Sphero Spider-Man review
Sphero is best known for its series of remote-controlled, app-enabled spheres (the clue's in the name), toys which saw it handed the lucrative opportunity to build a real-life BB-8 droid from Star Wars to tie in with The Force Awakens.
That partnership with Disney saw Sphero branch out into its first non-sphere earlier this year, the brilliant remote-controlled Ultimate Lightning McQueen from Pixar's Cars, and now the company has gone one step further: its latest tie-in, Spider-Man, isn't a sphere, and doesn't even move - but it does have a few cool tricks up its sleeve.
We've gone hands-on with the latest Sphero and a beta version of the linked app, so find out what we thought in our Sphero Spider-Man review.
Sphero Spider-Man: Price and availability
£150 might sound like a big ask for a toy (and it is), but it looks positively affordable compared to Sphero's other new offering - the Ultimate Lightning McQueen costs £299.99.
Sphero Spider-Man: Design
The first thing you'll likely notice about Sphero's take on Spider-Man is that he looks great. With his over-sized head and big, expressive LCD-screen eyes, this is a remarkably cute take on your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, highlighting the fact that he's aimed squarely at younger kids.
Those eyes are one of Spidey's best features: they move, squint, and wink as the toy listens and talks, and can even flash in different colours when his Spider-Sense kicks in.
The stubby legs should give away the fact that he doesn't move, and his arms are the only element that's even posable - this is very much a toy that's designed to stand still.
The whole thing is finished with a soft-touch, textured, silicone - think the outside of a basketball - which should help make him a bit more durable if he gets thrown around. He's already survived a few knocks and drops in the office with no harm done. The LCD eyes are also recessed slightly, to help keep scratches at bay.
The centre of his chest bears the familiar spider logo, which doubles as both the sole physical button, and a glowing light to indicate when the microphone is switched on and Spider-Man is ready to listen to your questions and commands.
Finally, he comes with a webbed charging base and a USB-to-Micro-USB cable (though no mains adapter). There's also a Micro-USB port hidden underneath one of his feet, so you can charge him on the go even if the base gets forgotten - important given he'll only manage a couple of hours active use away from the base.
Sphero Spider-Man: Features
Spidey may not move, but that doesn't mean he's a slouch. Like previous Sphero toys he's linked up to a smartphone and tablet app, and kids can interact with him using the app or voice controls to chat, go on adventures, or play games.
First up, you'll need to use the included app to set Spider-Man up - though after that you can stick entirely to the button and voice controls if you prefer. Setup involves picking a superhero name and power for yourself from a few available combinations, before the talking toy walks you through some of the basic commands.
From there it's up to you. You can press the spider logo on his chest once and Spider-Man will pick a random activity, or you can double-press and give a verbal command to pick something specific.
The basic stuff sees Spider-Man crack a joke, or tell a story about one of his escapades, but there are more complex games and adventures too.
One 'combat training' mini-game asks you to verbally reply 'deflect', 'block', or 'dodge' in response to specific sound cues, building up to more complex combos. Another sees Spider-Man describe an object, step by step, for you to draw out, and at the end you have to guess what it was.
Kids (and big kids) can also take their new superhero alias on crimefighting adventures. In one we had to stop a gang robbing a pizza store, with Spider-Man describing what was happening, giving me an occasional decision to make (set a trap, or stop them right now), and asking me to use my superpower at the climactic moment.
The smartest part of the whole package is that it remembers your decisions, building on them by dropping in details into future stories. At one point I chose to pose for a photo, and Spider-Man remembered, mentioning the fact that newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson had asked who that new costumed crimefighter was.
Since kids won't always nail the exact audio commands required, the toy does its best to interpret what was said, and try to carry on regardless - very occasionally it won't respond, or will ask a question again, but usually it keeps going to avoid undue frustration.
Going beyond the games, you can also set Spider-Man to be an alarm, and set him up in Guard Mode, with registers movement, telling intruders to go away, and giving a movement report at the end of the day - perfect for kids worried about nosy parents.
Naturally, there are plenty of Easter eggs tucked away too - Spidey will respond to be held upside-down or thrown around, and has plenty to say about a few of his fellow superheroes if you ask him the right way too.
Still, with any remote-controlled movement options, the smart interactions begin to feel a bit thin after a while - though Sphero promises new content down the line, which should be enough to keep kids using this long after the first weekend.
Finally, an important note for the privacy-conscious. While Spider-Man can connect to Wi-Fi, that's just used for downloading updates and new content, and all of the actual voice-processing is done locally. That means that it's not sending any audio recordings off to far-flung servers, and there shouldn't be any way for hackers to remotely access the microphone.
The Sphero Spider-Man is a bold experiment for the company, ditching its remote controls and pushing its smart app to the limits. The result is a fun, durable toy that younger Spidey fans should love - though parents won't find much reason to 'borrow' it.