Nabaztag: the smart WiFi bunny from France

I’ve been playing with my Nabaztag bunny for the last few days, preparing to review it for the I Want That! Tech Toys show on HGTV, which launches this summer. It’s a very cute little bunny with ears that can move. It’s constantly connected to the Internet by WiFi, and you can program it to do various neat things for you.

It communicates with you by speaking, and by flashing lights of various colors in different sequences. The Nabaztag website explains very well what each of the flashing color sequences means, so you’ll quickly understand what it’s trying to tell you.

The Nabaztag is a cool little gadget that endeared itself to us in no time at all, and Ligia and I found ourselves wanting to hear its voice more often.

We chose to place it in our living room. The setup was really easy. I just plugged it into an electrical outlet, and it soon found my WiFi connection and it was ready to go. Violet, the maker of Nabaztag, did something very smart when they shipped the bunny. They included an adapter, with interchangeable prongs for Europe, the UK and the US. It’s reminiscent of the newer Apple laptop adapters, for which you can buy a set of adapters to make them work in multiple countries, except Nabaztag ships theirs for ready use with each bunny.

Once it was connected to the Internet, I went to Nabaztag.com and registered it, using its MAC Address, which is also its Serial Number. It’s conveniently listed on its bottom. Once I registered it, I got to pick a name, age and sex for it. We decided our Nabaztag was a boy, and called it Pugsley.

After we completed the account setup, Pugsley came to life and said hello. We used the Services section of the site to choose from among the free services available, and there are many:

  • Talking Clock: Pugsley says the time on the hour, every hour, unless he’s sleeping. See below for more info about sleeping.
  • Tai Chi lets him stretch his ears in the funniest ways. He also makes cute noises and flashes multi-colored lights.
  • Recap of the week gives Pugsley the chance to say how the week’s been, whether he liked it or not, or whether it was eventful or not.
  • Nabaztag News allows you to pick from the New York Times, BBC, Slashdot, Wall Street Journal and People. You can also set the time when your Nabaztag will read them to you. We programmed Pugsley to read all of them to us at certain times. Of course, he doesn’t read every article, only the headlines.
  • The Air Quality service allows you to choose your city and get the air quality delivered to you both as a little sound blurb, and with luminous language. Air quality info is only available for certain cities, and the website explains how to interpret the flashing lights. The lights are blue, and if three of them flash slowly and in unison, the air quality is good. If they flash faster and not in unison, it’s not so good.
  • The Alarm Clock allows you to program the Nabaztag to wake you up at a certain time every day by playing your favorite sound or song. You can choose from a pre-selected list on the site, or you can upload your own MP3’s and configure it to play them. I programmed Pugsley to sing “Cheek to Cheek”, a song composed by Irving Berlin and sung by Fred Astaire.
  • The Weather Forecast allows you to get the weather twice a day in audio blurbs, and throughout the day through its luminous language. You can set which times you get the audio blurbs, and the Nabaztag also flashes lights to let you know how things should go. It uses a combination of yellow and dark blue lights to do it. All yellow means it’ll be sunny. Rain is all blue, flashing intermittently. Smog is flashing blue in unison. Cloudy is blue on the sides and yellow in the middle. Snow is flashing blue once again, and thunderstorms are fast flashes of yellow and blue.
  • You can also keep an eye on the Stock Markets. For the States, your Nabaztag can tell you how the S&P/TSX, Dow Jones Industrial, Nasdaq Composite, Nasdaq Industrial and S&P 500 are doing. You can set a time for an audio flash, or you can look at the flashing yellow lights. If only the center light is flashing, the market’s stable. If the lights are flashing from left to right, the market’s going up. If the lights are flashing from right to left, the market’s going down. The speed of the flashes tells you how fast the market’s going up or down.
  • If you live in Paris, the Nabaztag also has the Paris Traffic conditions. I turned this service on just for kicks, and it’s pretty funny. You can choose your itinerary based on the different gates into Paris, then it can play an audio flash for you, and it’ll also use its lights to tell you how things are. If things are completely packed, it’ll flash two red lights, simulating the brake lights of a car in front of you. If things are picking up, it’ll flash the center button red, then the two side lights, also in red. The speed with which it flashes this sequence tells you the approximate speed of the traffic.
  • You can also program your Nabaztag to tell you its mood, and you choose how often you want him to do it: whenever, often, from time to time, or seldom. I have Pugsley set on whenever, and really, he doesn’t do it that often, only about once a day.
  • There’s a service called Ear Talk, which I think is the coolest by far, because it involves human interaction, through the bunny. You can pair up the smart bunny with another, then when you move its ear up or down, the ear of the other bunny moves as well. So if you’ve got a sweetheart, you can both get bunnies, and communicate with each other throughout the day this way, just to let the other know you’re thinking about them.
  • You can set your own Nabaztag to alert you every time you receive a new email, by voice and light flashes. It will flash three purple lights to let you know if you have three or more messages, two lights for two messages, and 1 light for one message. You can program it to check POP3 (the most common), IMAP (.Mac) and SSL accounts (Gmail).
  • You can also set the bunny to go to sleep and wake up at certain times. You can even choose different times during the weekend. This is useful because you don’t want to be startled in case you receive messages at night. You see, you can set a theme music for every bunny, and it gets played before and after every message that gets sent, to identify the sender. Some of the theme sounds are pretty strange, and would definitely ruin my sleep if I heard them.
  • You can choose from a growing directory of Nabcasts, which are little audio recordings (like podcasts, but for the bunnies) that people can subscribe to. They’re organized by categories, and the directory is fun to explore. You can listen to the last episode of a Nabcast right on the Nabaztag website, to decide whether you’d want to subscribe to it, and once you do, you’ll get it delivered to your bunny every time a new episode is published. Everyone can publish Nabcasts, but you have to subscribe to one of the paid plans first.

Now is a good time to talk about the various subscription plans for the Nabaztag. There are three:

  • Free Style Rabbit (FREE)
  • Full Rabbit (about $5/month)
  • Full Friend Rabbit (about $7.5/month)

As you can see from the list of services above, the Free plan is pretty generous. In addition to the list above, you can also send Little Words messages through the Free plan, and you also get a limited number of web and email messages. Just log onto the Nabaztag website, go to Messages, Send, and select the Little Words tab. Type in the name of the rabbit to whom you want to send a message, choose it from the list, and you’re done.

The difference is that with the Full Rabbit plan, you can also produce and publish Nabcasts, and you can get unlimited emails and messages to your rabbit, whereas you’re limited to Little Words messages with the Free plan. The difference between the Full Rabbit and Full Friend Rabbit plans is that your friends aren’t charged for messages they send to your rabbit by web and email. Both the Full Rabbit and Full Friend Rabbit include the Full Services in addition to the Free Services, and these include:

  • RSS Feeds: set your Nabaztag to read you feeds you’re interested in. May I recommend my feed?
  • Stock Portfolio: set the bunny to tell you how your favorite stocks are doing.
  • Google Talk Alerts: have the bunny tell you when one of your friends is online.
  • Personalized Email Alerts: your Nabaztag will be able to tell you who the email is from, by defining simple rules.

Now for the bugs… Yes, there are a few, but that’s to be expected. The Nabaztag is a new product, and it’s brand new here in the States. I have one of the first units that got shipped here. As with anything new, there are bugs to be worked out, and when you’re an early adopter, it’s part of the game. So, with that in mind, here they are:

  • Pugsley didn’t wake up from sleep for the first couple of days. I had to reboot him in order to wake him up. I contacted Support and was told they had some server issues, which were resolved by the third day, when Pugsley was indeed able to wake up on his own. This glitch is understable, they’re probably working on setting up different servers for the States.
  • Pugsley couldn’t connect to the Nabaztag servers this past weekend (Saturday and Sunday). I contacted Support and was told this was related to the server problem. They fixed the problem right away on Saturday, but on Sunday, when it resurfaced, they were off. That’s something you’ll have to keep in mind about the Nabaztag. It’s made in France, and the French way of life is different than ours. If you can’t get them during the weekend, that means they’re home, taking a break. Don’t freak out, just wait till the next business day, they’ll get back to you. First thing on Monday morning, the connectivity problem was resolved, and Pugsley was back in business, happy as ever.
  • The weather feed for Washington, DC gave the wrong info. I contacted Support, and they said they’ll fix it.
  • The email alerts won’t work correctly for Gmail. That’s not Nabaztag’s fault, it’s just a quirk in the Gmail servers. When you’re logged on through the web, the servers will correctly indicate which emails are read and which aren’t, but when you log on by SSL/POP3, every message in the Inbox will show up as new. Therefore, if you set your Nabaztag to check your Gmail account, unless you’ve deleted everything from the account, it’ll always tell you that you have more than three messages. But it should work correctly for traditional POP3 and IMAP accounts.
  • Because the Nabaztag service for the States is brand new, they won’t have air quality information available for many of our cities. Plus, the traffic info is only available for Paris at the moment. Perhaps they’ll make it available for other cities in the future as well.

Finally, you’ll find the following guides very useful as you begin to use your Nabaztag:

I found the Nabaztag Advanced Configuration guide particularly useful as I troubleshooted my Nabaztag’s connectivity issues. But, I do have to say this: for probably 95% of the users out there, you won’t have to worry about pulling out any guides. Just take your Nabaztag out of the box, plug it into an electrical outlet, and you’ll be good to go! In those cases when you have to contact Support, their response time is really good. They got back to me within 2 hours during normal business hours, which is great!

If you’d like to purchase a Nabaztag, here is a list of vendors. The shops that have stars next to their names can also sell additional ears for the bunny, in case you’d like to customize it.

I hope you enjoy your bunny, I know we love ours! If you want to message our bunny, feel free to do so. Send your messages to Pugsley at nabaztag.com.

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Author: Raoul Pop

Entrepreneur, consultant, filmmaker, photographer and watch collector

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