The $150 BB-8 is a toy. A very advanced toy that does many things, but it's a toy. The only utility it has is the joy that it's going to bring you when you play with it.
That's not to say we're trying to talk you out of buying one. A review unit arrived this morning, and we've been playing with the little droid non-stop ever since. This is a premium product, and even the packaging lets you know that you're about to experience something special. BB-8 comes in a heavy cardboard box that, once the outer Star Wars branding is removed, has been made to look like a shipping container.
When you lift up the initial flap, you'll see the inductive charging base, BB-8's body, and above that his head. You'll need to remove the bit of plastic underneath the head, and it can take a few seconds before you feel the internal magnet that connects the two pieces. The next step is downloading the iOS or Android app you use to control the little droid.
This is the official promotional video, to get a sense for how the thing is being sold.
The magnets connecting the head and body are nice and strong. Just holding the constructed BB-8 is rather enjoyable; it has a good weight to it, and the design of the character is so strong that even without an internal camera it feels like the thing is looking at you. The first time I put BB-8 on its charger it even woke up and began to look around, a charming touch.
The toy itself can do some nifty things. You can tell it to wake up or run away using voice commands, or you can tell it to "go explore," and it will run around your room.
There is even an interface that pops up in patrol mode that can show you what paths the toy is taking around the room, or where obstructions are. Everything about the app, which is available on both Android and iOS, is filled with personality. Obstructions are shown as Stormtrooper helmets, for instance.
It's also kind of disconcerting when it turns and looks at you.
BB-8 is, at least in terms of its body, a sphere. That can make driving the poor thing a bit tricky. There is a blue light inside the body that you are supposed to adjust until it is facing you, and that becomes the droid's "back." If you push up when the light is facing you, BB-8 will move in the opposite direction. It's also a little thing, so expect some wobble. Once you get the hang of it though, zipping it around a desk is great fun.
The toy seems to use its head to orient itself, which means you can spin it and it will try to keep the head pointed in the same direction. You can also make it lose its mind a bit by grabbing the head and pulling it until the connection is severed. This is what happens:
Whether under your control or not, personality comes through
At the end of the video it looked at me like it was pissed off. It's very hard to interact with BB-8 wthout giving it emotions, which speaks well of it's programming and design.
There are even cute little "yes" and "no" emotes you can make BB-8 do that causes noises to come from your controller while its head wobbles to indicate a positive or negative response. Watching it roll around a room, whether under your control or not, really makes the character seem alive; there are only a few interactions it can do, but that gives a strong enough connection to the character the personality comes through.
BB-8's turning radius is also a bit wide, so it can seem a tad drunk when you have a lot of room to really let it rip.
Again, $150 is a pretty high price for a toy, but this toy brings what many thought was an impossible practical effect home. It's fun to send it zooming around a room, or to use the voice commands or emotes to have it interact with people around you. When you place BB-8 on the charger it even makes an attractive display for your desk.
So, to sum it all up...
The $150 BB-8 toy will be released this Friday.