Monday, 18 January 2016

Sphero vs Ollie: Which Robot Should You Pick?



We've had a Sphero ball robot for a while and my son got a Sphero Ollie robot for Christmas. They're both great bits of technology which are lots of fun and educational too. But which one should you pick?

In this comparison we'll look at the fun features, practical aspects and educational factors that differentiate between these these robot siblings.

Note that we've previously provided a comparison between Sphero, Sphero SPRK and Sphero BB-8 which covers the differences between the ball-based robots. And we have also reviewed Sphero Ollie.


See also: Programmable Robot Buying Guide for Kids

Fun Features

Both Sphero and Ollie can be controlled by apps and can light up in loads of different colours. They both have ramp accessories that they can use to do tricks.

Both robots have neat tricks that they can perform. Ollie, as it's name suggests, has a skateboarding style. Sphero's shape lends itself to different tricks some of which are more subtle than Ollie's all out adrenaline moves. 


Sphero
Ollie
Sphero is waterproof and floats. That will be a really important feature for some families.

Sphero can learn new tricks as you progress through the app. Bonus tricks are sometimes offered through the app.

Sphero can be used with specific apps as a games controller.

You can get a LEGO compatible trailer for Sphero to pull along. For LEGO fanatics this will be an important feature.
Ollie is very very fast. Ollie can spin up on one end and jumps higher than Sphero.

Ollie can do tricks triggered by touch gestures on a phone or tablet. This is great fun.


Ollie has skateboarding street cred.

Ollie is quite a bit bigger than Sphero which can make it look more impressive.



Power

Sphero
Ollie
Sphero has very neat inductive charging. You just pop it on its base and it charges automatically.

You tap Sphero to turn it on. 
Ollie charges via a USB cable so you do need to plug in the cable manually after play.

Ollie turns on automatically when a device makes a connection. 




Connectivity

Sphero
Ollie
Sphero uses an older Bluetooth standard which means it will work with older devices. But it also means you need to manually pair Sphero in device settings.

We sometimes forget which device Sphero is paired with and have to find out to unpair it. 
Ollie uses the newer Bluetooth Low Energy standard. Apps pair with Ollie automatically when in close proximity, no need to pair in settings.

Ollie seems to cope with pairing with which ever device we put close to it. 



With both devices we've sometimes had to quit apps and restart them to detect a robot.

Apps

Sphero
Ollie
The main Sphero teaches the control of the robot through a series of Missions that must be completed.

The Sphero app is available for Amazon Fire.

Sphero has a variety of apps including games where you use Sphero as a controller.

Sphero apps include:
  • Draw & Drive
  • Color Grab (group game)
  • Exile (space shooter)
  • Rolling Dead (augmented reality zombie shooter)
The main Ollie controller has a joystick and a trickpad. The tricks are very cool and the app detects when they are performed and gives feedback. But there's no game to progress though.

Some Sphero apps also work with Ollie such as Draw & Drive but most don't. 

Note that there's an open SDK for Sphero and Ollie so third parties can develop apps.

Accessories

Both robots have accessories that can be bought as optional extras.

Note that Ollie comes with a set of tires whereas Sphero does not include a cover.

Sphero
Ollie
Sphero has different nubby covers for protection, looks and different surfaces.

Sphero has a terrain park with small ramps.

Sphero has a chariot which is can pull along. It's LEGO compatible so minifigures and small models can be taken for a ride. 
Ollie has a variety of tires for different looks and different surfaces.

Ollie has a big pair of spine ramps.


Ollie's hubcaps are also replaceable. 

Coding

Sphero
Ollie
The SPRK Lightning Lab educational app allows kids to program Sphero with a graphical drag and drop blocks language. There are sample projects that demonstrate what can be done.

The third party Tickle and Tynker apps also support graphical programming with Sphero.

For text based programming there's the Sphero Orbbasic app. 
Ollie also works with the SPRK Lightning Lab app. The projects are designed for Sphero so it's not quite as good a fit but it works and you can write your own projects to control Ollie.

The third party Tickle and Tynker apps also support graphical programming with Ollie.

Sphero Orbbasic also works with Ollie. 



For developers there's a beta SDK which supports Sphero and Ollie.

Conclusion

Sphero and Ollie are both great robots. In our house Ollie's key feature is the skate-boarding coolness which encourages my kids to build courses for it to complete. Sphero's key feature is the LEGO-compatible chariot because my kids are LEGO crazy.

In terms of scope for coding, both robots offer lots of options. The SPRK Lightning Labs examples are designed for Sphero foremost, and Sphero's ball shape does lend itself better to exploring the sensors.

For educational use I'd say Ollie's cool factor and speed may actually be a distraction and kids are more likely to focus if they are using a Sphero. Schools will also appreciate just being able to pop Sphero's on their inductive bases to charge without having to connect USB cables. 

Ollie and Sphero are both very durable for robots. Sphero has all the electronics sealed inside which makes it waterproof and means there's nothing external to get damaged. 

Sphero is more expensive that Ollie - for the extra cost you get the inductive charging capability, waterproofing and a lot more apps. Ollie packs a lot of tech for its lower price and is extremely cool.



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