Sony Rolly: Really expensive cat toy?

It's an MP3 player. No wait...it's a speaker. Is it a robotic dancing egg? Actually, the Sony Rolly is all of those things. But mostly, it's just a pricey musical toy for gadget heads who have everything--including some cash to burn.

The Rolly comes in black, too. Click the picture to see more. Sony

At this point, the Sony Rolly has been pretty much done to death around here. Murmurings about the music device started surfacing as early as August of last year , and then it finally visited the U.S. during CES 2008. But it wasn't until last month that the Rolly actually went on sale in the States, which means we only just got our hands on the thing. I know: you're so over it already, but if you're curious about what the "music egg robot thing" is like in person, read on.

Oh, where to begin. I won't deny that the Sony Rolly is pretty amusing--I couldn't stop giggling the first time I saw it in action in front of me. It's cute. It's fun. It's unique and different. It's also a glorified MP3 player that'll set you back a startling $399. Clearly, this device is not for everyone. So who is it for? Well, my cat seemed a little bit interested at first, but she ultimately decided the Rolly packaging and the video camera were much more exciting. And I love my cat and all, but a four hundred dollar toy is just a bit excessive. Really, the Rolly is for the gadget head that has everything and some cash to burn. Also, it wouldn't hurt to have an interest in robot choreography.

At its core, the Rolly is simply an MP3 player with 2GB of internal memory and MP3 and AAC audio playback. It's portable, but this is not a device you're going to be carrying around in your pocket: it weighs over 11 ounces and features the girth and shape of an oversized plastic Easter egg. The rated battery life of five hours is also substandard for a typical MP3 player. Plus, there's no headphone jack anyway, just two flap-covered speakers built into each end of the egg.

But the Rolly is not simply a portable speaker with an integrated music player--it's a party machine...and it likes to dance. It accomplishes this with a variety of characteristics. First are the two wheels that surround the body and allow the unit to roll around as well as wiggle and spin. Next to each wheel is an LED capable of displaying 700 shades of colors (best viewed in the dark). Then, there are the end flaps that are built on two rotating hinges. The flaps act a lot like hands and offer the most personality. (One fluttering motion is distinctly "jazz hands".) The Rolly can dance to any song loaded on the device based on song analysis, but this is a little underwhelming. By far the best and most amusing dances are those that are choreographed, and the unit comes with a few preloaded. You can also choreograph any of your songs using the included software, and you can share the motion files with others, who can then pair them to the specific songs for which they are made.

Rolly enjoys music with beats, jazz hands, and long spins in the dark. CNET Networks/Corinne Schulze

As far as usability goes, the Rolly is unsurprisingly atypical. The controls consist of the two wheels mentioned above, a power/Bluetooth switch, and a play button on the top of the device. Once the device is on, you click play once to simply listen to music or twice quickly to activate the motion along with the audio playback. The wheels work differently depending on whether the Rolly is resting horizontally on a surface or held vertically in your hand (it utilizes Sony's G-Sensor technology to sense positioning). While it's on a surface, a quick roll forward or backward skips through tracks while a longer roll shuttles through folders. Folders can be designate in Windows Explorer, or if you use a program such as Rhapsody, they are automatically created by artist. When you're holding the Rolly, the top ring skips tracks and folders while the bottom adjusts volume.

Finally, there's the matter of sound quality, an important consideration in any music device. The Rolly is a reasonable performer in this regard, though I have been thus far underwhelmed by the bass response. The built-in soft dome speakers feature neodymium magnets and this combined with the speaker flaps directs sound and conveys the shape of the sound by reflecting it from surfaces. Overall, music sounds pretty good but not great; the Rolly suffers like many other speakers of this size from shallow sounding audio. But then how many portable speaker/MP3 player/robotic eggs dance to your music?

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