The newest Ozobot, Evo, is designed to teach kids how to code. With its unique draw-to-code design, Evo can follow a variety of color commands using only colored markers, which allows creative minds and hands-on learners to explore the fundamentals of programming using only markers and paper.

In the box

The set comes with Evo displayed prominently on top. The rest of the box is highly organized, with each component stored in its own compartment. The set comes with a flexible skin for your Evo to wear, an Evo-sized pouch, a micro-USB charging cable, a puzzle-style pre-made line map for Evo to follow, and four markers for creating mazes and color codes.

Design

Evo itself is a little over an inch tall, making it pocket-sized. It comes in two colors, black and white, with a transparent shell to show off the display LED on top. Several bright LED lights on the front of the robot can flash in a variety of colors, which allows visual learners to watch the robot change its light pattern in response to their codes. The four proximity sensors enable it to detect obstacles from nearly any angle. An optical sensor is placed on the bottom so it can follow line maps and detect colors. Overall, Evo is small but powerful, packed with complex tech and many creative features in a pocket-sized body.

Hardware

Tons of features are packed into Evo’s tiny frame: four infrared proximity sensors, optical sensors for detecting lines and color codes, seven individual LED lights, a rechargeable lithium polymer battery, dual motors for controlling each wheel independently, a built-in speaker, and Bluetooth connectivity. Evo is surrounded by a protective polycarbonate shell, which survived quite a few minor falls during our review sessions.

Software

The Evo-compatible app is available to download for iOS and Android, and the bot itself can link up to your phone via Bluetooth. So, yes, you do need a smart device to be able to control Evo. You also must construct your codes in a separate browser before synchronizing them with the app.

Although you need a separate smart device for the full Evo experience, the robot does come fresh out of the box with color code recognition, line-following capabilities, and a set of tricks that don’t require the app. The app enhances the Evo experience by allowing you to access pre-made codes, a reward system that allows you to “level up,” and original sequences that you can construct using Ozobot’s drag-and-drop coding interface, OzoBlockly.

You can also drive your robot around using the “Drive” feature in the app. The app’s layout is intuitive, and it’s compatible with both iOS and Android — the biggest drawback is that you need to use a separate website to make your programs in the first place. Original sequences must be made on the OzoBlockly site, but they can be synced to your Ozobot app by logging in to OzoBlockly using the same account. While this process is straightforward, it does add an additional step to the coding process, making it a little more complicated than it needs to be.

OzoBlockly mirrors other drag-and-drop coding software regarding design, in which different color-coded blocks indicate different commands. You can work in OzoBlockly via four difficulty settings: novice, beginner, intermediate, and advanced – with “novice” containing pictures being accessible even for kids who haven’t started reading, and “advanced” containing high-level mathematical functions for experienced programmers.

These settings allow anyone from pre-school and beyond to learn code in an intuitive, colorful way. OzoBlockly may be drag-and-drop oriented, but you can view your code in JavaScript, which allows kids to familiarize themselves with coding syntax without feeling overwhelmed by the task of typing it all out themselves.

Performance

Evo’s performance is consistent and reliable. I was surprised by its durability – the polycarbonate shell protected Evo from any significant damage, even after falling and toppling over. I do not recommend testing this on purpose or engaging in intentionally rough play, but it provides the peace of mind that a few accidents aren’t going to ruin your new companion.

Evo can navigate turns and curves while it follows lines without losing its path, and it detects colors reliably and quickly. Although it’s recommended that you draw your lines as precisely as possible, a few minor flaws in your drawing won’t ruin Evo’s ability to follow it, and even lines that are slightly too narrow or wide are still readable. Evo is delicately balanced, however, so it struggles to navigate ramps or slopes without toppling.

Evo’s battery life only lasts about an hour, which is understandable given the number of tasks it can perform, but it gets frustrating during long coding sessions to have to take breaks to recharge.

Lastly, while I’m a fan of OzoBlockly’s colorful interface, it doesn’t seem to have an error correction feature to help you work through mistakes you may have made or any high-level tutorials immediately available, making it difficult to learn intermediate and advanced skills via trial and error.

Conclusion

Overall, Evo performs reliably and comes pre-programmed with enough games and features for it to be fun straight out of the box. On top of that, being able to learn to code through drawing and games is a big win for hands-on tactile and visual learners who might otherwise struggle with coding. My biggest complaint would be the lack of high-level tutorials, as well as the fact that the app itself cannot be used to build code.

At $99, the Ozobot Evo is affordable enough while still providing a valuable learning outlet – and it’s just plain fun.

 

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