Sphero has been on a roll recently with a number of techno-toys that target kids of all ages. With R2-D2 and BB-8 appealing to kids that grew up in the 70’s and kids that haven’t started their first day of kindergarten, the company has learned how to use their technology to make showpieces that can be a ton of fun to play with as well. While Cars may not be a film franchise that has grabbed the adult-children the same way Star Wars has, Sphero’s Lightening McQueen RC-Car is worth a look. In this review, I’m not going to get too technical about what all is included in the inner workings, that part doesn’t matter. Instead, I’ll focus on how those inner workings make McQueen come to life, and if it is worth the investment.
First and foremost, this is an RC-Car. It works like something you could have picked up at RadioShack and it has enough speed to drive your pets nuts when playing with it inside. I do still have a bit of an issue with the fact that Sphero releases an app to control their devices through BlueTooth as the tactile feel is missing and the range is suspect. One nice upgrade to McQueen is the fact that all sounds come from the car itself and not the app, like with BB-8.
The controls require you to position yourself behind the car, press a button to tell the car which way it is facing, and then start driving. And the driving is fine, but not great. It has some strange issues, and the aforementioned Bluetooth range is spotty at best. Still, the car is fun enough to drive and includes a few mini-games in the app that can be enjoyable, but this is more of a showpiece than something to race around the house or down the street.
So what does Lightning McQueen do that separates this RC from all the others on the market. At a suggested $300 US, it better do a lot. Well, it kind of does – at first. As soon as I pulled McQueen out of his box and set him on the counter with the charger, he came to life. I don’t mean he powered up. He opened his eyes and talked to my daughter and me. Not, conversationally, but in an almost creepy manner. It felt like we grabbed Lightning right out of the movie and placed him on our counter.
As he spoke, his mouth, eyes, and body moved, adding a significant amount of realism to this “toy”. His eyes are portrayed through an LCD screen, which is impressive enough, but the mouth is actually robotic and moves as he speaks. For the first 20 minutes, Chloe and I stood there watching him, touching different areas, such as the hood or doors, and lifting him up and placing him back down to hear what he would say. It was very close to what I expect will be common in the next couple of decades when our personal AI robot butlers run our households for us.
But this is where the problem happened for us. After that first 20 minutes, we had heard everything. We then drove him around and heard a few new things as he ran into walls, chairs, cats, dogs, feet, and legs. “Ouch”, or “That’s going to leave a scratch” became common phrases that were funny at first but wore out their welcome in one sitting. On that note, no scratches were to be found. The build of the car is incredible and can take a serious beating.
After doing a few of the games included in the app, we were pretty much done with the driving. We placed him back on the charger, got that fun feeling of watching him move and talk again for a few minutes, then walked off to play some games. And, unfortunately, we never came back. That is ultimately the issue with Sphero’s Lightning McQueen. He is a showpiece, and I don’t have room for that in my house. We don’t have big fans of the series in the house, and I’m not a collector of that type of toy. For those that are, though, this is top of the line technology. However, at the asking price, it is hard to give a definitive answer on whether it is worth the purchase. That ultimately comes down to just how much you want to have this as a showpiece.