Reviews

Sphero Bolt Review – Features and Design

sphero bolt
Written by Hassan Abbas

You are maybe familiar with Sphero’s family of spherical, programmable robots. Some are for fun, some for education, and the Bolt is a bit of both. It’s a tough, waterproof, and transparent three-inch rolling robot that’s designed to teach children and grown-ups how to code using the accompanying mobile app, but you can also use it as a toy to terrorize parents and pets. In this article, we are going to talk about Sphero Bolt Review – Features and Design. Let’s begin!

Sphero’s latest product is another educational robot – the Bolt. It’s a really minor upgrade from the existing SPRK+, with a configurable LED matrix display, infrared sensors for communicating with other robots, and also “more than two hours of continuous play.”

I think that the Sphero Bolt is a well-designed product, but I am not sure if there is enough value to make sure the $150 price tag. Especially when it’s only an iterative improvement over the company’s existing robots.

SpecificationS

Dimensions 73 x 73 x 73 mm (2.9 x 2.9 x 2.9 inches)
Weight 200g
Battery 2+ hour battery life, 6 hour charging time
Connectivity Bluetooth LE
Price $149.99

THE GOOD

Design The Sphero Bolt is tiny, at just 73 mm (2.9 inches) in diameter. The LED screen is neat.
Software The programming app is excellent, with plenty of sample projects created by Sphero and the community. You can also edit programs on a desktop computer and sync them to your phone.
Battery life Sphero advertises “2+” hours of playtime on a single charge.

THE NOT SO GOOD

Price The $50 Sphero Mini has almost all the functionality of the $150 Sphero Bolt, minus the LED screen and infrared sensors.
Software (again) You can’t run programs on the Bolt from a computer, you have to sync the project to your phone and run it from there.
Battery It takes up to six hours to fully recharge the Bolt.

Design and hardware

The Sphero Bolt is a small plastic sphere, that measures 73 mm (or 2.9 inches) in diameter. Just like the SPRK+, it’s fully translucent, so you can see all the circuitry and also motors that contained within. Sphero does not have an official durability rating for the Bolt. But I accidentally dropped it down a flight of stairs when driving it around, and the robot survived with only some scuffs on the exterior plastic.

However, the main new feature of the Bolt compared to Sphero’s other products is the 8×8 LED matrix. This is mainly used to provide visual feedback for programs. Such as, you can have the display change colors based on the result of sensor data.

Another feature is that an exclusive to the Bolt is that it can talk to other Bolts, using infrared communication. I wasn’t able to test this from Sphero only sent me one unit, but it allows for interconnected programs. as one Bolt can broadcast a certain number, and nearby robots can execute a program based on the number received. I imagine this will be a selling point to schools buying Bolts in large quantities.

To charge the Bolt, you just have to drop it into the included cradle, that draws power from a micro USB port. The Bolt lasts for over two hours on a single charge. But Sphero says it can take up to six hours to fully charge the robot. This probably won’t be a problem for consumers, but it might be for schools – the Bolt will only be there for two or three class periods.

Software

Sphero Edu (mobile)

In order to do anything with the Bolt, you will need to install the Sphero Edu mobile application. It’s available on the Play Store, Apple App Store, and Amazon Appstore as well. This is where you will be spending most of your time, and thankfully, Sphero has made it really easy to use. You need to set up an account (or log into Google) because all your projects are synced to the cloud.

The ‘Home’ tab consists of a feed of all recently-created programs, from both Sphero itself and also normal users. If you’re out of ideas, these should provide some inspiration and motivation. So, the Bolt has only been available for a month, most of the shared projects were originally created for Sphero’s other products. But the majority are still compatible with the Bolt.

The only programs that won’t fully work are the ones created for non-sphere robots (like Sphero’s R2-D2) or the ones that use code blocks not available for the Bolt (like ones using R2-D2 noises). The Edu application will still try to run these programs, but non-compatible blocks will be skipped all over.

The ‘Programs’ tab consists of your current projects, as well as a featured gallery of programs. When you create a new program, then you can choose from three different types – Draw, Blocks, and also Text. You can also select that which robots you want your project to work with. If you select anything except the Bolt, then you will not be able to use the LED screen and infrared sensors.

Draw

The ‘Draw’ type is intended for young and beginner users. You draw a line, and Bolt will follow it when you press Start. You can also change the movement speed and LED screen color as well. It’s really basic, but it works.

The second program type is ‘Blocks,’ which actually uses the same Scratch-like coding interface that nearly every educational robot uses. You can also zoom in and out of the canvas, and there is a huge array of functions available.

The last program type is ‘Code,’ where you can also write programs for the Bolt in JavaScript. All of the same functionality from Blocks is present, but the goal here is that to teach children how to use programming language syntax. It’s a really nice feature, but it’s absolutely dreadful to use on the mobile application (unless you install something like Hacker’s Keyboard), and the auto-complete is actually limited.

Activities

The third tab is ‘Activities,’ where you can complete a handful of interactive guides that are designed to help you learn to program. Sphero already has some activities for the Bolt, but most of the ones are created for earlier robots work too.

When you want a break from programming, the final tab is a basic remote control for Bolt. You can roll it around, change its speed, and then set a color for the LED panel. However, there’s also a calibration tool, in case you forget that which way the robot is facing.

Overall, the Sphero Edu mobile application is very good. It’s easy to use and responsive, and the huge amount of example projects (from both Sphero and the community) is great to have. I also like that all projects sync to the cloud, that means you can edit programs between multiple devices. That includes desktop computers as well.

Sphero Edu (desktop)

If you do not want to create and edit programs whole on a phone or tablet, the Sphero Edu site has almost all the functionality of the mobile application. You can also browse recently-uploaded projects, go through activities, and edit your existing programs. For the times when you need more screen space, the desktop website works well.

Sphero Play

To coincide with the Bolt’s release, the application created for the Sphero Mini has been rebranded to ‘Sphero Play’ – it now works with the Mini, the SPRK+, and the Bolt.

There are multiple games that are available, like one where you use facial expressions to drive the robot. Sphero says the app will continue to be updated with new drive modes and also games.

Should you buy it?

Probably not. The Sphero Bolt is a nice product, but the asking price of $150 looks like too high. The only benefits of the Bolt over older Sphero robots are that the LED screen and the ability to communicate with other Bolts as well. The LED screen does not sound like a must-have feature, at least to me, and the communication feature is only useful if you are buying more than one Bolt. The larger battery actually means the Bolt will last longer on a single charge. But it actually takes longer to fully top it up.

Conclusion

That’s all Folks! If you guys have further queries related to this article Then let us know in the comments section below. We will get back to you.

Have a Great Day!

Also See: Can You Use Apple Watch With Android?

About the author

Hassan Abbas

Tech enthusiast with too many items on his wish-list and not nearly enough money! Specializing in all things tech, with a slight Apple bent he has been writing for various blogs for the best part of (too many) years

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