May the fourth be with you! No, wait, May September 4th be with you. Yes; not content with hijacking the fourth day of the month of May for its Star Wars marketing needs, Disney has now force-choked September 4th too, with an 18-hour Star Wars: Force Awakens toy unboxing blitz. It'll take a lot to stand out among the deluge of Star Wars-related memorabilia heading to shops this Christmas, but the remote control BB-8 Sphero toy will do just that; it's as close as you're likely to get to owning your own real-life droid.
Building on the app-controlled success of the Sphero toy line, the Sphero BB-8 droid lets you steer the forthcoming sequel's star robot around using your iPhone or Android smartphone. Pairing over Bluetooth LE, you have little onscreen dual control sticks for turning his head and rolling his ball-like body independently.
What sets the Sphero BB-8 toy apart however is the attention to detail, particularly in terms of BB-8's movements. Packaged as if it had come straight off a droid production line and whistling like R2-D2's little brother, Sphero was given early access to character details from the new film in order to perfect the droid's movements. And it's really paid off – as BB-8 skids along, its head jerks and turns just as it does in the early Force Awakens footage. At roughly 1/16th the real prop's scale, it'll make the perfect accompaniment for Action Man-sized figures.
Fully spherical, BB-8's head pops on and off with a magnet, with the headpiece featuring its own wheels so as to move across the surface of the main ball. Loaded with sensors including a gyroscope, you can use BB-8 fairly fluidly without its head falling off or ending up in a confusing orientation. Made of a tough polycarbonate, BB-8 should be pretty durable too, and endure the odd puddle splash should you take it out on the road.
As it needs to be completely spherical to move convincingly, the Sphero BB-8 ditches charging ports in favour of an inductive charging base, powered by USB. You'll get one hour's play time for a full three hour charge, which sounds a fair balance to me.
Other little touches further reinforce the "real droid" fantasy – the app generates a log file from all of BB-8's sensors, while the app also recognises voice commands too (saying the classic "It's a trap!" line sends BB-8 into a right panic). But the detail that really got my inner Star Wars nerd excited was the ability to send "holograms" with BB-8. Remember the "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi" message Princess Leia popped inside R2-D2? Using your phone's camera, you can record a message, and use the app's augmented reality features to make it appear on screen as though BB-8 is projecting your own hologram.
Of course, with the film yet to be released, it's completely possible that BB-8 will be the most annoying character of all time ever. Let's not be too hasty in fawning over its charming trailer appearance, for fear of making this pre- Phantom Menace release mistake:
But without a doubt, Sphero has totally nailed the details with this pint-sized droid toy. It had me laughing like a moisture farmer as it skirted around the desk of my demo area, chirping like a little robot parakeet. If the movie version is half as charming as this toy, we're all in for a treat. Heading to shops including Firebox, Amazon, Harrods and PC World from today, the BB-8 Sphero will set you back £129.99. We'll pass on what that converts to in Republic Credits as soon as we find out.