Most review products I receive are pretty straightforward in their function that my friends and family rarely stop and ask me about them. Today’s review item the Karotz from a company called Violet brought out more than a few queries about its function. The Karotz is a little hard to describe as I had many friends and family members wondering what was going on with that plastic white rabbit sitting on the kitchen table. Most often a demonstration of the device was the easiest way to explain the device.
The Karotz is an electronic device shaped like a white rabbit that is designed to connect to the Internet and one’s social networks among other things. It has a USB port on the back for attaching a USB drive so it could play back music. A free Android and iOS app allows those devices to control several elements of the Karotz.
You can think of the Karotz as an interactive Chumby device. It is the latest version of the Nabaztag device that was released around 2006.
Other features include voice command recognition, a built-in Webcam and RFID interaction and the ability to install Appz (notice the Z here, it’s a theme with the Karotz) from the manufacturer’s website. In addition you can control your Karotz from your Android or Apple mobile device to send messages, take pictures, play radio or MP3 files.
The Karotz arrives in a rectangular shaped cardboard package with half an image of the device on two of the box faces that merge at one corner. The other two box faces list the features of the Karotz including social network interactivity and Internet capability. The top of the box slides off to reveal an inner box showing pictograms of the Karotz in action. On the bottom of the box we see the Karotz bunny face.
The package contains the Karotz smart rabbit, two white plastic ears, a power plug with four adapters for various country locations, an instruction booklet, a set of stickers and two RFID sensors called Flatnanoz. The Karotz requires a computer (PC or Mac) for setup and an active Internet connection (Wi-Fi) to interact with it.
The Karotz is composed of white plastic and without its magnetically attached ears it resembles a Pac Man ghost. Inside this rabbit is Arm 9 Processor, 400 MHz, 64 MB RAM and 256 MB Flash Memory. On the front is a painted on set of eyes and nose giving the Karotz its unique “bunny” look.
Two openings are found on the top of the head for the detachable plastic “ears”. Violet offers other colored ears as an additional purchase from their Ztore (yes that’s with a “z”) if you wish to customize the appearance of your Karotz. These bunny ears can be remotely controlled via the free Karotz app to move them into various positions. They can also dance when playing music through the device. Otherwise I do not believe they offer any other functionality.
Between these ears we see a circular white button that is used to provide voice commands to the Karotz. Pressing and holding this button allows the user to activate or request information from the white rabbit.
Behind the painted on nose is the RFID reader, which interacts with the included RFID enabled Flatnanoz transmitters. These two included transmitters can be programmed to activate preset functions or appz when the Flatnanoz are waved in front of the Karotz.
In the area where a mouth would be we find a multicolored LED. This LED’s color can also be controlled by the user and also functions as an indicator light. During start up and daily use the LED will flash and change colors to reveal the status of the Karotz; a color guide can be found inside the instruction booklet. For instance a solid orange light comes on when the voice command button is depressed and the Karotz is awaiting vocal input.
Towards the base of the Karotz we see an adjustable Webcam around its “bellybutton”.
Spinning the Karotz around we find a round circular speaker in the center of the device with a volume knob located below it. The “tail” area of the Karotz houses a standard USB port. Violet makes a USB drive in the shape of a tail to give your Karotz a more bunny style; although you can use any USB thumb drive as a data source via this connector.
Below this standard USB port is a mini-USB connection, which is used for initially setting up the Karotz via PC or Mac. On the bottom of the unit is the AC connector, an additional data type connector and the webcam angle adjustment knob.
An ideal, handsome, kind, funny and educated companion. Karotz speaks, sees, listens, obeys and wiggles his ears! He is ready to do anything to serve and entertain you!
· Make free calls with Karotz.
· Make the Internet tell you about all the things you want to know: weather, news, sports, arts, horoscope, TV guide… and all the RSS feeds that you could want.
· Follow your friends’ Facebook status and Tweets.
· Keep an eye on your home and family: See what’s going on and be alerted whenever someone enters your house.
· Listen to your favorite music (MP3, Internet radio, podcasts) and wake up to music!
· Play and learn with Karotz: Discover available applications for playing, reading or learning a language with Karotz.
And because Karotz doesn’t like to look like anything else, you can personalize him with dozens of accessories!
· 1 smart rabbit
· 1 power supply with international adaptors
· 1 mini-USB cable
· 1 user’s manual
· 2 recordable Flatnanoz (yellow and green)
Karotz technical specifications:
· Windows/Mac/Linux compatible
· Arm 9 Processor, 400 MHz, 64 MB RAM
· 256 MB Flash Memory
· Integrated microphone
· Integrated speakers
· Volume control
· Wi-Fi antenna
· RFID reader
· 1 USB 1.1 port
· 1 mini-USB port
· 1 LED
· 360 rotating ears
· Removable ears (magnetic)
· 1 push button
· 4 languages: French, English, German, Spanish
Before physically setting up your Karotz you will need to head to this website: http://plug.karotz.com and set up an account which will then allow the latest operating software to be installed onto the Karotz via a USB drive or directly via Mac or PC using the mini-USB cable connection.
I chose to use my Mac to setup the Karotz and followed the initial setup onscreen prompts. This procedure is simple and straightforward. The only user interaction required is choosing your Wi-Fi connection and entering the correct password and security type.
The Karotz will change LED colors while this process is occurring and can take up to 20 min. Once this is finished it is time to install some appz and set up your Karotz.
On the Karotz home page you’ll see for icons on the top right, they are Ztore, Appz, Community and My Account.
The Ztore icon will take you to the Karotz accessory online store.
Clicking the Appz icon will provide the user with numerous free and commercial appz to install on the Karotz. The most prominent are the Twitter and Facebook apps that allow your Karotz to read back various messages and status updates. During the install process you can set up how these appz get implemented whether by voice command or RFID. For the tech savvy this process will not be difficult but for the non-tech oriented person the appz setup may be a little confusing.
These add-ons allow the Karotz to have new and unique capabilities such as using the plastic rabbit as a web cam or security cam. In addition there are several Internet radio options some of which allow the Karotz’s ears to dance in tune with the music.
The community icon allows the Karotz user to check out the user forum or interact with a virtual Karotz which allows the user to meet other virtual Karotz and interact with them. This community setting seems to be in the style of massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) but with a kid friendly spin like Club Penguin. Personally this is one facet of the Karotz that does not pique my interest.
My Account shows the Appz loaded on your Karotz, any Flatnanoz linked to the device and your virtual Karotz.
There are four tabs on the left side of the My Account home page – My Objects, My Network, My Contacts and My Information.
For those who wish to name and customize their virtual Karotz you can do it via the My Objects tab. My Network seems to be a messaging system between Karotz users. My Contacts are your Karotz owning friends and My Information manages the user profile.
Once you have finished setting up your Karotz on the web site, you are ready to put your Internet enabled bunny to use.
There are several ways to interact with the Karotz unit – verbally through voice commands by pressing and holding the top button, wirelessly using the RFID enable Flatnanoz and via the free Android/iOS mobile app.
My kids enjoyed the using the free app the most as it allowed the Karotz to play back music via an attached USB drive storing their tunes, to remotely move it’s ears, to take photos and change the color of the LED on the internet enabled rabbit.
Their favorite feature was sending messages to the Karotz, which “she” would read, back to their amusement.
Currently the Karotz has only one voice style – robotic female and there is no ability to select alternatives. From scanning the forums it seems that additional voices will be rolled out in the near future.
This free app allows the control of multiple Karotz if you own more than one unit.
One of the selling points of the Karotz is its ability to interact with one’s social networks and read back Tweets and Status Updates from Twitter and Facebook. While it is capable of reading back these messages the problem becomes tweets and user names are occasionally abbreviated or not in proper English so the Karotz will spew out gibberish between words. This is not a fault of the device but more a symptom of how Twitter works with its character restrictions. Facebook feeds fared better but waiting to listen to a bunch of updates can be time consuming and sometimes ponderous.
Reading back one’s social network information sounds good in theory ibut in practice having a robotic voice reading back your Tweets and other social network info falls short of expectations. It is easier to grab my iPhone 4 and quickly scan this data than wait for the Karotz to read back the same info.
Where the Karotz does well with the voice playback is with news feeds and weather reports. The device can also play back Internet radio feeds that are found on the Appz section. Some stations even let the rabbit rock out with its ears.
A pair of webcam appz lets the Karotz double as a spycam/webcam making the device serve double duty as a home monitor.
Overall my kids and their friends were impressed and entertained by the Karotz. Some adults thought the device was a cute novelty for the kids and others remained puzzled by its function.
During testing I encountered numerous issues when interacting with the Karotz. When using the free iOS app with my iPhone 4 or iPod Touch the Karotz would at times lose the connection or become unresponsive in certain instances. Primarily it would frequently refuse to playback music until the connected USB drive was removed and plugged back in. Music playback would also stop if the iOS app was not the active on your iPhone or iPod Touch.
Voice command recognition was sometimes hit or miss. When I tried calling Kris my editor using the calling option the device would not recognize our attempts of trying to initiate a Karotz to Karotz communication.
In Walter Issacson’s biography of Steve Jobs he describes the Apple founder’s drive to make products simple and less complicated. This goal is where the Karotz falls short. The device’s concept is unique and seems to have potential but the implementation and execution is lacking.
The set up process is too complicated for most non-tech oriented people. Also the software on the device is buggy along with the free iOS app.
The Karotz is a unique concept, trying to merge the Internet with a voice command enabled robotic critter. Its main problem is that it tries to do too much and is not very good at anything in particular. The voice recognition is spotty when compared to the systems used on Android and Apple devices. Numerous times I tried to initiate an appz and was told my command was not recognized when I used the same one successfully a few moments prior.
While the potential for being a truly unique device is there, right now it is much easier to check one’s Twitter and Facebook info on a host of numerous other devices. The iOS app does make it simple to interact with the Karotz but these features are more aimed at kids than adults.
Currently priced at over $100 it is hard to justify this price for something that is more of a toy than an electronic device that offers unique capabilities. With numerous voice command enabled mobile devices the novelty of talking to an object for information is not a unique experience. The Karotz’s toy like form seems like it was aimed toward the kid demographic more than the adult one.
+Kids love it
+Works as a webcam
+Has free iOS/Android app
-Voice Recognition could be better
-Only one voice available
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