Remember when we just played catch?
Those were good, simpler times. Of course, we put aside our footballs and super bouncy balls for virtual ones on our smart phones and, in the process, life got a little less active and, maybe, a little less interesting.
Perhaps the best ways to reintroduce inflatable balls to playtime is to make them as smart as the balls on your iPhone screen. Better yet, put some of the same technology you find in your iPhone inside an inflatable ball.
That’s the basic concept behind the Play Impossible Gameball. Sure, it’s an odd and long name for such a simple-looking toy, but, to be fair, some of what this ball can do does seem a little impossible.
The 5.25-inch green, latex foam-covered rubber ball is a little undersized for the soccer field, but it wouldn’t look out of place on any playground. It comes filled with air and has a valve hole for pumping up the ball if it goes flat. Gameball feels light, flexible and has a good bounce.
This, however, is not your average ball.
For starters, Gameball costs $99. That’s an impossible price for an inflatable ball you toss around, but then this isn’t just a ball. Your first clue are the two copper contacts inside a red triangle on the ball’s surface. They’re there so you can charge the ball.
That’s right, this ball is battery powered and charges in an unusual and, honestly, awkward way.
The Play Impossible Gameball ships with a fat charging wand that fits two AA batteries. It has two copper contacts on the business end that align with those copper contacts on the ball.
When you first open the free app, it connects via Bluetooth to the Gameball and then instructs you to charge the ball, which can get a full charge in 20 seconds. Seriously, that’s all it takes. I held the charging wand against the ball and watched as the app’s charge meter on the iPhone app rose to full.
After you name your Gameball in the app — with just three letters, go figure — the app walks you through some Gameball play exercises.
Wait, we need to be trained on how to play with a ball?
Not exactly, the training is designed to demonstrate Gameball’s motion-tracking capabilities.
This ball is in constant communication with the iPhone app (there’s a Google Play app, too). Every toss, tap, drop, shake and spin is registered down to things like milliseconds. G-forces, MPH and RPMs.
The app had me try to throw the Gameball in the air to an exact height of three feet above my tossing hand. I watched in disbelief as the distance registered in real-time in the app.
There are a bunch of different challenges and games, including shaking the ball quickly, which was a great workout, and seeing how softly you could toss and catch the ball. The ball measures the force of it hitting your hand.
There were times when Gameball failed to read an activity. When I slammed it hard against my hand, it didn’t pick up the force at all, but when I dropped the ball on the ground, it did.
The more challenges you beat, the more you unlock. There are also seven games you can play by yourself or with someone else. including Splash, which is like a water balloon toss game (it measures how gently each player catches the ball) and Jostle, where you try to make someone holding the Gameball shake it.
A single charge is supposed to last for hours, but I noticed that after 25 minutes or so of intense play, the battery had drained to 65%. In addition, the next time I used the Gameball, it seemed to need a full charge again, which, thankfully, only took 20 seconds.
I like the idea of an intelligent ball that can hold up to real-world rough-play, but I do worry about the strange charging methodology — a charging base would’ve been more sensible — and that price.
Considering all the impressive charging and motion-sensing technology squeezed inside this rugged, little sphere, I get why Play Impossible is asking for $99. Consumers, however, may look at it and think, “A $99 rubber ball? No thanks.”
It’ll be interesting to see how people respond. In the meantime, I think Play Impossible might want to start looking at how it can get the price down to a more attractive $49.99.
Gameball will be available soon on Amazon and some Target stores.
Watch: Sphero Mini is loads of fun