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Toilet with a tablet: Tush-on with Kohler's Numi

How high-tech can a toilet get? Get ready to meet the $6,400 Numi.

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While some technologies, such as smartphones and laptops, change by the month, others evolve at a far more glacial pace. Bathroom tech isn't an area where one expects great strides from year to year, but I couldn't ignore an invite to test Kohler's new Numi toilet. It's not every day I get asked to test-drive a commode.

The Numi is U.S. bathroom furnishing manufacturer Kohler's first big stride into a top-to-bottom high-tech toilet. While Kohler had previously introduced an attachable seat with several functions built in, the Numi is more of a complete toilet overhaul.

High-tech toilets are very popular overseas, particularly in Japan; in fact, I first used a high-tech toilet while on my honeymoon in Tokyo. Toilets with seat warmers and automatically adjusting bidets are strangely luxurious, but many times the toilets that employ them end up looking like astronaut equipment.

Comparatively, the Numi is shockingly minimal. At first glance it looks more like a piece of high-end kitchen equipment. Compact, squared-off, and glowing, it has barely any visible buttons at all on its smooth facade. Instead, the toilet's functions are controlled with a full-color touch-screen device that magnetically docks with a wall-mounted panel.

The Numi's touch-tablet remote, equipped with its own rechargeable battery, operates a surprising number of details via icons and simple slider controls: seat temperature; a foot warmer that blasts warm air; the position, water pressure, and temperature of the extending bidet; and a drier with adjustable intensity and temperature. It's a veritable toilet operating system, all operated from a handheld remote.

Touchy about using a touch-enabled toilet?
For those who feel squeamish about combining touch screens and toilets, the Numi still has physical buttons at the rear. Or, you could set the Numi to automatically flush. In fact, you could set up the Numi to be completely hands-off, if desired. The automatically opening toilet has adjustable room sensors that can be set at close range (1.5 feet) all the way up to 6 to 8 feet. There's also a side foot-sensor for men standing to relieve themselves, which automatically raises and lowers the seat. For the truly hygiene-obsessed, the Numi can be set to cleanse its bidet head in both water and a nightly bath of UV light.

Touch and go.
Touch and go. Scott Stein/CNET

Bathroom audiophiles will be happy; the Numi has built-in stereo speakers, an FM radio, and a 3.5mm audio-in jack and cradle for iPhones, iPods, or other music players. And, Kohler reps were proud to inform me, the Numi even has its own theme song that can play upon entering the bathroom. In case you're curious, the Numi's song starts with the sound of rushing waves, then gives way to gentle piano music. The speakers, situated in the back, reflect off the rear wall of the bathroom to amplify sound. A rear set of connections opens up for attaching an external antenna or composite audio.

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The Numi also has a green streak. Two separate flush modes can be triggered depending on your demands. The big flush uses 1.28 gallons of water, but the smaller flush only uses 0.6 gallon. The Numi's WaterSense and CALGreen-certified.

Kohler representatives and the Numi engineer I spoke with discussed how the toilet started with the design first. The video above definitely focuses on the Numi's aesthetic. The look of it intimidated me at first, but a team of smiling Kohler representatives put me at ease.

After a full demo of the Numi's laundry list of features, it came time for my private appointment with a Numi. The working model was installed in a bathroom replete with Kohler's other high-tech and high-end bathroom products: a sonic bathtub and a shower with ambient LED lights and waterproof speakers (compatible with the Numi's audio system, incidentally). The Numi was in its own discrete corner, behind a door.

The Numi: minimalist chic.
The Numi: minimalist chic. Scott Stein/CNET

When I entered the room where the Numi was installed, it opened up for me, gently folding back its lid. I sat down gingerly and removed the firmly magnetically secured touch-tablet remote. Indeed, all functions can be controlled from it. I played some John Williams music on my iPhone, scanned FM stations for talk radio, and adjusted and deployed the bidet. Angles and positioning can be a little tricky, but at least the slider controls allow precision.

Even more amusing was that after flushing, the Numi tells you the flush's progress on the remote's screen. I did feel a bit weird about using the touch-tablet in a bathroom setting. Maybe this is a toilet that calls for some antibacterial screen wipes.

The Numi's undoubtedly a luxury commode, and it's certainly priced as such, costing a hair less than $6,400. Kohler promises an easy setup, requiring only standard plumbing connections and a nearby AC outlet to plug into.

The Numi is set to launch in a few weeks, and it will be available nationwide in a slow roll-out through 2011. If you're looking to pimp your toilet, and have thousands of dollars to spare, look no further.