Monday, September 9, 2013

Hashy Pomme+ Bath Speaker review: Get your target language audio and video in the shower—batteries not included (or needed)

If you like being clean—and I'll bet you do—then you probably spend at a bare minimum 5 to 10 minutes in the shower every day. And if you're into Japanese-style ofuro bathing or just take really long singing showers that annoy everyone else in your family (*ahem*), then it's probably going to be a lot more time than that. And if you aren't using that time to get exposure to your target language, then you're missing out.

Years ago I bought some crappy $20 shower speaker on a whim, and it's been one of the items in my language-learning tool kit ever since: turn on some audio (music or podcasts, for example) and get some exposure while you're taking a shower.

Unfortunately there was one thing that always annoyed me about that crappy $20 shower speaker: it needed batteries. That meant that every time the batteries died, there'd be some period of time between the battery dying and me finally bothering to replace them that would result in missed exposure.

After that shower speaker breathed its last breath, I got the Pomme Bath Speaker by Hashy Top-In (pretty sweet Japanglish name for a company that's been around since 1929, no?), which is pictured above. It's powered by the device that you put in it so it doesn't need a battery, and I loved it for that, but this too had something that annoyed me: there's no convenient way to skip a track that you don't want to listen to or to adjust the volume.

I went looking for a battery-free replacement and that was when I discovered that Hashy had upgraded the Pomme to the Pomme+, which remained battery free but scratched one of my itches by adding a button that lets you skip songs. Below is the unboxing and a quick demonstration of how it works.


You'll find my full review after the jump, but I'll say right now that I can completely recommend the Pomme+ to get your daily dose of language learning in the shower.

To sum up the Pomme+, it's basically a plastic cup with a screw-on cap on top and a speaker on the bottom. Inside there's a headphone jack and on the front there's the button that you can click once to start or stop the music and twice to skip to the next song.  Plug it into your device of choice, stick the player inside, screw the cap on, and you're ready to go.

Or if you'd like to see this magic for yourself, check out this video (in Japanese with awesome 1980s corporate training-video music):



Now let's kick some tires, shall we?

The Good

There's no battery.

If you look for iPhone shower speakers on Amazon.com, you'll find lots to choose from, and without fail pretty much all of them require a battery. What's the big deal with that? First, it's a hassle to change your battery. Second, when the battery inevitably dies, how long before you replace it? Perhaps you have some batteries sitting around and can conveniently pop them in. But if you have to go buy some, it could quite some time before you get around to it. And the time might even increase further if you need to use a screwdriver to replace the batteries (as my pre-Pomme shower speaker did). And any time audio down time in the shower is lost exposure to the language. This makes the Pomme+'s lack of a battery a huge plus.

It also works for video.

Unlike a lot of other shower speakers out there, the Pomme+ keeps your device is a fully transparent container.  With video readily visible and sound coming through the Pomme+'s speaker, there's nothing stopping you from watching video. It's not going to be quite like watching it on your widescreen, but it's not half bad if you set it next to the tub.

It's cheap.

Given how simple the design is, it's not very surprising that it's not terribly expensive. When I last checked on Amazon.co.jp, you could get a new one for anywhere from about $9. (The price'll probably be a bit higher outside of Japan; more on that below.)

It's large enough to handle an iPhone with its case.

The Pomme+ is nice and large; my iPhone fits in there without a problem, and I don't even need to take the case off. The last time I actually owned a car, I had something that let me hook up my iPod to the car's speakers, but I had to take the iPod out of its case. The result was that, if I was even in a little bit of a rush or had an inclination to be lazy, I wouldn't bother to set it up.

It's great for traveling.

The Pomme+ is essentially a very light, hard, plastic case. If you've got something you want to stick in your bag but you want to protect it from the jostling of luggage, you can stick it in the Pomme+. Or just shove some socks in there; the Pomme+ won't really take up that much more space than the socks alone.

Simplicity.

The Pomme+ is a cup. A cup with a screw-on top, a speaker, and a button. One click of that button starts or stops the music, and two clicks skips to the next song. That's pretty much it, and you don't really need much more. This simplicity not only is why it doesn't need a battery and what keeps it cheap, but it also jibes with my inclination towards minimalist efficiency.

The Bad

There's no volume control.

My biggest complaint about the Pomme is definitely the lack of volume control, and I'd be happy to sacrifice a little simplicity for this. This can be annoying because songs sometimes have a different levels of loudness. It's also a pain for spoken audio, which generally doesn't seem to be as loud as music is, so any mix of spoken and sung will either have you craning to hear what's being spoken or being blasted by what's being sung.

It might not be cheap outside of Japan.

I said above that it's cheap, but then I noticed that it seems to be a lot more expensive outside of Japan (at the moment, Amazon.com only has one seller, selling it for $28). Still, that's well within the range of what these things tend to cost, although that pushes it a little farther from the doesn't-cost-much-more-than-a-Starbucks-coffee level of impulse purchase.

Poorer sound quality than on the iPhone.

I'm not really much of an audiophile, so this isn't a huge deal for me; as long as there's a beat and comprehensible foreign language being sung, I'm good. But it's definitely noticeable; if you want to keep listening after you take your iPhone out of the Pomme+ (as I often do), you immediately notice that the sound quality is both louder and clearer on the iPhone.

That said, there was definitely thought put into the design of the speakers. The first time I started listening to the thing (while holding it), I thought that it was way too quiet to be able to stand up to the noise of a shower, but when I put it on a flat surface the sound came out much louder. It appears to have been designed to project the sound down (the speaker's on the bottom) and bounce it off a flat surface around the room.

Squirting it directly muffles the sound.

This is another minor point. Although you can do this:
   
it may not be great for sound quality. Basically what seems to happen is that the water runs down over the speakers (but never in, as the downward-directed speaker is designed to prevent that), and if there's enough water doing that at once it'll muffle the sound. The first time I did this I thought I had broken it, but waiting a second or two for the water to run off brought everything back to normal. The simple and obvious solution is to just put it in a place where it's not going to get hit by a heavy flow of water.

You can't submerge it.

See here:
Can't say this ever bothered me, as I don't spend much time submerged in a bath or elsewhere, but this won't do the job for you if you're looking to listen to music while, say, swimming. I also suspect there's some kind of risk that you'll mess up the Pomme+ if you drop it in the tub, but I've yet to do so so I can't say for sure.

Conclusion

For maximum audio/video uptime in the shower in a small package at a cheap or reasonable price (depending on where you are), I've been able to locate nothing better, so I recommend this strongly to any language learner.

5 comments:

  1. I must say listening to my target language in the shower never even crossed my mind. That's a good idea though.

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  2. You will get more bang for your bucks by following effective language learning practices. Listening I agree is a key BUT that will not of itself get you "there". You need to have practices that are produce fluency AND confidence! Without that, it all amounts to nought.

    Too often language learning practices produce just that if you can believe the stats..they are truly awful... 5%! Agh!

    Better off, to spend some time looking for practices that work before you jump into the hot water and waste your time and money. Check out http://www.strategiesinlanguagelearning.com/how-to-learn-a-language/ for a perspective that is guaranteed to make you put your breakfast down! :-)

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  3. I think you missed my point in your eagerness to link to your site. The point isn't that listening alone will get you there (as you say, it won't). The point is that you should maximize your exposure whenever and wherever you can. And unless you're showering with a language buddy, listening is probably the best exposure you can get while showering.

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  4. Yep I agreed with that. I was just making a point about learning languages which 95% of people have real troubles with..according to the stats.

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  5. Thank you for your time and effort to summarize everything for the audience,. I am truly learning from your experience..Thanks again for useful resource.You have a very good site also! Threads are very interesting! Thank you very much for allowing me to comment in such a good sait.Thanks!

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