Transformers that actually transform: T


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Jun 10, 2023

Transformers that actually transform: T

By Sean Hollister, a senior editor and founding member of The Verge who covers gadgets, games, and toys. He spent 15 years editing the likes of CNET, Gizmodo, and Engadget. How much would fans pay for

By Sean Hollister, a senior editor and founding member of The Verge who covers gadgets, games, and toys. He spent 15 years editing the likes of CNET, Gizmodo, and Engadget.

How much would fans pay for the ultimate action figure? A company named Robosen seems determined to find out — with Transformers toys that transform themselves like they do in the classic cartoon.

First, it was a $750 self-transforming Optimus Prime robot, then a $750 transforming trailer to go with it — $1,500 total to bring the leader of the Autobots to life.

Now, Hasbro and Robosen are introducing Grimlock — so you can own the king of the Dinobots, too, for a cool $1,700 all by itself.

The result is glorious. Thirty-four servo motors make for a spectacular transformation and let Grimlock walk, talk, attack, and even pretend to breathe in both dino and humanoid modes. The 5.7-pound robot comes with a light-up Energon Sword and a light-up Galaxial Rocket Launcher powered by their own button batteries, plus preprogrammed actions that use them to blast and slice through pretend foes.

With over 150 “ME GRIMLOCK” voice lines recorded by original voice actor Gregg Berger, this robot sounds the part, too. You can ask him to talk about Autobots and Decepticons, dance for your birthday, and otherwise do your bidding with 42 voice commands. There’s even a “start programming” line that lets Grimlock execute an entire string of requests in a row.

But my favorite is the “bite” — you get some solid T. Rex neck and chomper action, plus a fiery red belch at the end.

And did I mention this robot charges over USB-C now? Robosen says the 2,500mAh battery should take 90 minutes to charge and provide 90 minutes of play.

I’m just a little confused that, two years later at twice the price, Robosen and Hasbro haven’t addressed the biggest limitations I had with that original Optimus Prime — not even the ability to reliably stand up on a shelf when the robot’s powered off. Unfortunately, the servo motors need to be powered to keep it from toppling over.

Like Optimus, Grimlock also doesn’t have the faintest idea of its surroundings. It’ll happily throw itself off a table, and my unit can’t walk in a straight line or effectively turn. You still can’t use it on carpet without the robot face-planting or worse, and it still moves with the same slight shuffling motions instead of taking real steps. I don’t dare let kids touch it while it’s performing an action because it might decide one of its many, many joints is out of place, something that always requires a full reboot to fix.

Robosen’s apps haven’t changed much in nearly two years, either. It still feels just as half-baked. The direct remote control interface is similarly laggy, the robot is still really touchy about which joints you can pose without triggering a reboot, and the block-based programming interface has a large learning curve with no tutorial.

Mostly, I was thwarted by lots of bugs and Bluetooth disconnects, each of which required me to reboot the robot yet again. I finally gave up and decided to stick to voice commands, which are genuinely better than they were with Optimus — not Alexa / Siri / Google Home grade, but it can hear me as long as I wait long enough after the “Hey Grimlock” wake word before moving on.

It’s still a wildly impressive toy, and I have to admit Robosen has a little time before it launches the toy this fall. Mostly, I’m just experiencing sticker shock. The company tells me there are loads of factors behind the increased price, including 26 percent more motors, 46 percent more chips, more transformation steps to program, more labor costs, more packaging, premium materials, and so on — but it’s hard for me to reconcile how expensive this is with the experience of using it. For now, Robosen will begin selling it at a promo price of $1,500.

I’d like to see the company build on a new robot platform next time around like it did with Bumblebee, but more... transformable.

I’m also really eager to try the company’s Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, if that’s still in the works.

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