Rolly, the new innovation from the wizards at Sony is an MP3 player with a twist, literally. In this case “twist” is a verb. Yep, that’s right folks, because Rolly doesn’t have a twist, he can actually do the twist…or the tango, or rock and roll, or maybe you would prefer him to boogie. That’s because Rolly isn’t just an MP3 player, he’s an all dancing, all flashing robot as well.
Using the latest advances in artificial intelligence Rolly is a palm sized, egg shaped portable audio device with motion capabilities, meaning he can spin and dance to the rhythm of music (you’ll notice I keep referring to him as “he” as from the moment he first arrived on my desk shaking his little eggy butt I’ve found him too cute to simply call him “it”).
So let’s talk the tech. Weighing in an 300g, Rolly packs a lot of tech in his shell (no egg pun intended). There’s 2GB of built in memory which gives storage to approximately 520 four minute songs encoded in 128kbps and also supports DRM free AAC formats. With a digital amp and two stereo speakers with neodymium magnets providing the audio, Rolly doesn’t have an earphone jack so isn’t competing in the personal MP3 market. The motion is achieved through 2 wheels, shoulders and arms, a set of each on either side, working in unison with two rings of light capable of emitting over 700 different colours. The Lithium Ion battery is charged via USB through the computer and last approximately 4-5 hours depending on the use of the motion and lights. Rolly also contains Bluetooth technology allowing users to steam music from other Bluetooth devices such as mobile phones.
Accompanying Rolly in the box is also the Rolly Choreographer software, enabling users to transfer and organise music onto the player and then either automatically assign motion or create their own custom choreography to their tunes. Motion of up to 7 minutes can be assigned to any one song.
That’s the tech out the way, so what was Rolly actually like to use? Well, the player itself is extremely intuitive albeit a little unique. The controls are motion activated so that when the device is held vertically the top wheel changes tracks and play groups depending on the amount of spin, and the bottom wheel changes the volume. The only other control, apart from the on/off/Bluetooth enable switch is a single button which activates the player in either full motion mode or playback only. The playback only option is actually extremely beneficial as it enables Rolly to really be used as a simple audio device, making him a great travel companion. As someone who regularly travels, having an MP3 player this size with built in speakers saves me having to carry separate speakers and cable to listen to music in my hotel room – a real bonus.
The sound quality is actually pretty good with clear clarity. The only thing maybe lacking is the base, but with speakers of this size this is acceptable and no different to any other comparable on the market.
But the real “selling point” of Rolly is his motion capabilities. The supplied software allows you to automatically assign motion or use the Motion Editor to choreograph your own.
First up lets look at the Automatic feature….
The Automatic Choreography feature uses 12 tone analysis and beat analysis technology to analyze music on your Rolly, and then automatically creates motion that matches the music.
Naturally Rolly seems prone to laziness and it takes quite a fat tune to get him off his little eggy arse. We tried the automatic motion function with three different tunes, and despite giving him some fat beats to grove to he had a tendency to stand there like a kid at a school disco just clapping his hands, or flapping his wings in his case. The first 2 tunes, Skibadee and Nappy Roots produced a rather lame effort though he did get rather more excited with Papa Was a Rolling Stone and busted a couple of funky moves of his own accord. So despite being slightly sedate in this mode, Rolly at least seems to have quite good taste in music. I actually think the automatic function works better with slower beats as the quicker tempos don’t seem to register as well.
Next, the fun begins, it’s on to the Custom Choreography…..
My only gripe here is that the instructions are somewhat lacking and it’s more a case of trial and error to get the hang of it. Nether-the-less after a bit of playing around it’s fairly straightforward. The screen is divided into two sections, the right showing the motion editor and the left showing a 3D graphic of Rolly that simulates the movement you are creating.
Once you select a tune the software analyses the beat, provide you with beat lines that help you place the motions accordingly. By placing points on the Editor you can control the arms, wheels, shoulders and also the lights. This takes a little while to get use to, but having the 3D Rolly on the left really helps you understand how the point placement will affect the motion.
Understanding that producing the motion for an entire song could get a little tedious if you have to coordinate every move, Sony have kindly provided a library of set moves that you can use in conjunction with your own creations. There is also a lighting library to “quick create” the lighting effects as well.
Unfortunately I don’t think my first attempt did poor Rolly justice. I had him spinning and flapping like a lunatic (maybe appropriately) to Superfreak, looking more like a drunken dad at a wedding rather than the sophisticated choreographed robot he is meant to be. Never mind, there are others who have done far more wonderous things than I to show off his capabilities and I was still incredibly chuffed to see him performing my instructions perfectly. In fact I can really see there being Internet sites dedicated to “dance offs” that people have created with their little robotic Rolly friend.
Overall, Rolly is a fun gadget, a decent MP3 audio device and a one-of-a-kind that I’m sure will provide gadget-heads and kids alike with endless hours of entertainment.