Sphero’s BB-8 toy was arguably the best thing to come out of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so it’s hardly a surprise that the upcoming The Last Jedi would prompt the arrival of another app-enabled toy.
Luckily for us, Sphero has been extra busy since 2015, and this year it’s launching two new droids: R2-D2 and BB-9E, along with a refreshed version of BB-8 that boasts all of the new features. We’ve seen the new droids in action, and here’s what you can expect from your new favourite toys.
Price and availability
First up, both the new droids are releasing to coincide with this year’s Force Friday: 1 September. For those who don’t know, that’s basically a day dedicated to Star Wars news and merchandise, with just about every major product tied to The Last Jedi hitting the market simultaneously.
Sphero is leading the way with its new app-enabled R2-D2, which you’ll be able to grab for £179.99/$233.99 when it launches on Force Friday.
The sinister BB-9E runs a little cheaper at £149.99/$149.99, and you can grab the updated BB-8 for the same price.
If you don’t want to spend that much – or are happy with a slightly older model – you can still grab the original Sphero BB-8 for just £99.99 from Amazon UK, or a version with the motion control Force Band for £149.93, also from Amazon.
Sphero R2-D2 and BB-9E
So, what do you get for your money? If you’ve seen the Sphero BB-8 in action, or the company’s Cars 3 tie-in Lightning McQueen, you’ll know roughly what to expect: a remote control toy you control with your smartphone or tablet, complete with sound effects, lights, animations, and mini-games.
Sphero isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel (or spherical robot toy) with its latest versions, but there are a few new things to look out for. First up, R2-D2: Sphero’s long-awaited take on Star Wars’s most famous droid is enough to get excited about in its own right.
Standing almost twice as tall as his BB counterparts, Artoo has a little bit more to him. For one there’s his legs. That might sound like a boring place to start, but this toy has a feature that might be entirely new to R2 toys: an automatic retractable third leg, allowing him to switch quickly between bipod and tripod modes depending on whether he’s standing or moving, or which animations are being used.
As for movement, instead of wheels R2 moves around on a pair of tiny treadmill tracks, which means he should handle carpets just as easily as smooth surfaces. We saw him trundle happily across an office carpet, though we suspect he may have a slightly tougher time on thicker carpets and rugs but that’s to be expected.
He’s packed with LEDs, including colour-changing front and rear lights, multiple intricate logic display panels, and even a little LED to represent his holographic projector – though sadly he can’t actually project anything.
The animations packed in are suitably characterful, and include recreations of specific moments from the films – even including the ability to fall flat on his face. Each animation is paired with sounds taken directly from the films – with help from Lucasfilm – and played through an integrated speaker, so the sounds come out of R2 himself, and not your phone.
R2 charges by Micro-USB cable, with a fairly discreet slot on the back of his body, and should get about an hour of active use from a single charge.
You might not recognise BB-9E at first, but don’t worry – he’ll probably be everywhere soon enough. This little guy is the evil First Order take on BB-8 – and a droid that’s entirely new to this year’s The Last Jedi movie.
Beyond the spiffy black and grey paint job, BB-9E is mostly familiar, with remote control driving, a patrol mode, and a series of little animations with linked side effects. Bear in mind that, like BB-8 before him but unlike R2, there’s no speaker here, so the sound effects actually come out of your phone or tablet.
The main change from BB-8 is his head, which is a little flatter than his white-and-orange counterpart’s, and packs a few LEDs. The head draws power inductively from the main body, so doesn’t need to be charged separately, while the whole unit is charged wirelessly from a charging base.
The flagship new feature for BB-9E is built around its new accessory: the Droid Trainer. This compact base includes a small indent for BB-9E to sit on, and essentially serves as a treadmill, allowing the little guy to roll and roll as much as he wants without ever actually moving.
That’s for the new AR games included in the app, which give each droid in the range a specific set of environments to explore: BB-8 gets a Resistance cruiser, R2 gets the Millennium Falcon and Obi-Wan’s house, and BB-9E can cruise around a new First Order Mega Star Destroyer.
Right now, it’s pretty bare bones – you explore an AR spaceship and find little bits of Star Wars trivia along the way, though some fans will definitely enjoy digging through those tidbits. We’re hoping for more AR content to appear down the line though, as Sphero is usually pretty good about keeping its products updated. It’d also be great to see some AR content that gives the droids themselves a bit more to do beyond spinning around on a base.
You can stick a BB-8 on the same Droid Trainer base to enjoy the new AR features, or pick up one of the new BB-8 models which comes with the Droid Trainer included. R2 doesn’t need the base – he can explore the AR world on his own without moving around.
All three droids also boast another new featured: an enhanced radio system which means they’ll react both to your presence and to each other’s, with BB-8 and R2 getting worried when BB-9E is about, and that sort of thing.
Those interactions also play into the ‘Watch with Me’ mode – sit down to watch a film using the app, and all three droids will react both to the film and each other. At launch there’s support for The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and A New Hope, but Sphero say they’re expecting to add support for every film so far by the time The Last Jedi is released in December.
That’s part of a general wave of quality of life updates existing Sphero users can look forward to. The Drive Pad has been tweaked to use the entire left side of the screen rather than a specific spot, making it less fiddly; Draw and Drive mode has been tweaked; all three droids can now Patrol simultaneously; you can trigger animations while driving; and a range of new animations have been added in.
Support for the Force Band is also on the way for both of the new droids, and you can buy that separately or with an older BB-8. That lets you control your droid with a literal flick of the wrist, or use the Band separately for its own mini-games – all included within the same main Sphero Star Wars app.
The result? These are probably the best Sphero bots yet. If you haven’t got one already, the new and updated BB droids are a great reason to jump in, and if you aren’t tripping over yourself trying to get that remote control R2, then we just don’t know what to say to you.