Review: Brookstone Rover 2.0 App-Controlled Wireless Spy Tank
We really liked the first version of Brookstone's app-controlled tank Rover, a toy that let kids "spy" indoors using a moving, wirelessly controlled camera. Now Rover 2.0 ($150) adds a handful of new features for the same price point. Along with the new hardware, the company has launched an updated version of its remote app for controlling the device.
Other than a color shift—Rover 2.0 is black and green rather than white and orange—the newer tank is almost physically identical to the older one. The dimensions are the same, as are most of the exterior details, and the requirement of six included AA batteries. And as was the case before, Rover 2.0 uses Wi-Fi rather than Bluetooth to communicate with your iOS device, so the tank has plenty of range and bandwidth for transmitting data. Unfortunately, we experienced some serious issues switching back and forth between our test network and the one Rover 2.0 establishes, as it doesn’t join your existing network. For reasons unknown, we repeatedly received an “Unable to join the network” message, and sometimes even when Rover 2.0 appeared to be properly set up, the connection wasn’t actually recognized. After more testing, we found ourselves unable to establish a connection despite multiple power cycles and manual resets, an issue we verified across multiple devices in multiple locations. Connectivity sometimes popped into place, but it was spotty at best.
One new mechanical feature is the ability to remotely adjust the camera’s angle up or down from your iOS device, which previously had to be done by hand on Rover. A speaker has also been added, so you can send audio from wherever you’re sitting through Rover 2.0. Although the instruction booklet says this feature is for Android devices only, we were able to use it to broadcast audio from the iPhone or iPad, and Rover’s built-in microphone can be turned on to send sound back—the feature works kind of like a walkie-talkie. Also new is the ability to record video footage and take stills, and then upload them to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. To share, you must exit the app, switch Wi-Fi networks, and then reopen it, which is a bit of a hassle.
In our early testing, Rover 2.0 seemed basically like the same product with a new coat of paint. However, the ability to save pictures and video is a pretty big addition, as is the two-way audio, which can make using the new tank a lot more fun as a monitoring and communication toy—assuming that its Wi-Fi works. Unfortunately, the issues we encountered with the Wi-Fi connection were non-trivial, more than erasing any added benefits. When it works, Rover 2.0 works well, but the wireless inconsistencies are too big of a problem to be able to recommend this tank. A firmware update to optionally bring Rover 2.0 onto an existing Wi-Fi network might make all the difference in the world; hopefully Brookstone will make some post-release tweaks to improve the performance.