Last weekend saw the local amateur radio club hosting their annual hamfest meetup (now with craft fair!) out at the local fairgrounds. Being into both amateur radio and crafting, this was the perfect event to drag my husband to on a Saturday morning. The craft fair wasn’t much — lots of multi-level marketing and crocheted everything — but the swap meet of the hamfest was enjoyable. I quite like looking at all the tech and picking up fliers for various activities.
Out of all the tables and piles of dusty radio equipment that stretched the length of the building, I managed to find one small table at the end that had completely different stuff. This man had professional-grade network switches, speakers, and other computer-related tech. The thing that caught my eye, though, was the Sphero.
I recently got to play with a Sphero SPRK+ during a volunteer event at a library. While it was loads of fun to play with and even offered some interesting block programming options, I felt I would get bored with it much faster than would justify the $120+ price tag. So, when I saw a slightly older version, the SPRK, available at the hamfest for $50, I jumped. It’s not as new and shiny, but it’s still pretty good.
I’m still playing around with the interface. The SPRK Lightning Lab for Sphero is a good app for playing around with the Sphero’s capabilities. I’ve never been terribly fond of block programming, but this one works as well as any. There are challenges to help you become familiar with the app and the Sphero. The community tab lets users share their programs or challenges with other people. My one major quibble is not actually with the app, but with Android. In Android 6.0+, location services need to be on to connect to the Sphero over bluetooth. This murders my phone’s battery twice as fast as just having bluetooth on and generally annoys me on principle. That said, it’s not Sphero’s fault Android is dumb.
The regular Sphero app has games, challenges, pre-programmed pretty lights and tricks you earn by playing with the Sphero. There’s even a story for why you need to train up your Sphero (to defeat bad robots!). The app seems to lose connection to the Sphero every time I change a screen within the app, let alone switch to a different app. This would be less annoying if it took less time to reconnect. If you plan to do the challenges, make sure you have a fair bit of open room to roam with your Sphero; some require great speed, which takes a great distance to accelerate to meet the requirement.
All told, I think the SPRK (and SPRK+) has potential as an educational toy when put in competent teaching hands. It’s a decent timewaster and entertainment if you’re using the regular Sphero app. As for me, I’m just enjoying exactly how much the cat hates this thing.