In a wireless world, is there room for a talking robo-rabbit that must be plugged in at all times? Yes, at least according to French company Violet, which has just released its Karotz smart rabbit in the U.S. market. This rabbit will read your RSS feeds to you, take photos and record audio messages, and serve as an alarm clock to wake you up. Karotz brought along Facebook and Twitter integration for its trip across the Atlantic, but do the latest features justify a $129 price tag?
Originally called the Nabaztag when it made its debut in 2006, the Karotz isn't exactly brand-new. Its design has remained the same--and we can't complain. The oblong, dome-shaped body with magnetically attachable ears, a cutesy, cartoon-style face and a multicolor blinking light is modern and, frankly, quite precious.
The rabbit won't take up too much space on your desk; it's 5.25 inches in diameter and 6.5 inches tall (9.5 inches when its ears are up). Around back you'll find the power button, along with mini-USB port and a USB 1.1 port for connecting the rabbit to your computer or power supply. A webcam sits right at the rabbit's, ahem, belly.
Also included in the box is a mini-USB cable for attaching the rabbit to your Mac or PC and a power supply with international adapters. Unfortunately, the Karotz must be plugged into a power source at all times.
The Karotz configuration process is different depending on whether you use Windows 7, a non-Windows 7 PC or a Mac. However, no matter what system you've got, you'll have to sign up for an account at www.karotz.com.
We first attempted to configure the Karotz with our PC running Windows 7 Professional (64-bit). After transferring files to the rabbit via a flash drive as instructed (and repeating this process several times to no avail), we gave up and moved on to another laptop. We were able to set up our Karotz with our MacBook Air after following the Mac-specific set of instructions, which instead of requiring us to transfer files, had us connect the rabbit to our laptop and enter our Wi-Fi network information. After this was completed, the Karotz took about 20 minutes to update, all the while blinking its full array of colors.
Performance and Voice Commands
The Karotz isn't the speediest rabbit in the race, by a long shot. Packing a 400-MHz Arm 9 processor with just 64MB of RAM (256MB of Flash memory), this gadget is low on power. When we performed certain commands, such as changing the position of the rabbit's ears through the Karotz Controller app, there was a delay of several seconds before the Karotz responded. Some of the lag could be related to our wireless connection, but we tested the gadget and its app in several locations and got the same results.
Another area where the Karotz fails to impress is voice commands. By pressing down the button on the Karotz's head, a user can activate an app, ask for a weather update, take a picture and do more--theoretically. In our experience, the rabbit could rarely understand our commands, and it almost always asked us to repeat what we said. The Karotz can be configured in one of four languages: French, English, German and Spanish.
The Karotz rabbit comes pre-loaded with several apps. CNN, CBS Sports, Celeb Dirty Laundry and The New York Times are RSS feeds with the latest headlines, which Karotz will read aloud as often as you specify. You can also add your own RSS feeds via the My R.S.S app. Though Karotz worked as advertised--it read back the latest headlines glitch-free--there's no inflection, which makes the Karotz hard to understand. It's more gimmicky than useful. Tai-Chi plays Zen-like music through the rabbit's speakers, and Demo gives you an overview of the rabbit's features. You can also add your own apps, of which there are currently 153 in the Karotz app store.
Karotz comes with two RFID tags, or Flatnanoz, as Violet calls them. You can assign a particular app to a Flatnanoz by clicking on the app in your online account, and then each time you move the Flatnanoz tag in front of the rabbit's nose, Karotz will launch the associated app. The default colors are one yellow and one green, though customers can purchase additional tags in a whole rainbow of shades through the online Karotz store.
Social Networking and Camera
Violet has been vaunting the Karotz' brand-new social-networking abilities, so we first downloaded the Facebook and Twitter apps through the website and assigned each to a Flatnanoz tag for quick access. The apps offer the same basic functions: Karotz can read aloud your friends' latest updates, or record photo, video and audio, and post it to your account.
When we tested these features, the Karotz worked as promised, but we wouldn't recommend using the photo-uploading feature. Given the camera's awkwardly low placement, the Karotz captured us at some less-than-flattering angles--not exactly the kind of photos we'd want automatically published to our Facebook and Twitter profiles. Unfortunately, you can't use the camera for video chats, either.
Karotz Controller App
You can also control the rabbit using Karotz Controller, an Android/iOS app. The app lets you change the color of the rabbit's blinking light, stream music through the device, take photos with the Karotz, type messages for the rabbit to speak and--most entertainingly--move its ears. When the app (installed on our iPhone 4) successfully connected us to our Karotz, it provided a few minutes of amusement, but most often we were met with an error message: "Karotz unavailable."
We really wanted to love the Karotz. A cute design, fun features and its chic French pedigree (it's on the shelves at the ultra-hip Parisian boutique Colette, after all) are all in its favor, but it fails to deliver. The setup process is downright headache-inducing, and while features such as the built-in camera and automatic Facebook and Twitter updates sound cool, the Karotz just doesn't work seamlessly enough to provide a fun user experience. That's not to say we didn't enjoy the addition of this bunny to our daily routine; we enjoyed the weather and news updates and fun apps such as My Webcam and Tai-Chi. But for this $129 bunny to really take off, it needs a system overhaul. Hop to it, Violet!