The Rover 2.0 is an awesome concept, but it feels too much like an unfinished product to spend $150 on.
The description for Brookstone’s Rover 2.0 ($150 as of 11/16/2012) makes it seem like such a joy: You can operate it from 200 feet away and drive it remotely, with a camera as its eyes, using your Apple or Android mobile device as a controller. Oh, did we mention its stealth mode and the fact you can talk and hear through the bot? This fun, however, was mostly spoiled by the wet blanket that is a weak connection.
The bot seems fairly rugged, except of course for its antenna, which is the only thing that blemishes its otherwise smooth design. Taking the Rover over a small bump shouldn’t be a problem, but I would steer away from anything more than a few inches high. The caterpillar treads do give you a fair amount of grip, and the Rover had no problems with traction. The forward-facing camera can pan up and down about 40 degrees, but there were times I wished it could rotate as well.
The bot hosts a Wi-Fi network for you to connect to, which theoretically means you can operate it from your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet from up to 200 feet away. Wi-Fi is easy to configure, but it posed a serious problem since anything that affects Wi-Fi performance also hinders the performance of the bot. The weaker your Wi-Fi connection, the worse the video feed from the Rover. The worse the video feed, the more difficult it is to control.
After the bot is a certain distance away from you—which turned out to be about 50 feet around our office—it just stops responding consistently. Our office is 100 feet wide, and I couldn’t make it to the other end using the video feed alone.
The controls are also tricky by themselves, and require you to move two sliders that sit on opposite side of your screen to drive each of the bot’s caterpillar tracks. This is useful for precise turning, but the video stream lagged too badly in my hands-on time for anything precise.
One other thing to note is that the rover does make a substantial amount of noise. You probably won’t be sneaking up on anybody unless they’re sleeping like a log, or have headphones on. The “stealth” mode does nothing but turn off a tiny green LED indicator on the top of the bot.
Criticisms aside, the rover was a lot of fun when we used it in a small area, and when you have a competent control over the bot. However, it’s marketed as a “wireless spy tank,” and for $150 I would expect a better wireless method of control.
I want to like the bot so much, but I think I’ll just wait and see what (hopefully) Rover 3.0 has to offer before giving it my seal of recommendation.
Albert is a former PCWorld and Macworld intern and GeekTech writer, who now works as an Editorial Assistant in the PCWorld Lab. Albert likes to dabble in Web development in his free time. Check him out on Dribbble, or see some of his work on CodePen.