Two apps use augmented reality. The better of the two, The Rolling Dead, has you roll your Sphero into pretend zombies that sprout up from your floor and lurch across your phone's screen. And the less-cool-but-still-cute Sharkey the Beaver transforms your Sphero into a cartoon critter that roams around gobbling coins and cake. Other games have you hold the Sphero and use it as a 3D controller, as in the clever and addictive Sphero Exile, in which you twist and turn the Sphero to control your fighter pilot in a top-down shooter. The less-compelling Disc Groove for Sphero has you spinning the titular disc to avoid collision with musical meteors.
Kids can even learn about programming: Sphero Macrolab lets you assemble sequences of predefined macros for Sphero to execute, and orbBasic lets you program behaviors for Sphero using the BASIC language they used to teach kids in the 1970s and '80s.
Many of these add-on Sphero apps are fun at first but gradually lose their novelty. Still, most of them are free, and even if you only latch on to one or two--Sphero Golf being the most worthwhile--you'll get a lot more playtime out of your Sphero.
That said, driving it around is still the main draw--especially because Orbotix now includes a couple of plastic jumping ramps in each box, as well as a nubby, rubber all-terrain cover (a $15 add-on, or free if you purchase Sphero from Brookstone) that gives the ball better traction on slick surfaces or in water. My almost--2-year-old loved it, chasing Sphero all around the house, screaming with glee--he tends to get upset when I let him catch it, and near-apoplectic when the ball needs recharging after about an hour of drive time.
While you can buy several iPhone-controlled toys (from cars to bugs and beyond), only the AR.Drone quadricopter is as sophisticated and consistently fun to pilot as the Sphero. And Sphero 2.0 ups the ante on the first version with better driving and a much larger slate of compatible apps. If you're looking for a nerdy activity to share with your kids--or just indulge the nerdy kid inside you--Sphero lets you have a ball.
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