant use almost daily, outside of the two weeks we went on vacation. Some days, Logan dives deep into the interworking’s of the device to see what he can make it do, while on other days he just plays around in the Play App, which is OK too. Either way, the steep price is well worth the product you receive, and will have your kids engaging with STEM concepts quickly and often. Educational, yes. Fun, yes. The perfect ‘pet’ for your kids, you could say!