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Gadgets

Hands-on with the Triby fridge-friendly family hub

Speakerphone, radio and message center all in one oversize refrigerator magnet. But is Triby worth the price?

In most homes, the kitchen is king. It's the place where people congregate, where food and drink are stored and prepared, where notes are left for family members.

Triby, a new product from French tech company Invoxia, wants a place in your kitchen. It's a speaker, speakerphone and message center designed to mount on a refrigerator. I've spent the last few days living with one, and although I'm not completely sold on the concept, I will say this: It's interesting.

Not especially attractive, though. The device looks a bit like a Playskool toy, a nearly all-grille speaker surrounded by a plastic bezel. Strong magnets keep it firmly adhered to your fridge, but the handle allows for easy toting. It has play/pause and volume buttons up top and various shortcut buttons on the front -- the latter flanking a 2.9-inch e-ink screen.

Invoxia

That screen displays not only various status messages, but also custom messages -- text and/or drawings -- sent from the Triby app on your phone or tablet.

When a new message arrives, a little yellow flag slides out from the side, accompanied by a musical notification. The screen also flashes a few times while the e-ink updates, reminiscent of early-generation Kindle e-readers. These flashes can get annoying, as they occur every time the screen updates itself -- even for simple things like volume changes.

As a Bluetooth speaker, the Triby is just OK. Though it's loud enough to overcome everyday kitchen noise and it delivers a decent bass response, there's a noticeable lack of range. Everything I played sounded a bit muffled. That's a disappointment given that music is arguably the gadget's primary purpose.

Setup can be confusing, especially with regard to radio. In addition to streaming tunes from your app of choice, the Triby can deliver Internet radio (or Spotify, if you have an account) with the push of a button -- no phone required. You can program up to three presets, but the app makes this a chore, and the onscreen keyboard often got in the way of actually assigning a preset following a station search.

You can also use the Triby to make (and take) phone calls, but this can get a bit confusing as well. As a speakerphone for your smartphone, it's pretty straightforward (though my iPhone sometimes refused to "hand off" the call to the Triby). However, as a voice-over-IP phone, it limits you to family members (or anyone you assign to your "group") and requires each of those people to have the Triby app. Plus, with only two outgoing-call preset buttons (or three if you add one of the nondescript -- and poorly named -- "list" buttons), you don't necessarily have the option of calling everyone in your group.

triby-colors.jpg

It comes in colors, but it's still not the sexiest piece of electronics.

Invoxia

This whole arrangement sort of raises the question: Why not just use your smartphone? OK, the Triby does have a bigger, louder speaker, and it could potentially come in handy if your phone is in the other room. But how often does that happen? Really, any Bluetooth speaker with a microphone accomplishes the same thing, at which point the Triby's only assets are its message board and shortcut buttons.

The message board is cool, but there's a fairly major flaw: There's no way to cycle between notes, so the only one you see is the most recent -- meaning it's easy to miss something important if a newer note replaces it.

Triby's main rival is Amazon's Echo, the monolithic voice-activated speaker and Siri-like companion. It doesn't do phone calls or display messages, but ultimately it's a lot more versatile -- and less expensive at $179.99. The Triby sells for $199 (which converts to around AU$245 or £130).

I can't see spending that kind of money for a magnetic speaker that doesn't sound particularly good and offers few truly compelling features.