I feel a little like the head-shaking teacher from a John Hughes-ian movie addressing a brilliant but unfocused high-schooler. “Ray, Ray, Ray,” I say, rubbing my chin in a fatherly manner and squinting with genuine concern, “you have such potential…“
Ray, in this case, is the Swim Ways R/C Cyber Ray, which my daughter, nephews, brother and I spent three backyard pool sessions putting through its paces. (Swim Ways provided the Cyber Ray to GeekDad for review purposes.)
I’ve always had a weakness (though never a budget) for radio-controlled vehicles, and I was psyched about this one right out of the box. “Barrel Rolls, Loops and Dives!” the packaging promises – and the 17-inch-long, 12-inch-wide Cyber Ray, with its sleek, cartoony-but-cool design (it would make the perfect undersea getaway craft for a Superfriends villain) looks like it can deliver.
Our results, however, were extremely mixed.
Day one started out great. After installing the required four AA batteries in the Ray’s belly plus the 9-volt in the controller, we were grinning from the get-go. The controls are relatively simple: Two spring levers atop the remote handle the forward/backward directional spinning of each propeller pod, and a pair of triggers beneath tilt each pod up or down for diving, surfacing and rolling. Releasing the levers stops the props; letting go of the triggers sends the pods back to a neutral position.
Everybody wanted a turn zipping the thing around. The learning curve was a short one, and the radio signal’s range was more than adequate at the surface to reach the 40-foot length of the pool.
But the Ray’s maneuverability, so precise and responsive at or near the surface, took a hit once we started diving it deeper. For one thing, the craft lost the controller’s signal between about one and three feet underwater, depending on its proximity to the operator. For another, the toy floats at rest, meaning that once it’s submerged, if the propellers aren’t running, it rises nose-first. And this means that when you hit that invisible underwater fence formed by the radio signal’s reach and the motors stop, the Ray immediately drifts upward until it comes into range again. Standing at the pool’s edge, we had a difficult time keeping the Ray completely underwater for very long and couldn’t dive it deep enough to complete a forward loop. (Technically, backward flips were possible through hard dives and angled resurfacing that brought the belly skyward, followed by another nose-first dive, but that’s hardly the swooping “loop” one imagines.)
Even so, we were encouraged enough to have our hopes high for the next day.
Before session two, we replenished the Ray with a full load of brand-new batteries, hoping their juice would significantly boost the radio signal’s range. And while this enabled us to get the craft down just past the one-yard depth mark, even when we were kneeling right at the pool’s edge the signal repeatedly conked out just at the point where the Ray was standing on its nose, so very, very close to pushing past vertical and making a front flip possible.
With a significantly more powerful signal, the Cyber Ray would really add a new dimension of pool enjoyment on days when it’s just a little too chilly to swim but still nice enough to be outside. You can, of course, still use it as a surface and shallow-depth craft without getting in the water, but the toy’s $79 to $99 price tag all but demands greater use of its submarine capabilities.
According to the instructions, the controller’s depth limit is three feet, while the Ray’s safe
down to eight. They also state an underwater signal range of six feet, though we had trouble stretching it beyond about four and never managed to get the craft near the bottom of the pool’s nine-foot depth.
Maybe, we figured, it could be done by someone swimming or floating in the water, with the controller immersed and maintaining close contact. Problem was, the Cyber Ray was developing a portside lean. Not much at first, but noticeable even at rest, and by the end of session two, it was enough to make right-side barrel rolling impossible.
As per the instructions, after shutdown I again made sure the water was drained from the Ray and removed the batteries from both the controller and the vehicle. (I will say that I’m impressed with what I saw of the casing’s ability to keep water out of spaces it doesn’t belong: Both battery compartments were totally dry inside.) For what it’s worth, if I’m shelling out the better part of a hundred bucks for a toy like this, I’d be willing to part with a few extra dollars if more batteries meant more signal power.
When we began session three, the listing to port had, if anything, gotten worse. With both props on full throttle forward and the pods angled to dive, the Cyber Ray submerged to a depth of about 16 to 18 inches and swam circles on its left side.
What we found most frustrating, really, is that there’s such potential for the Cyber Ray to be an awesome R/C toy. Inspired by our early runs at weaving it above and under and around a pool hose, we envisioned setting up time-trial obstacle courses and taking turns racing against the clock to knock down diving sticks on the pool floor. Unfortunately, our Cyber Ray’s crippling left lean coupled with the limited underwater reach of its signal put those visions out of reach.
Two-and-a-half out of five harmless rubber-and-plastic tail barbs.
Wired: When the Cyber Ray is working properly, there’s an awful lot of fun to be had learning its controls and taking it through its diving and rolling paces.
Tired: The limited underwater signal range is like water up the nose.