The Ollie comes to us from Sphero, the parent company who built the eponymously named learning toy. Sphero, while creating fun to play with objects is also looking to educate on things like the principles of physics. While the Ollie isn’t yet a full part of their SPRK learning program, the Ollie is still built with the same dedication and commitment to educating. For those who don’t care about the “science stuff,” as they call it, there are the fun stats and facts. For one, the Ollie is capable of speeds double that of the Sphero. It’s very light and durable, and it’s promised to be easier to drive than its smaller counterpart, likely because of its larger centre of gravity and footprint.
You can find the Sphero Ollie online at BestBuy.ca, though like many robot toys these days, I wouldn’t be surpised to see it sell out quickly.
As with many of its counterparts in the market, the remote for this device is your smartphone. The Ollie works with iOS and Android devices. It connects VERY seamlessly through the same hidden Bluetooth style we see with some devices (the “touch your device to me so I can connect” method) and you’ll be ready to go within about a minute of pulling it off the charger and setting things up. There’s already been a firmware upgrade, so keep that in mind as well since you’ll want to be connected to WiFi. You’ll be treated to a cutesy little game while the firmware upgrade happens. Following this, you’re given some easy instructions on the basics of how the Ollie works, and you’re set to unleash it on the world. Just one thing to be aware of though for Apple users: The app already needs iOS 7x (as opposed to many of the competition out there that only need iOS 6x) so older device users might be left in the dark. The app takes longer than it probably should to ready itself on my iPhone 4S, so consider that your benchmark if you’ve got something from a couple generations back and are wondering if it’ll work.
Once going, the app gradually transitions you from a novice to an expert over the first few minutes. Unlike the Parrot drones that I questioned the best place to play, this one is very definitely an outdoor machine. You’ll inevitably scratch the hubcaps running it into curbs, or up onto raises on the sidewalk, and the app encourages you to do this, smattering applause when the Ollie catches air. The device can take some licks too, and is designed to react to impact appropriately. It can spin on its hubcaps or drive off with little preparation or windup.
Once you’ve learned how to control it a bit, it’s time to learn how to do tricks. The app here gives you very simple instructions: Hold your finger down and swipe. The sky’s the limit. Want your Ollie to spin on its top? Done. Want the Ollie to start turning and spinning on a dime? Done. Want the Ollie to spin uncontrollably? Done. Oh, but don’t do it too much, or else the app will tell you that this just happened:
The Sphero Ollie is capable of some of the highest speeds I’ve ever seen out of a device this size. Would you believe that the Ollie is capable of traveling up to 14 MPH? The device has a 30 metre range, so you better be a fast runner if you’re going to test that out.
It’s a ridiculous amount of fun. There’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to figuring out its direction (technically the front end is the charge dock piece, not the logo side, and the vehicle itself steers itself based on that principle, which should be simple enough but takes a little while to get used to.) but that’s about it. Everything else is pretty straight forward. Ollie doesn’t quite have the same sort of power stopping abilities a lot of RC toys do, but it turns out of danger pretty well, and has a little bit more power going up hilly parts than its contemporaries.
The battery life on this is outstanding all things considered. I’d previously marveled about the fact that you received 20 minutes of juice on comparable vehicles that were much smaller. The medium sized Ollie (which is about the size of a pop can with wheels basically) carries around an hour of battery life after charging through USB. It’s very conservative with the battery life as well. The moment you close the app, it starts to shut itself down, taking only a few seconds. There’s no power switch on the Ollie, so you can’t really bypass this if you want to take pictures or video through the same device you’re controlling it with (not when it’s on anyway.) You’ll have to bring another camera along.
The Ollie obviously gets its name from the fact that it’s capable of jumping and doing tricks. The Ollie element worried me because I’ve damaged jumping toys outside. Thankfully, with the large base and rubber wheels, this handles and lands better. Even after a couple tough landings, the only damage was slight scratches to one of the hubcaps. The main face of the Ollie is protected pretty well by the wheels since the wheel wells already overlap the device before you even stick the tires on.
Perhaps the most mind-blowing thing about the Ollie is something I haven’t even mentioned yet: The price. The Ollie’s price point is such that it’s lower than most of the other gadgets you’ve seen me review lately, and I admit I had more fun with this one than the others. The tricks this is capable of are outstanding, and the sheer speed and heights you can attain with it are staggering considering most vehicles in this class and price point can’t even do a quarter of what this can.
There’s no bones about it – You can take this for a spin inside or outside without worrying about a lot of damage. It doesn’t roll in the grass at all (more on that later,) but it’s capable of achieving some pretty good speed when you take it down the sidewalks or walkways. It’s a shame that the weather is so terrible outside nowadays, otherwise, I’d take this out to the park and drive it around while my baby daughter sat and watched in awe. As it is, I gave it a few trips around her Jolly Jumper and she was absolutely enamored by the lights and setup.
Anybody you purchase this for will definitely enjoy it, from the person who just wants the toy to take for a spin, to the one who wants to customize the heck out of it. Over the coming months, you’re going to see a lot of different pieces come out for the Ollie to customize it to make it your own, including off-road and racing wheels. According to the sell sheets, these should be out by Holiday 2014, and if the website is any indication, you’ll be able to pull these accessories down for under $20 each (that amount is obviously subject to change since the release date hasn’t been finalized.) The only thing I had trouble with was removing the hubcaps. I had to give up after a while and sit it back in the box packed up.
I can confidently say that there’s a smart vehicle for your smartphone, and it`s the Sphero Ollie. It might be a little early for me to start thinking this way, but this is a definite wish list contender for the holidays. Your entire family will get a kick out of this one.
The Sphero Ollie is now available at Best Buy and online at BestBuy.ca