Sphero Bolt first look

Key Features

  • Review Price: £149.99
  • 2-hour battery life
  • Accelerometer and gyroscope
  • Bluetooth LE
  • Android and iOS app
  • Programmable with Scratch or Javascript

What is the Bolt?

Its remote-controlled BB-8 toy was great fun, and Lightening McQueen pushed the limits of what you can expect of a connected toy, but at its heart Sphero has always been about…well..spheres, which can be programmed, driven around, and are generally as much an educational instrument as they are a toy.

The Sphero Bolt is fundamentally very similar to the programmable balls that the company has put out in the past, but it includes a couple of new features for you to integrate into your programs — chief amongst them a new LED matrix for showing graphics, text, or whatever you can fit onto its 8×8 array.

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Sphero Bolt – What does it do?

There are three main new features with the Sphero Bolt, which can either be played with as part of Sphero’s pre-made programs, or else integrated into your own either via the visual Scratch programming language, or else Javascript if you’re feeling more adventurous.

The one you’ll notice as soon as you take the Sphero out of the box is an 8×8 LED matrix mounted on the top of the device, which essentially acts like a small screen with a resolution of 8 pixels down and 8 across.

It sounds limiting, and it is, but in our early demo it seems to strike a nice balance between giving you enough pixels to display recognisable characters, while not overwhelming you with so much resolution that you can’t get your hands dirty programming your own simple animations.

The LED display comes with a selection of pre-made animations

Beyond this matrix, the Bolt is also equipped with infrared sensors and blasters, which enabled a host of new games as well as opening up the possibility for having whole swarms of Sphero Bolts acting in unison.

Finally, there’s also a new light sensor. Theoretically this could allow you to have a Sphero avoid light, follow light, or maybe just go absolutely crazy if you turn on the light in the room the robot is in.

As well as these new features, there have been a couple of more quality of life improvements made to the Sphero Bolt. An auto-aim feature syncs up the direction of your controlling device and the robot to make controlling it that much easier, and battery life has also seen a boost with the new robot being able to operate for more than two hours on a single charge.

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Sphero Bolt – Programming the Bolt

Fundamentally, you still program the Sphero Bolt through the same Sphero Edu app that already supports 9 of Sphero’s other robots including the Sphero SPRK+, Sphero Mini and Ollie.

What this means is that you’ll have the option of either programming in the uber-accessible Scratch programming language, which will make way for JavaScript for anyone who’s familiar with the theory of programming and wants to give putting it into practice a go.

This accessibility / complexity dichotomy is driven by Sphero’s educational focus. Like the rest of the Sphero lineup the Bolt might look and act like a toy, but there are enough cool things that it’s impossible not to learn the basics of programming if you want to make the most of it.

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The Bolt comes with a charging dock, complete with micro-USB cable

It’s education disguised as play. Subterfuge to develop the next generation of computer scientists.

Taking the 8×8 LED matrix as an example. It’s almost trivially easy to design your first animation using the app. We chose to make a smiley face as our first effort, before adding a couple of additional frames to have it open and close its mouth.

It was basic stuff, but after selecting the ‘Fade Between Frames’ option we were looking at something that almost looked good (almost).

Stay tuned for our full review when we’ll put the Sphero Bolt more thoroughly through its paces, as well as putting it in the hands of a real life child to see if our first impressions of ‘easy to use’ translate to someone who hasn’t been using computers for two decades.

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Early Verdict

As toys go, at £150 the Bolt isn’t cheap. But as a robot that has the potential to inspire a lifelong love of coding then it starts to look a little more reasonable, and fun extras like a programmable screen and IR blasters start to move this eventuality from the realm of ‘overly optimistic’ to ‘distinctly possible’.

There are cheaper Sphero’s available, and if you or your child isn’t sold on the idea of a toy that teaches you to program then they might be a better entry point.

But if you’ve exhausted the programming possibilities of an older Sphero or just want to jump in with a model equipped with all the bells and whistles then the Bolt might be just the toy for the job.

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