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The Sphero Mini is the size of a ping pong ball and super cute

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Sphero

I love a tiny object, but I wasn't fully prepared for how small and cute the new Sphero Mini would be. The company introduced and released the ping pong ball-sized device today along with a new Sphero Mini app. I actually squealed when I took it out of its shipping box at The Verge's office this week.

The Mini works similarly to the original Sphero in that users can drive it around, program it, and play games with it through its companion iOS / Android app. There are four options for driving the Mini: Face Drive, Tilt, Slingshot, and Joystick. Face Drive is the most unique, if not at all practical, option. It relies on facial recognition software to scan users' faces and identify basic emotions, like a smile or frown. Those expressions are then interpreted as directives. A smile might make the ball move forward, for example. Sphero says the app registers these reactions but doesn't save or record any data, which is important for privacy-conscious parents.

Slingshot will likely be most useful for people who want to bowl with their Sphero. The Mini ships with small rubber pins and cones, so users can set up an obstacle course or bowling alley and use Slingshot mode to pull back with their finger on their smartphone and then fire the Sphero. This seems like the most entertaining game, although the Mini also includes new virtual games, including Round Trip, which has players use the ball as a controller to create shapes. The virtual games don't seem as fun as just driving the Mini around or programming it, though.

Sphero

Sphero of course makes programming a part of its releases, as that's one of the company's bigger goals — educating kids about robotics and code. The company has an entire division dedicated to education, specifically to bring its programmable Sprk+ device and companion education app into schools. The Mini is compatible with the Sphero EDU app that lets kids experiment with coding. The ultimate goal is for kids to use JavaScript to design a route.

Overall, the Mini is largely similar to Sphero's original product, except more lively. It comes with a swappable outer shell and lights up. It feels more kid-oriented overall. The Mini only differs from the original Sphero in that it isn't as rugged, so you can't put it in water or really use it on concrete or dirt. It also has a shorter battery life of 45 minutes to an hour, as opposed to the original Sphero, which lasted more than an hour. (The Mini charges over microUSB.)

Still, the Mini costs less than half the price of the full-sized device. It's available today through Sphero's website and costs $49.99. The regular costs $129.99. I imagine lots of kids will be getting this for the holidays, and it's nice to see Sphero stepping away from Star Wars and Cars-branded toys for at least one product release.