Things seem to have come full circle recently in terms of electronic gadget design. Recalling the “space age” design era of the 70’s, when it seemed anything electronic also came in a spherical version, designers seem to be having a ball again. In the case of some of these gadgets though, the spherical design is actually functional. If you call floating speakers and robots that serve no actual utilitarian purpose “functional”. We also included a few items which are merely circular, just to round things out.
The Sphero BB-8 is a no-brainer gift this year, with Star Wars: Force Awakens products flooding the market like Stormtroopers at a cosplay convention. One has to admit – regardless of whether or not you think it’s worth the price – that the design of this thing is quite remarkable. Reviews consistently say it works well, the only minor gripe being the fact that you have to clean the wheels in its magnetic “head”, much like the ball inside an old-school computer mouse. It has smartphone/tablet or voice control, and an “adaptive personality” so, as the maker puts it, its “unique attitude and actions evolve as you interact”. We somehow don’t think it will learn your sense of irony or when you want the backrub it can’t give you or anything, but at least it’ll stop bumping into the same objects over and over, which is more than I can say for some of my friends.
This is the monorchistic ancestor of the BB-8. I’ll be perfectly honest, I didn’t get the point of this thing until I watched the video below. You see, it jumps through fire, and swims. Why don’t they just say this in the product description?
The Ozobot 2.0 – like the Sphero robots above – is much smaller than you’ll imagine seeing the photo here. But it apparently was conceived with a bit more purpose than the Sphero robots. It’s aimed more at kids, has a lot of interactive educational tools linked to it, and won the 2015 Academics’ Choice Brain Toy Award.
Okay, we’re not gonna pull any punches here. The only purpose behind the design of this thing is “being cool”, but it at least pulls this off fairly well. Reviews say the sound is decent, though obviously lacking in bass oomph, and although it’s apparently a bit of a chore to get it suspended properly, once you do, it’s fairly stable. The Ice Orb is featured amongst a lot of other interesting doohickeys on Amazon Launchpad.
For a little more of an evil Death Star vibe, you might prefer the MOXO X-1. Please note that it doesn’t light up like the ICE Orb though.
For the bass that’s lacking in the speakers above, but with a lot less floating (i.e.: none), you might want to check out the Devialet Phantom. At its current price, it will only set you back about 80 cents for each of its 3000 watts. All jokes aside though, this is in fact considered a state-of-the-art piece of audio gear. It also is featured on Amazon Launchpad.
[Insert Drone Pun Here]
We were going to coin some pithy pun for the headline, but “Game of Drones” sort of put the nail in that coffin a while ago. Drones generally aren’t spherical (although they can be), but they’re close enough in some geometric sense that we decided to include them in the roundup. The coolest thing happening with personal drones right now is that decent drones with cameras have finally dipped below 500 bucks, and if you’re only in the game for a little fun, you can get one for less than a hundred dollars.
This is one of the current best-of-breed drones available. If you want 4K video, you still have to spend 4K dollars.
This is one of the best drones you can get for around 500 dollars, but note that it comes without a camera. One thing that pushes a quality drone/camera combination over a thousand dollars is the GoPro camera that is usually attached to it. Consider breaking into the game a lot cheaper, by getting a drone like this, and the GoPro alternative below for less than a hundred dollars.
This is not as sophisticated as an actual GoPro, but it also doesn’t cost 500 bucks, like a GoPro HERO4. It gets decent reviews for video quality; most of the complaints are about details of the interface used to access files. Maybe someday GoPro prices will spiral dizzyingly like the videos the camera enables, or like their stock value did this year. Until then, cameras like this may be a good solution for placing on a drone you may crash or lose in the trees.
While it comes in a few hundred dollars higher than the pairing suggested above, this is a high-quality, fully-integrated device with a special “Sky Controller Bundle”. Parrot was also one of the first to bring personal drones to an affordable price point, so they know what they’re doing.
This is more than simply a toy, but not MUCH more. It gets great reviews for being reliable and well-manufactured, and even the camera gets good reviews, provided it’s being used in a not-too-turbulent environment. At a price of less than fifty bucks, it’s certainly worth the spend.
After dropping hundreds of dollars buying toys for that special dork in your life, this may be all you can afford for yourself. But you deserve it.