Pamela Chan, Contributor
If you’re looking for a review about an app controlled robot that utilizes high tech components – like the Ollie by Sphero – there is no end of options to consider. Some of the reviews can get quite detailed – which is all well and good.
But if you’re like me and you’re not sure if you’re up for this ride down uncharted technical territory, you might be considering more basic issues.
When presented with the opportunity to try out the Ollie by Sphero my first reaction was that it wasn’t going to work out.
Then I thought to myself, “I want to make this work?
Why can’t I?
Surely the designers have made this product usable for a broader range of people?”.
With these thoughts in mind, here are the goals that I set for myself and my family. This is what I wanted to find out:
Can the Ollie operate on a tablet platform?
For budgetary – and quasi “off the grid” reasons – my husband and I do not operate phones that are “very smart”. Our phones are not the sexiest or latest and greatest, and they are not connected to Internet plans. We do, however, own two tablets that can be operated with WiFi and connect with apps in an Android capacity.
Will it be easy to set up the Ollie? Will it be a tricky affair to get the Ollie connected with my device and started?
I’m pretty resourceful when it comes to trying out new technology. But I also know that I’m not using the latest technology and applications that go with them at a fast and furious rate these days. I wondered if it might be fussy to get Ollie up and running. I also wondered if the technology I had at home would be sufficient to use Ollie.
Will it be hard to use the Ollie? My children are in junior elementary school. They love getting their hands on technology and giving it a whirl. Theoretically I thought that they should be able to use the Ollie but I wanted to find out.
Of course it’s easy enough for an older youth or adult to use Ollie if they’re inclined to use this type of app controlled robot. But could a younger child take over the controls and make it work without too much instruction or supervision?
Will the Ollie appeal to people of different ages?
There is a gap of a few decades between the oldest and youngest users available to try out the Ollie in our extended family. I was interested to see if it would appeal – across the board – with everyone.
What can the Ollie do and is it a one trick horse?
Based on the trailer video, it certainly seemed that Ollie can do many things. I wanted to see what was possible.
What you Receive
The Ollie arrives in a solid box, embedded inside a molded, plastic form. The blue extra tread tires and end caps are included separately and need to be snapped on to the Ollie. A USB cord to attach the Ollie to a source of power (eg a desktop) is included.
Making Ollie Operational
The first task at hand was to snap the Ollie together (end caps and tread wheels). We decided to put all of the pieces together. Since young children were going to be using Ollie, a bit of tread never hurts.
Once you have snapped the Ollie together and charged it up, download the Ollie app to your phone or tablet and place the Ollie next to your device. This should activate the Ollie – wake it up – and put you in a position to start using the device.
If your start up efforts stall at this point something is wrong.
Perhaps your Ollie isn’t sufficiently charged?
However this information should show up on your app as a “charge your Ollie” diagram appears.
Perhaps your device isn’t configured correctly to connect with the Ollie? If you don’t know how to go into WiFi settings to check this out, contact the support people at Ollie.
The process of connecting Ollie to the device – once the app is in place and it’s charged – should be a quick and easy process.
This is where we encountered a stumbling block. I spoke with customer service and contacted them over e-mail as well. Even though Ollie appeared to be charging, we couldn’t activate it using the app. It was very frustrating. I was certain that there must be a problem at our end and spent way too much time trying and retrying to get it to work. Ultimately we received a new Ollie to try. We put it together, charged it up, cranked up the app and “Bingo!” It was off and running in no time at all.
I don’t know what was wrong with the initial Ollie we received but I can confirm that if you have done the main tasks that you need to do and your Ollie is not working, you should consider exchanging it.
How to Use Ollie
There are many videos online in which you can see how Ollie is used. The Sphero company has made some that can show you Ollie’s potential. You can also scroll to the settings area on Ollie where there is a “cheat sheet” of sorts showing you the basic movies and trick moves that you can use. There are quite a few. The best way to learn these different moves is to practice one at a time and get to know that move well. Ollie isn’t a one trick pony – but it will take some practice to learn how to do all the potential maneuvers.
It was interesting to watch how my children used the Ollie. They watched videos. They looked at the reminders on the app. But they also experimented. They know there are basic and tricks modes for Ollie and they would simply try out different ways and experiment. In the video embedded below you will see two usage sessions: first with my son and then with my daughter. Keep in mind that these are young children using the device. This speaks to how easy it is for anyone to try the device out
What We Thought
The Ollie we had was used by junior elementary, elementary, preteen, older and younger teenage youth and adults. Everybody responded enthusiastically to the device and wanted to use it repeatedly. Ollie held their attention for long periods of time. Users were inspired to set up obstacle courses and think about how they wanted to use the robot. My children also enjoyed simply using it in a contained area and making it do tricks and spins.
As you can see from the official video, which my children LOVE watching, there is a lot of potential to use Ollie in different ways and at a respectable speed. You can use it outside but I would be careful about exposing it to damp conditions, thick dirt or large drop offs. (Although as you can see in the official video, an Ollie went over a large drop off and survived.) We are waiting until spring to give our Ollie a whirl outdoors. There is an underused bike park nearby which will be a perfect setting to try and recreate the Ollie trailer video.
The Ollie would make an excellent personal purchase for yourself or someone else and a great gift. It is also a device that anyone can enjoy using. So if you’re an adult thinking about getting an Ollie, it’s a good option for some personal robot fun time.
Our Video Review
You can buy different accessories for the Ollie including hubs and tires.
Ollie Driving an Drifting tips video from the Sphero company.
Win it: One very lucky Canadian reader will win an Ollie from Sphero ($99.99 value). Enter to win via Rafflecopter below. Good Luck!
Disclosure: I received a sample of a product to facilitate my review. No other compensation was provided and all views and opinions stated on this post are 100% my own.