Ambient Devices 7-Day Weather Forecaster
There's a class of people out there who we like to call the weather-challenged. You may know someone like this. Or you may be weather-challenged yourself. But it comes down to this: there are a lot of folks who have a tendency to walk out of their homes each morning without bothering to check a weather forecast. These are the people who just can't be bothered to take the two minutes needed to get the forecast from the TV, radio, computer, or smartphone. It's not time-consuming or difficult, but--for some reason--it's beyond them. And that's where the eminently scanable, glanceable Ambient 7-Day Forecaster comes in.
The device, which retails for $200, is about the size of a digital photo frame, though it's square instead of rectangular. From a distance, it looks somewhat swanky, but pick it up and you realize it feels a little cheaper than its fairly lofty price tag. For instance, some parts that look like metal from afar are actually plastic. This isn't a big deal--pretty much everything's plastic these days--but it's so lightweight, you may wonder why the thing doesn't cost half as much when you pull it out of the box.
Part of the answer is that the Ambient 7-Day Forecaster uses a proprietary long-range terrestrial wireless network to receive weather forecasts and additional data from AccuWeather. The wireless receiver is built into the device, and you don't have to pay any service fees. It's important to point out that the 7-Day Forecaster only works in the United States (that includes Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico) and is limited to urban areas and their suburbs. Ambient says its signal reaches more than 90 percent of U.S. households--forecasts are provided for 150 U.S cities--but don't expect to get coverage out in rural areas. (Before you buy, you can check zip- code level coverage at map.myambient.com).
The 7-Day Forecaster ships with an AC adapter and can be propped up on a table like a photo frame or mounted on the wall using a single screw (there's a keyhole mount on the back of the device). Most people will probably use the AC adapter to power the unit, but if you want to cut the cord, the Forecaster does run off of 4 AA batteries.
The first time you turn on the device it takes a little while--up to an hour--for it to sync with the wireless network. If you should happen to unplug the power cord or you decide to move the unit, there's also a somewhat lengthy (5 to 10 minutes) start-up process. In other words, you'll want to park it one spot and leave it activated to avoid the annoying delay.
Once you get up and running, you use the up/down buttons to page through the 150 possible forecasts until you hit your area. Somewhat confusingly, the listing is alphabetical by state, but we eventually found our home. You can flip to any of the other cities at any time, but you will have to manually scroll through them--we would've appreciated a "home" preset key, or maybe even three or four (so you could bookmark other cities of interest, such as frequent travel destinations or friends and family hometowns).
Once you find your city, however, there isn't much to complain about. We generally found the display easy to read and the information well presented (though it's best viewed straight on, not at off angles). We liked how the screen changes colors according to the temperature reading. For instance, our local forecast of 43 degrees in New York cast a blue hue as a background. When we toggled the city to Rochester, N.Y., where the temperature was 35, the screen turned purple. At 76 degrees, Wilmington, N.C., came up orange. The whole color-coated concept allows you to quickly glance at the frame and get an idea of the temperature without necessarily seeing the specific numbers. (A switch in the battery bay allows you to toggle between Fahrenheit and Celsius, should the dreaded U.S. metrication movement ever return from the dead.)
Beyond the current weather conditions and six days of future forecasts (which will automatically update as weather systems change, of course), the frame also offers a UV Index, Pollen Alerts, Air Quality Alerts, and Windspeed and Direction. Ambient says this is "probably the only frame on the market" with these features--and we don't doubt it. However, one feature we'd like to see that's not here is an alarm to go along with the built-in clock (the exact time is delivered via the wireless network, so you never have to set the clock). Again, this isn't a huge deal, but since the device lends itself to be set up on the nightstand next to your bed, a little alarm action would be nice. It would also be cool if you could get some news headlines and sports scores delivered to the Forecaster wirelessly, but Ambient has made it a point to create devices focused on performing one task rather than more of a do-it-all product. (Along with its weather forecaster products, the company makes a football-specific "scoreboard" that receives scores wirelessly, and a baseball device will be available in time for this year's MLB season.)
As far as alternatives are concerned, there are already some digital photo frames that offer weather modes, such as Ceiva's 8-inch model. But--to date, anyway--most seem to require a paid subscription to access the data. Likewise, they need to be configured for online access via an Ethernet or Wi-Fi home network. By comparison, the Ambient Forecaster's service is free, and requires zero configuration.
At the end of the day, the Ambient Devices 7-Day Weather Forecaster is one of those devices you really shouldn't need in a world where you're already surrounded by products that can give you quick access to the same--or even more detailed--weather information. But owing to its convenient specialized nature, the Forecaster can quickly become indispensable to those who tend to leap before they look, and it's one of those sure-to-please gifts. Yes, it's pretty expensive at $200, but if you want to save $50, you can step down to the smaller 5-Day Forecaster. It delivers the same information but only delivers four days of future forecasts.