Populele - Smart Ukulele Review & Demo
A Novelty or the Future?
The Populele is touted as the world's first smart ukulele with the ability to connect to an app via Bluetooth. Featuring 72 LEDs in the fretboard, the Populele can display chord diagrams in real time as you work your way through the app, beginning with learning chords to strumming along to your favorite songs.
The Populele is sold in 2 packages: The ukulele only ($159 USD) or the ukulele with an accessories kit ($189 USD). The accessories kit includes a carrying bag for the ukulele, a capo, 2 picks, and an extra set of strings.
Using the App
As stated earlier, the Populele connects to the app via Bluetooth. The app then uses the device's microphone (tablet or smart phone) to listen to your playing.
The main menu contains 5 categories, but the 3 primary ones are:
Tools: Contains a tuner and a chord diagram library.
Game: The learning platform; this is where you will start. As the name implies, you will be playing an interactive game that begins by teaching you the fundamentals (such as: Learning how to hold the ukulele and learning your first chords) all the way through learning to strum simple chord patterns alongside popular beginner songs, such as "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star".
Song Library: Strum along to instrumental versions of popular songs by artists such as Adele, Maroon 5, and Michael Jackson.
Above is in example of the Game Mode in play. A simple drum beat plays in the background to help keep you in-time as you strum through basic chords (Am, F, C, G), timing your strum as the bubble passes through the portal.
The best thing about this ukulele is that it makes learning interactive and fun. This is the single greatest factor for young children, ages 12 and under, between them choosing to practice or not to practice. The Populele accomplishes this by not only teaching the fundamentals (e.g. chords, strumming), but most importantly by applying them in a fun manner; such as, learning a handful of chords and a strum pattern and then applying it to a great play-along song like "Let it be" by the Beatles.
If you decide to purchase this ukulele, go into it knowing that you are an early adopter of new technology. This means that not everything will be perfect or fully developed. For example, other reviewers have noted that it is difficult to see the fretboard illuminated while playing. Or that the app requires a silent room in order to work best.
In regards to the last comment, I noticed that sometimes the app had difficulty recognizing that I hit a chord in-time, thus I was not given credit for playing it successfully. I believe this issue is due to the fact that the device (tablet or smart phone) is playing music through the speakers while simultaneously using the microphone to listen to your playing. If you do not play loud enough, the device fails to recognize (or hear) the hit.
My biggest gripe with the ukulele is with the fretboard. I know, you're thinking "but that's the coolest part, it lights up!". Yes, that's true and it's very cool. But, unfortunately if you look at the diagram above you can see that the fretboard is made from plastic. This makes sense, as it needs to house the LEDs; but it creates a very unnatural feel.
With a traditional ukulele, the fretboard is made from wood (typically rosewood or maple). Wood allows the natural secretion of oil in our fingertips to be absorbed, which allows us to easily glide up and down the neck as we play. Plastic on the other hand disallows this, creating a fretboard that is more difficult to play on as it leaves your fingertips feeling dry.
The Bottom Line
To answer the title of this review: Is this ukulele a novelty or the future? No, I do not believe it is a novelty. But I also do not believe it is the future quite yet. What I think it is, is a step in the right direction for an alternative way to learn. We have to remember that this is Generation 1 of the Populele; and I think they've done a tremendous job so far.
There is a lot of potential in this ukulele, such as expanding to teach material beyond the beginner. For example, the CAGED Method is a method which allows us to play a single chord in 5 different positions throughout the neck. It helps the beginner break away from only playing in the beginning of the neck and is a great way to begin familiarizing yourself with notes and chords throughout the neck. The Populele could accomplish this easily with their light-up LED technology.
In conclusion, I'm excited to see where this ukulele will go. I'm a big fan of anyone that is passionate in helping others learn and it's clear to me that Populele truly cares about their product. But for now, if you are over the age of 12 (or if you are under, but you are not an absolute beginner), I would skip this ukulele. If you are younger than 12, this could potentially be a great first ukulele. But, keep in mind that it is rather quite expensive for a child when there are excellent beginner ukuleles (such as the Makala MK-S and Kala KA-15S) available in the $50 range.
Street Price: $159 - $189.
Article by: Andrew Hardel