lance ulanoff

This Spider-Man does whatever a spider-companion can do

What if your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man could spend less time out fighting crime and more time at home with you?

That’s the concept behind Sphero’s latest Disney/Marvel Universe-inspired toy, the Spider-Man Interactive App-enabled Superhero. It’s a tabletop companion that responds to your voice, tells stories, virtually joins you on missions, and can watch over your room.

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Even though he’s a superhero, this Spider-Man has a decidedly Funko-like figure (giant head, squat physique) and a rubberized body. Its stumpy arms are poseable, but he’s otherwise immobile. It is rechargeable so you can take it out on your own little Spider-Man-inspired adventures.

The only thing that moves on this Spider-Man are his arms.

Image: Lance Ulanoff/mashable

Inside, though, is an Android-based system, motion sensors, a speaker just below his Spider-Man logo button, microphones, and expressive LCD-based Spidey eyes.

The toy companion’s launch is timed to coincide with the release of the new Spider-Man: Homecoming movie franchise reboot. Aside from the eyes and web-slinger gear on its wrist, though, the toy is wearing a classic Spider-Man costume.

Designed for a night table or desktop (he can be used as an alarm clock), Sphero’s Spider-Man will spend most of its existence on its included charging base, waiting for you to press the Spider-Man logo on its chest. Once you do that, the logo lights up and microphones listen for key words and phrases, like “What’s the crime report?” “Let’s fight some bad guys,” “Make me laugh,” and “Tell me a story.” And Spider-Man has many tales to tell. Sphero packed it with over 100 comic books’ worth of stories and adventures, and Spider-Man keeps track of what he’s told you and where in the action you left off. Sphero representatives told me the toy won’t be repeating itself.

The interactive Spider-Man comes with this charging base.

Image: lance Ulanoff/mashable

There’s also an associated app that lets you create your own superhero name and abilities and helps you keep track of which bad guys you’ve fought.

Inside the app, you choose your name from a two-part word wheel, where you make up combos like “Stealth Wolf” or “Ultimate Shark.” You get the same two-word choice system for your super power. During setup, I chose the name “Colossal King” and “Super Fists” as my super power. You can update your alias and powers at any time.

Don’t worry about Interactive Spider-Man using your child’s real name. It lets her pick a superhero alias.

Image: Sphero

And you get to add a crazy super power.

Image: Sphero

When I connected the app to Spider-Man (you just hold the phone near Spider-Man), he immediately used my name and asked me if I was royal by birth. He also noted my super power and said he wondered why my hands were big and red. 

Put simply, this is a toy with intelligence.

You can pick it up and move it around and, because of the accelerometer, it will react. I turned Interactive Spider-Man upside down and it said. “Unhand me, you fiend,” and when I shook it, he said “Shake your super hero booty.” 

Spider-Man’s charging port is built into his foot.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

The Interactive Spider-Man never had trouble hearing me, even when I spoke softly, and I never had difficulty hearing or understanding the sound coming out of the single speaker in his belly. Volume is controlled via the app.

Spider-Man’s youthful voice is always accompanied by eye animations that make it look like he’s happy, sad, or amused.

There’s no camera, but Spider-Man can use its infrared motion sensor to detect movement, In sentry mode, which you activate by double-pressing the logo button and saying “Activate guard mode,” Spider-Man says things like, “Freeze, knucklehead, you’re not allowed in here.” You turn off this mode by telling Spider-Man to “Stand down.”

All this interaction and engagement might make you nervous, but Sphero spent a lot of time thinking about privacy. That’s why there isn’t a camera and Spider-Man isn’t always listening. You must press the Spider-Man logo button to turn on the microphone, and the logo is always lit when the toy is listening.

Sphero’s interactive Spider-Man is Wi-Fi connected, but only for content updates. Whatever you tell it is encrypted and, as soon as Spider-Man has completed the associated voice task, the data is, according to Sphero, discarded.


Spider-Man is also full of hidden Easter eggs. Every time you push its button, Spider-Man will respond, but if you keep pressing, he may threaten to reset. He even appears to do so, but it’s a ruse. Not sure if kids will find that entertaining or frustrating. I suggest shaking him a lot to see what happens.

In general, though, this could be the perfect companion for a Spider-Man-obsessed 8 year-old (or older) who wants wants to live the Spidey lifestyle with all the entertainment and activity value, but none of the real-world risks.

Sphero’s Interactive Spider-Man goes on sale Thursday for $149.

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Jonathan Franzen Is Wrong: eBooks Are Good for Everyone (and I call Bull*)

Lance Ulanoff at Mashable Tech:

I, on the other hand, hope to live well past my 97th year and to thoroughly enjoy ebooks from now to then and beyond. Maybe Franzen will change his mind and join me.

I call bull* on this one. I don’t see why physical books would have to disappear.

Yes, they’re easier to travel around with. Taking a three-week summer holiday with the whole Game of Thrones catalogue in a device that weighs under 2 pounds is a plus.

But will paper books ever loose their value? Do they _need_ to disappear for eBooks to ‘win’? Does any format need to win?

I think it’s exactly the same as with paperback and hardcover. I just love paperback versions for their flexibility, they cost less and they weigh less. A good friend of mine swears by hardcover versions, since they don’t wrinkle and look good in his small library.

Saying paper books will disappear because eBooks exist is like saying notebooks will disappear because everyone uses MS Word. Or like saying decks of playing cards will disappear because people play poker online.


“Gotham: Inside a Viewing Party for Fox’s Batman Prequel”

Article and photos by Lance Ulanoff, read the article here: X

“Robin Lord Taylor is seated on the other side of the room, pale and still sporting Penguin’s jet-black hair. As we talk, I realize that, in person, he isn’t very menacing. Maybe that’s because he’s missing Penguin’s nose, which the show elongates slightly with a prosthesis for the role.

I ask what to expect from his character this season. His answer: “Imagine everything you are being stripped away. What would be left?”

Thanks, @kathemy !   This was fun to read!