With light-up LED keys and app-enabled smarts, the One Smart Piano connects with your phone or tablet to teach you how to play it.
I played a lot of piano as a kid -- first, by figuring out how to bang out crappy versions of movie scores and TV theme songs on my grandma's Steinway, then, eventually, with actual piano lessons (my family could only tolerate my rendition of the theme from Indiana Jones so many times).
So, forgive me if the One Smart Piano gets me all nostalgic. It's a $300 compact keyboard (or a $1,500 full-size electric piano) that leverages the power of your phone or tablet to give you a more feature-rich experience. Plug your device in and open the companion app, and you'll be able to follow along with video lessons, song tutorials, and Rock Band-esque games on its screen, with LED lights in the piano's keys lighting up to guide you along the way.
If you're just looking for a keyboard that best approximates the feel of a genuine piano, you can find better than the One at both the $300 and $1,500 price points (roughly £205/£1,025 or AU$390/AU$1,965). Still, there's an awful lot to like about those app-enabled smarts -- especially if you've got kids with a budding eye or ear for music. I know 7-year-old Ry would have had a field day with the thing (and my family would have definitely appreciated the headphone jack).
The One Smart Piano is all about the app. Take that app away, and you're left with a very, very basic keyboard that offers just a volume knob and three buttons: a power switch, a button to tap through different instrument tones, and a sustain setting.
This is at least partly by design. The One's website touts the clean, minimalist look of the thing, with the usual controls stripped out and relocated into the app.
The problem with this approach is that those in-app controls aren't that easy to find. They aren't anywhere on the app's home screen -- it takes a couple of not-terribly-intuitive taps before you'll find them tucked away in a settings menu.
Outside of those core keyboard features, the One Smart Piano focuses on teaching you how to play it. For example, you can pull up interactive sheet music that highlights the notes on the screen (and with those LEDs in the keys) as you play. You can also watch one of 105 video lessons with a virtual instructor -- again, the keys will light up as he coaches you on what to play and how to play it.
There are also song tutorial videos geared towards people who prefer to play by ear. The app has a wide collection of popular songs from everyone from Ben Folds to Beyonce to the Beatles, with videos that show you exactly how to play each section of a song (and yep, the piano's keys light up to make it even easier to follow along).
Typically, the first video for each song is free, with the additional sections costing a few bucks a piece. Yep, this keyboard comes with in-app purchases. This felt a bit cheap to me -- especially considering that the exact same "HD Piano" videos are available on YouTube for free.
The same goes for that interactive sheet music I mentioned earlier. You get plenty of classical selections to practice with for free, but if you want to learn how to play the latest Taylor Swift song, you'll need to fork over a couple of bucks.
The good news is that there's plenty of free content across all of the app's features -- enough so that I felt more or less satisfied. I wasn't willing to pay to learn the outro to"Hey Jude," but since the intro/verse was free, I didn't come away feeling too upset about it.
As for the game mode, I found it to be a fun and clever way of testing your skills. There are dozens of songs to choose from, which felt like plenty, but most if not all of them are folk songs or holiday songs aimed at kids. I'd prefer a greater diversity of options.
You'll also find additional practice games hidden in the settings menu. The ear training mode offered an especially interesting twist on training: the piano plays you a note (or, if you're up to the challenge, a chord), then asks you to go and find it. That's typically a pretty tough skill to develop on your own -- with the app, you have a helpful partner.
I like this thing. It isn't going to beat the one-on-one instruction you'll get with a good piano teacher, but it will provide you with a way to gradually improve your skills, and a way to have fun doing so. It's better for kids than it is for adults (I couldn't help but cringe during the first lesson, when the instructor sang "Hot Crossed Buns" to me), but still offers enough to encourage anyone with an interest in learning piano to sit down and do so.
At $300, it's far from the nicest keyboard that money can buy, so if you have more serious musical aspirations, then look elsewhere. But if you or your kid is a beginner looking to learn, well, there's an app for that, and a keyboard that goes with it quite nicely. Give it a shot.