Toy robots used to be toys that looked like robots. But today's options are far more sophisticated than the bleeping, blooping contraptions from the era of "Buck Rogers" and "Battlestar Galactica." Many have multiple sensors, voice controls, and artificial intelligence. They're real robots that just happen to be toys.  

But not all toy robots are created equal. To see which ones stand out from the crowd, we're putting five of the most popular models on the market to the test in a battle-of-the-bots showdown. In the weeks ahead, we’ll roll out the full results of the contest. In the meantime, welcome to Round One.

In this first heat, Consumer Reports’ Emilio Gonzalez—a mechanical engineer, father, and resident "Star Wars" fan—pitted Sphero’s Star Wars-inspired BB-8 against Wonder Workshop’s Dash.

Both have proved to be popular gifts in the time since their release. (BB-8 arrived in Sept. 2015 and Dash in Dec. 2014.) They're both controlled by mobile apps that you download to a smartphone or tablet (Android or iOS). They connect to mobile devices via Bluetooth. And both have rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Dash recharges via a conventional USB cord; BB-8 refuels through a base with an induction charger. You simply set the toy down on the base and wait.

Sphero BB-8, $150

Sphero's BB-8, one of five toy robots in our showdown

BB-8 is, of course, a replica of the lovable rolling droid from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." In fact, if you play with the toy while watching the film, it responds to cues in the soundtrack. "When it hears something it recognizes," says Gonzalez, "it will make a beeping sound."

The sounds don't actually come from the robot, though. They emerge from your mobile device.

The first thing you’ll notice when playing with BB-8 is that, thanks to magnets, the toy’s head rides on top of its rolling-orb body as if by magic. Once you get over the head-scratching joy of watching it veer about, you can explore the various diversions on the toy’s app, which not only allows you to steer the droid from your phone or tablet but also record brief messages a la Princess Leia or Obi-Wan Kenobi. You can then watch those messages project holograph-like from the toy through an augmented-reality feature on the app.

"It does take a little hand-eye coordination to use the controls to move the droid," says Gonzalez. "I found it a little frustrating at first, but with practice you become more proficient."

Sphero recently introduced an $80 wristband accessory—dubbed the Force Band—that permits you to control BB-8 with hand gestures. The device uses an accelerometer and a gyroscope to interpret those gestures. We did not test the Force Band, however, so we can’t vouch for its effectiveness.

BB-8 is capable of responding to simple voice commands (issued through your mobile device) and also navigating around the room autonomously. It does not have on-board sensors, so it relies on the app to gradually map the confines of the space by tracking the toy’s speed and heading. As you might imagine, it's a slow process and it doesn't account for new obstacles that get placed in BB-8's way.

Wonder Workshop Dash, $150

Wonder Workshop's Dash, one of five toy robots in our showdown

Dash does not have a Hollywood pedigree. He also lacks the gee-whiz factor of BB-8's floating head. But the toy is endearing in its own way.

It looks like a pyramid of cheerful blue billiard balls on wheels. The ball at the peak is designed to look like a big LED-light eye.  

Dash is loaded with sensors that help it understand and respond to the world around it. It has three microphones that allow it to identify the direction its owner's voice is coming from; three distance sensors that help it detect objects front and back with infrared lights; four infrared transmitters; and two infrared detection sensors so it can recognize and communicate with fellow robots.  

The head moves up, down, left, and right. The LED lights flash and change colors. The speaker spits out pre-recorded sounds—barks, horns, sirens—as well as other noises that you can record yourself. The base spins, turns, and races off via voice commands or instructions relayed through the app.

The toy encourages kids to learn the fundamentals of computer programming through free play and a series of challenges on the toy's five free apps. It even has four buttons on top of the robot's head that let you store and activate programs you create.

"As with BB-8, Dash's apps essentially allow you to control the robot using on-screen commands," says Gonzalez. "But they get progressively more sophisticated as the age range goes up."

The Blocky app, for example, designed for children age 9 to 11, lets users connect commands like puzzle pieces. "It includes all the basic programming functions one would find in most computer languages," Gonzalez says.

Dash also offers a range of add-on accessories, which include a bulldozer bar ($40), a xylophone that lets you compose music ($40), and a plastic ball launcher ($30).

And the Winner Is . . .

“The BB-8 definitely has the cool factor,” says Gonzalez. “However, its functionality is limited.” Once you get over the joy of watching it motor about, you’re left with a few clever features that can lose their appeal—maybe not in a day or a week, but in due time. For what it's worth, the toy is destined to become a collectible, thanks to its movie ties.

“The Dash is the better toy of the two,” Gonzalez says. “Its five free apps will appeal to different age groups, growing with your child.” All introduce programming skills, including challenges that must be completed to unlock features. Kids can activate the recorded sounds, change the colors of the toy’s LED lights, and, yes, maneuver the robot around the room. “It’s an educational toy,” says Gonzalez. “And it does a pretty good job.”

Visit our website in November to see how Dash stacks up against WowWee's CHiP, Zoomer's Chimp, and Anki's Cozmo.