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Sphero Mini could be the greatest $50 cat toy of all time

Looks like a ping-pong ball, rolls like BB-8.

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Scott Stein
Scott_Stein.jpg

Scott Stein

Editor at Large

I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets.

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2 min read

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Before Sphero branched out into making Star Wars toys and anthropomorphic cars, it was known for its rolling robot balls.

The company's best-known product, the original 2011 Sphero, has since gone through a bunch of permutations and updates, but its $99 price tag always felt a bit too rich. And that's exactly why the new Sphero Mini looks like a winner. It's far smaller and half the price: just $50 (£50, $AU80).

Sphero Mini

Sphero Mini is very small.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's also adorable.

I've had a chance to play with the Mini and a prerelease version of Sphero's new app for iOS. The app focuses on a few basic remote-control play modes: touch, tilt, slingshot mode, and a bizarre face-controlled mode that requires smiles, frowns and head-tilts to move. I had more success with my smiles. I drove Sphero Mini off the table lots of times, and it seemed to survive. It's not as durable as the larger Sphero, but it should handle basic falls from normal tabletop distances. Its shell may or may not pop off.

Sphero Mini

Sphero Mini next to the larger Sphero.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sphero Mini isn't waterproof like the larger Sphero, and doesn't have inductive charging. You have to pop open the plastic shell and plug the inner motor in via Micro-USB. Sphero sells extra shell designs for $12 each. Some look like pool balls. A golf ball might be in the works.

Its accelerometer and gyro work like the larger Sphero, however, so it can move similarly. I was also able to pick it up and use it as a motion game controller for a few fun little arcade games in the Sphero Mini app -- kind of like a handheld trackball.

Sphero Mini

Bowling with Sphero.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Sphero Mini will work with Sphero's EDU app for programming via an early October update, so it could also be a cheap way to explore some programming fun. But Sphero needs an iOS or Android device to control it, and it lasts 45 minutes to an hour on a charge. That's pretty good for something this small, and far better than nearly every drone we've ever tested.

My kids would love this. And if I had a cat, it would love it even more.

Sphero Mini

I'm trying to drive with my face.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Key specs:

  • Looks like a possessed ping-pong ball
  • Glowing colored lights
  • Works with Sphero EDU programming app
  • Remote control needs iOS or Android device
  • Changeable shells
  • Comes with mini bowling pins and cones for games and obstacle courses
  • Available now for $50 (£50, $AU80)