You Review: Karotz cutesy Wi-Fi smart rabbit... thing

We let one of our forum fans, Marc Crane, loose on the Karotz -- the latest word in bunny-shaped home communications devices.

Continuing our irregular series of user reviews, forum stalwart Marc Crane tests the latest word in bunny-shaped home communications devices -- the Karotz. If you have a review of a product you would like to appear on Crave and you're prepared to put the same care and attention into it that Marc has, email it to tips@cnet.co.uk and we'll publish the best.

While a 'Wi-Fi connected rabbit with moving ears' sounds like something risqué that SJP may rave about with her Sex and the City ladyfriends, the Karotz is instead a very cute, well-made and well-connected communications device for the home.

With adorable looks, complete with moving ears and flashing LED belly, the Karotz is the third incarnation of the original Nabaztag. You can snare one for around £85. But what the heck is it? Read on to follow the rabbit down the hole.

Karotz ears

It can wiggle its ears on command, amusing you for hours until the stark reality that you are wasting your life hits home.

Should I buy the Karotz?

You'll be none the wiser clicking 'What is Karotz' on its website but we've boiled the bunny down to its soupy essence, and picked over the bones. At its heart, it's a cutesy gadget that will wake you up in the morning, tell you the weather, read out Facebook and Twitter updates, alert you to new messages, play music and run apps.

It has a webcam, so you can use it to monitor your home remotely. Bark instructions and it will leap into action. And it can be goaded into performing breathtakingly nimble tricks via your mobile such as, well, twitching its ears.

Karotz bottom

If you feel the need to look up the Karotz's bottom, this is what you'll see.

Design and build

The Karotz is incredibly charming. The shiny white plastic body is well put together and the whole thing has a comforting heft. The moving ears are attached magnetically and other coloured lugs are available for purchase separately.

It uses its ear positions, speaker and the colour of its belly to communicate pertinent information. For example, a flashing green means everything is okay and your Karotz is awaiting instruction, flashing orange flags up a software update in progress and a blue flash highlights a new message.

Sound quality from the speaker is surprisingly good. It's not hi-fi quality, but as a web radio or music player for the kitchen or bedroom, it's pretty capable. 

Karotz speaker

This bunny talks out of its backside.

The Karotz comes complete with RFID, Wi-Fi, webcam, USB port, 256MB onboard storage for apps as well as a port for additional accessories, such as an Ethernet adaptor, music station and battery pack for completely wireless use.

The onboard storage is used for apps, so you will need to add music from a USB drive. Any one should work, although there is a rather cute tail-shaped one available as an official accessory. 

Set-up and interface

Initial set-up was fairly simple. Connect the Karotz to the supplied USB cable and plug into your PC or Mac. Although the installation software failed to run first time on our Mac, it worked perfectly on the second attempt. Once the Karotz has been recognised and registered, you connect it to your Wi-Fi network.

Once set up, you have four ways to interact with your Karotz. Firstly, a push-button on top, which activates the voice recognition. Secondly, a smart phone app (currently available on iOS or Android). Thirdly, use the web interface. And lastly, you can program it to launch a specific app using one of the two Flatanoz RFID keyrings that come with it.

Karotz keyrings

The Karotz likes to sniff these RFID keyrings.

The RFID tags are set up through the web interface. Simply wave the tag in front of your Karotz's nose, and the app is launched. More Flatanoz tags are available for purchase through its website. Why would you need near-field technology? One nifty use is the 'At Home' app. When a child comes home from school, a simple swipe across the Karotz's nose with the keyring will send an email or text, letting you know they're home.

The user interface, however, lets the Karotz down a little. The web-based control system, while effective, is not the most user-friendly and there is a definite lack of decent apps in the app store. We expect this to improve as people develop more software for it.

Apps

All apps are controlled through the web interface and can be programmed to respond to voice command, automatically launch at set intervals or times, or spring into life via one of the RFID accessories.

The app store has several web radio apps, as well as RSS readers for certain websites. One clever app allows you to use the belly button webcam as a security camera. The weather app supports multiple profiles, allowing for reports for several locations. And there are lots of alarm clock apps available.

Karotz webcam

Spy on your home from afar using the app-controlled webcam -- nobody will suspect the rabbit, everybody adores the rabbit.

The voice-activated launching of apps is okay. You hold down the button and speak the launch phrase -- for example "weather London" -- but you need to set up the speech profiles through the web interface. We found it could struggle to understand what we were saying. Siri , this is not.

Connecting your iOS or Android device to your Karotz allows you to move its ears, change the colour of its belly, make it read out passages of text or play music, and take a picture with its belly button webcam.

The smart phone control app, while fun, does not offer enough functionality to be really useful. The ability to make your Karotz waggle its ears may be a giggle for a few minutes, but we'd have liked to have been able to launch apps like the Twitter reader or Weather from our phone, rather than have to cross the room to push the button on its head.

Karotz button

You have to press the button to launch voice activation, which somewhat defeats the point.

Conclusion

As soon as more apps have been developed and once some of the more glaring user interface omissions have been dealt with, the Karotz has a lot of potential as a home information gadget.

Its high-ish price tag and lack of user-friendliness mean this is a toy that will appeal to affluent geeks/developers for now, while everybody else should train their crosshairs on the Karotz and wait until its bunny bugs have been sorted.

Score: 3.5 out of 5

 

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