Sony practically invented the portable music player with its Walkman, and has form for making innovative robotic toys with its brilliant-but-now-discontinued AIBO pups. The Rolly blends elements of both in a fun-sized, rugby-ball shaped package.
At its most basic, Rolly is a solid-state MP3 player with a small speaker at either end. There's 2GB of built-in flash memory (enough for around 500 tunes in 128kbps MP3 format), and the 20mm-diameter speakers pump out 1.2 watts apiece. That’s no much, but is enough for a super-compact sound system and the quality is decent even at higher volumes.
Fortunately, there's more to Rolly than just sitting on the bundled cradle pumping out tunes, although he does that well. Note the 'he' there – that's because Rolly has entirely more character than an AI-free electronic egg should have, and is all about is disco dancing and bringing a little more joy into the world.
To make him move, you load up the (Windows-only) Rolly Choreographer software, navigate to your tunes on your hard drive, and then transfer them using the Automatic Choreography button. Easy peasy. Rolly can play AAC format tracks, but only MP3s or 3GP ones can be analysed, so the software converts them before doing so.
Choreographer then figures out a series of moves to suit – Rolly can rotate and waggle his end-cap arms, roll back and forwards, turn and spin – and there's also a bunch of multicoloured disco-tastic LEDs. The combined effect is mesmerising and will bring a smile to the face of the moodiest office curmudgeon.
With a belly full of tunes and charge, Rolly will strut his stuff for up to four hours, or more in static music-only mode. He can also stream music and moves from your laptop or phone via A2DP Bluetooth, which is handy if you've got more than his memory can handle. He can't, however, improvise, which unfortunately prevents spontaneous freak-outs.
Although our efforts were a bit ropey, it is possible to programme Rolly's moves yourself, which will add to his long-term appeal. The software's that easy to use, programming Rolly could also form a fun basic intro to robotics for a nipper.
All in all, Rolly's a cute and very clever bit of kit – thanks to built-in accelerometers he even knows which way he's up and flips his controls to suit.
Critics will point to the lack of a display and the non-expandable memory, not to mention the hefty price. But lumping Rolly in with other MP3 speakers is like pitching a mini moto against a superbike: he’s fun-tech personified, and a miniature engineering marvel that should be celebrated.