When Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrived on home media this month, Sphero released an update for their popular BB-8 app-enabled droid that allows him to “watch” the movie along with you at home. BB-8 owners ourselves, we were keen to try out the update as soon as soon as our own Blu-ray dropped onto our doormat, so we scheduled a family movie night–with one additional extra on the couch!
After turning on the BB-8 app, you’ll spot the new “Watch With Me” feature in the main menu; simply select it and acknowledge the reminder that you’ll need a copy of the film in order to use the feature to get started. The app will advise you to put BB-8 on his base, leave the app open, and to plug in your smart device (this is a power hungry activity) before telling you to “start the movie at any time!” BB-8 “watches” by listening to the audio to identify whereabouts in the movie you are, and reacting accordingly.
The Good Parts:
- BB-8’s reactions are timed perfectly with the film so he never spoils moments by reacting to things that haven’t yet happened.
- His reactions are character appropriate. He beeps excitedly when Poe arrives on screen but shudders at the first encounter with Kylo Ren. His squeal of terror at the sudden appearance of a rathtar had us all laughing out loud.
- He’s very funny. My personal favorite moment was when Finn claims to be with The Resistance. As soon as he said it, BB-8 uttered his adorable “no, no, no” sound effect and shook his head.
- Whenever a character (or occasionally a ship) first appears, the app brings up a photo of them with “[character name] detected” or similar. You do have the option to switch these pop-ups off if you find them distracting.
- Because the app “listens” to the sound of the film to know where it is, you don’t have to set BB-8 off at the exact same moment you press play. You can also pause the film and come back to it without the stoppage affecting BB-8’s interaction.
- My son was able to sit through some of the scarier scenes he needed to step out of the cinema for on our second viewing because he distracted himself by “comforting” BB-8.
The Bad Parts:
- Naturally, BB-8 can become very distracting. Occasionally his beeping and squealing would drown out dialogue from the film, even with the sound from the app set to a suitably low level.
- During *that scene*, BB-8’s dramatic reaction drowned out the music and other character’s reactions (you can watch below) which really took away from the moment. Interestingly, another GeekDad reported BB-8 barely reacting at all to the same scene, so his reactions may vary slightly between units.
- BB-8 would often shift about on his base and spent more than half the film “watching” the back of our sofa instead of looking at the screen where I repeatedly pointed him. Even changing the position of the charging base didn’t help. Although the direction he faces doesn’t impact his ability to interact, it does significantly detract from the believability that he is “watching” along with you when he appears to be squealing at the cushions instead of the movie, and constantly reaching over to turn him back around did become annoying after a while.
- By the end of the film, my phone, which had been running the app, was so hot I could barely touch it. BB-8 was also red hot where he had been sat on the base, and the base itself was incredibly warm.
- If you tend to play with your phone while watching movies at home you’ll need to download the BB-8 app onto another device. It needs to run constantly throughout the movie to allow BB-8 to continue interacting.
Watching with BB-8 was a cute experience, even if he did break my heartmultiple times by hanging his “head” in sadness at certain scenes, but not one I’ll be repeating frequently. It’s just too distracting for an every-time experience. That being said, I’d love for Sphero to release further updates that would allow us to watch the other Star Wars movies with BB-8 just to see how he reacts to other classic scenes. If you already own a BB-8, this update adds a whole new level of fun to be had with your droid.