Expensive cat toys are, by nature, risky territory.
More often than not, you’re bound to end up watching that well-intentioned waste of money collect dust in some corner while your cat dutifully continues to knock around a twist-tie you dropped six months ago. The same can largely be said for pet cameras, which tend to cost more than their time in use would justify.
These were the thoughts swirling around my head when I started unboxing Enabot’s Ebo Pro, a small home robot pitched to me as both “a cat’s best friend” and its “personal photographer.”
The latter is an easy enough claim to fulfill; bots with decent object tracking capabilities that can snap a photo or video at will aren’t exactly uncommon these days. But “best friend”? Best friend to my cat? A 15-year-old curmudgeon who loves exactly four humans and no one else? Ginger, who delivers a knockout punch to any animal large or small that dares enter her space, like some kind of fur-adorned mantis shrimp? Who has been known to hide for months at a time following the slightest disturbance? We’d see about that.
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Right out of the box, Ebo is adorable. It’s about the size of a tennis ball and the unit I was sent came with both a Santa and a reindeer outfit (hat, antlers, and all), which melted my heart more than it should have. Pairing it with my iPhone was refreshingly straightforward compared to the experiences I’ve had with a lot of other smart home devices, and it was all set up and ready to rock within a few minutes.
Being the Pro model, as opposed to the $50-cheaper Ebo S, this particular Ebo packs AI smarts for face recognition and automatic tracking (i.e., following your cat around). There are a few ways to make it interact. You can control Ebo manually via the smartphone app, which overlays a joystick or arrow buttons on the live feed, pre-program up to 20 autoplay sessions (with or without a laser pointer enabled), or activate it manually in the app and then leave it to do its thing. It connects to your Wi-Fi and can snap pictures and record video as well as livestream with its 1080p HD camera. Everything is stored either on your phone using peer-to-peer connection or on the device with an SD card, which always helps to soothe privacy concerns.
While I got myself accustomed to its controls and physical presence, I tested the waters with a more lenient critic: Gizmo, my 2-and-a-half-year-old ferret who is always down for anything, especially if it involves a bit of mayhem.
And (mild) mayhem, there was. The remote control feature works well enough, translating to actual motion without much delay, but finding the sweet spot between a gentle nudge and an erratic topple-spin proved to be somewhat difficult. The virtual joystick can be rotated in a circle as though it sits in a ball-and-socket joint, but there are also four directional arrows around it that you can use for more rigid, linear movements. Sometimes I’d accidentally send it barreling straight into Gizmo when what I’d wanted to do was just inch it up a bit. This was mostly a learning curve issue, but one to keep in mind especially if you have a jumpy pet that might be spooked by sudden movements. Thankfully, ferrets play notoriously rough, and she took this all in stride. Soon enough I was chasing her around with it.
Tons of fun
Ebo’s capabilities really shined the second I stopped controlling it. Pressing the tracking mode button in the camera feed lets the little robot identify the living things in the room and interact. It was instantly right up in Gizmo’s business — and she responded by batting it around as though it were a $4 plastic ball with a bell in it and not a $300 electronic device. Seriously, I cannot believe the hits this thing took. Nothing really slowed Ebo down, either. Gizmo would send it rolling into a desk or wall and it would right itself quickly, getting back on its small tracks to keep playing as though it hadn’t just slammed into a hard, solid object.
That brings me to an important note on noise level: while Ebo itself drives very quietly and the level of its voice can be adjusted, it is LOUD when it rolls around or is knocked over. If you live in an apartment and don’t have carpeting, you might want to save playtime for when you know your downstairs neighbors are at work.
Once Gizmo got bored of Ebo (and by that I mean she fell asleep staring directly into its eyes), I let it make its way back to the charging dock. Of all the semi-autonomous products I’ve tested, Ebo is a clear winner when it comes to finding its way home. While my eufy RoboVac mercilessly rams itself into every chair, doorway, and corner on its arduous journey back to its dock, Ebo gets to the charger with no problem even from across the room and with obstacles all around. It sometimes has to make adjustments once it’s there, rolling off the dock and trying again while quietly repeating “Ebo!” but I’ve found this more endearing than annoying. Call me a sucker for pixelated puppy-eyes. Regardless, I have yet to find it dead in the middle of the room.
With the ferret test cleared, Ebo was ready to get to its primary mission: befriending the cat, Ginger. And, I cannot believe I’m writing these words, she absolutely loves it.
“She’s waiting for him to wake up.”
For the first few days, I bounced between manually controlling Ebo and letting it auto-play at random. It’s easy to win a cat over with a laser pointer, so I wasn’t surprised to find Ginger enthralled by the dancing red dot it emits; predictably, she chased the laser dot around like she would one from any other light source, reaching all-out zoomies and tornado spins in a matter of seconds. What I didn’t expect, though, was for her to drop all her wariness of the robot itself almost instantly. Unlike other unknowns, which she normally greets as 1) something to hide from or 2) something to bully, Ginger kind of just… let Ebo be. After initially sizing it up, she regarded it almost like something that’s always been in the house.
Love at first sight
The real magic, though, came with the programmed playtimes. I set Ebo to run for 10-20 minutes at different times throughout the day with the laser enabled and left it to its own devices for a week. And since doing that, Ginger has come to expect that it wakes up and entertains her.
Then one day, after this had been going on for a little while, I got this text from my partner while I was out: “She’s waiting for him to wake up.” It’s safe to say my heart turned to mush.
I’ve grown kind of fond of Ebo, too. It sits on its charger underneath the desk where I work all day, and I get a kick out of it every time I hear it come to life. Enabot notes that it can also be used as a family robot for households without pets. At first, I wasn’t so sure about this given the price and lack of task-based functionality, but the more time passes, the more I understand.
Ebo Pro isn’t cheap, at $299, and that price point may make it a hard sell for the average person. But if you’re in the mood to splurge or looking for the perfect gift for the pet-lover in your life, you could do much worse than Ebo — just don’t forget to browse the accessories, too. Your cat will thank you for it.