Yet to find find the perfect gift for someone this holiday season? Two quick questions: Do they like fun? Do they own a smartphone?
If the answer to both is yes then relax. We’ve cut our way through packaging, downloaded all necessary companion apps, and spent some serious time toy testing, when we really should have been preparing for CES.
So pour another glass of something mulled and scroll through our guide to the best smartphone app controlled toys fresh from Santa’s tech workshop.
First up is Anki Overdrive. This high-speed car game comes from San Fran-based Anki who boast some serious AI credentials and are on a mission to bring consumer robotics into everyday life.
The starter kit comes complete with two cars, various bits of track that you can piece together (in any configuration, the cars learn the layout) and an app, which is free for download on the Google Play store.
The game can be played single player or against a friend with a smartphone, and involves simply speeding around the track as fast as you can, reaching the finish line before your competitor. Simple? In fact yes, perhaps a little too simple as after a few races, our attention soon turned to…
‘Wireless Spy Tank’. Let that phrase sink in for a second.
The size of a remote-controlled car the Rover 2.0 has tracks at either side (for movement) and a camera mounted at the front (for ‘spying’). Connect it to your smartphone (it generates its own WiFi network – cool) and you can view the camera feed on your device.
Rover 2.0 offers two-way conversation capabilities so you can hear and talk to the people you are spying on, and can record and playback video if you catch anyone something particularly juicy. The tank even has a stealth mode with infrared camera so you can capture things at night.
It takes a little time to get to grips with the controls but eventually we got the hang of it and decided to take it on its first mission around Sony Mobile HQ. We attempted to sneak the Rover into an Xperia product planning meeting but quickly discovered its Achilles Heal: noise. Anyone you wanted to genuinely spy on would hear it coming a mile away.
Certainly worth the hefty price tag (€170) but does run on AA batteries and isn’t rechargeable, so factor that into your festive budgeting.
This plastic gun comes complete with companion app boasting 19 fast-paced games. Easy to use, all you do to get started is scan the QR code printed on the ‘barrel’ to download the app, clip your phone to the gun, and you’re ready to play. Games vary from defending against a zombie apocalypse, fighting off an alien invasion, tank blasting and includes some neat use of AR.
Although it can sometimes get a little jumpy, we thought it was pretty good bang per buck as the sub-€23 price point is great value for potentially hours of fun.
One of the most popular toys of 2017, the Sphero Mini is a nifty app-controlled robot.
About the same size as a ping-pong ball and looking a bit like BB8’s long-lost cousin, this little gizmo rolls around the floor controlled by a virtual joystick built into the free Sphero app.
The toy comes with a set of mini skittles and cones, which make an enjoyable obstacle course to navigate around using the various modes including: tilt control, slingshot and the trickiest of the lot, face driving.
This mode is a little odd as it uses the front facing camera on your device to detect head tilts and facial expressions to help navigate Sphero. A nice idea, but after a while our faces hurt from being overly expressive while trying to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
Alongside the Sphero app, there is also Spehro Edu – a great feature, which will help you take your first steps in coding and programming. All you need to do is drop little blocks of code in order, and the little Mini will follow your direction.
All in all, we thought this little guy was a lot of fun. Despite his small casing, Sphero Mini has a lot to offer for all ages.