We first saw Evollve’s Ozobot ($50) at CES 2014, but we honestly weren’t very excited. The tiny robot is designed to follow lines across a surface — a digital line on an iPad, or a line drawn on any piece of paper. But there’s more to it than just that: Ozobot also reads the color of a line, and changes colors to blue, green, or red. Switching between these colors, users can input codes for the bot to follow. For instance, a short blue-green-blue dot combo means “turbo,” while blue-red-green means “turn right.” More advanced codes on digital screens use altering color combinations. Essentially, Ozobot lets users experiment with basic programming by way of a small robot. Two apps have been released so far for Ozobot. While one Ozobot retails for $50, we tested the $100 double pack, which includes both white and black Ozobots.
Ozobot is a very small robot — its base is slightly larger than a quarter, and it’s only a bit taller than one inch. Included in the double pack, aside from one white Ozobot and one black Ozobot, are four “helmet” skins for the bots, a calibration card, a number of different cards with various maps and games, two small plastic carrying cases, and two short micro-USB to USB cables for charging. One plus: the diminutive size of Ozobot means a full 35-minute charge can give users between one and two hours of play, according to the Ozobot website. It feels like there’s a lot in the box, but then again, it’s $100 for a double pack. From our view, the $50 single pack is a better idea — you don’t really need two Ozobots motoring around at the same time unless you become a huge fan of a single unit and want to expand what you can do. At that point, you can simply buy another for the same total price as what a double pack would cost.
What Ozobot mostly does is follow lines around, and it does that pretty well. But those lines have to be a certain thickness — Ozobot recommends a line at least 1/4” thick, and a thin line won’t cut it. We found that Ozobot does a good job of recognizing its codes, as well — patterns of varying color indeed will cause Ozobot to properly slow down, speed up, spin around, or do a number of other functions. However, for a code to work, it must be followed by a black path that’s at least 5/8” long. Additionally, unless you only want to do the most basic things with Ozobot, there’s a bit of a learning curve. We definitely think it will be more interesting to kids who are a bit older, and have some patience.
As of now, two free Ozobot apps can be found in the App Store. The main Ozobot app includes three play modes: OzoLuck, which offers mazes that lead Ozobot to an undetermined outcome; OzoPath, which finds users placing tiles that will get Ozobot to an established destination; and OzoDraw, which lets users draw their own tracks and mazes and use the bot’s codes — we found this to be the most entertaining option by far. The other app, OzoGroove, gets an Ozobot to “dance” to a preset pattern. Another app, OzoRace, is expected to be released in spring 2015. While OzoGroove works for iPhone as well as iPad, we generally recommend using a full-sized iPad to get the most out of Ozobot’s digital capabilities.
Though Ozobot works well on an iPad, some may find the bot is most interesting when used on normal paper. It’s a bit more of a challenge to draw the lines and dots perfectly on paper, rather than using Ozobot’s own app, but it’s also more rewarding to watch Ozobot pull off all the commands flawlessly as it scoots across a long path created with markers.
Ozobot works pretty well for what it does. It follows its lines and codes, and you won’t find it careening off a path for no good reason. But we also wonder about the replay value of a tiny $50 toy that, at the end of the day, doesn’t really do that much; if you’re considering the $100 set, there are other $100 toys such as Ollie by Sphero that are much more versatile. To us, Ozobot is more “neat” than truly entertaining. Younger kids may be intrigued by it, but we think it’ll be best for kids who like to tinker and experiment, perhaps in the 6-12 age range. Children who already have an interest in robots or computers might really be taken by the coding possibilities. Otherwise, really think about the long-term fun factor here before making a purchase. As such, Ozobot earns our limited recommendation.
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Compatible: All iPads