We’re so hungry for the future. We want to ride along on our hoverboard listening to our streaming music service on wireless earbuds while our face computers show us the day’s news. And while we do all that, we want to be controlling our devices with just a flick of the wrist. That’s the promise of Myo: a gesture control armband.
After testing it for a few weeks now, I can confidently say that the future is nowhere to be found inside the Myo.
After that frankly amazing video premiered on Kickstarter, backers flocked to the project. 30,000 pre-orders were announced and work commenced on building the band for final shipping.
Thalmic Labs — the company behind the Myo — nabbed $US14.5 million in Series A funding after the project was funded, and now the band is finally shipping to backers and to the public via Amazon
Now that the bands have shipped and retail availability is happening, it turns out that — like most Kickstarter success stories — the promise of Myo was too good to be true.
When you unbox your Myo band, you get two very important things. The first is a Bluetooth connector. Jam that into the back of your Mac or PC and install the Myo armband software to get going. From there, you’ll need to connect your Myo to your computer just to get it going, then you can start performing calibrations so the band works just right on your arm.
Calibration really is key when it comes to the Myo, so it’s a good idea to do it right. You’re taken through a series of gestures when setting up the armband. These gestures are the cornerstones of your Myo experience. You flex your hand and fingers out, you ball up a fist, you swipe left and right with your whole hand.
The calibration wizard gives you quick little videos to follow along with, and it’s all very simple.
From there, you perform a sync gesture, which involves rotating your arm away from your body using an elbow, almost as if you’re mimicking a door opening with your forearm. Then your Myo buzzes, and you’re ready to start.
The Myo has a few built-in software controllers that let you control various types of media. The unit we reviewed was already bundled with an iTunes Controller, a Netflix controller, a VLC Controller and a Spotify Controller. Different gestures control how that app works, and you can get new Controllers in the Myo Market (even if it is only in beta right now).
The band’s software also comes with two dedicated modes that override the controllers: a presentation mode and a sort of keyboard hotkey mode. The reason I say “sort of” when it comes to the keyboard mode is that it only actually lets you program a couple of actions based on different inputs.
Your five gestures only really allow you to do a few different actions, or map your gesture input to a specific key. And even when you want to map it to a specific media key on your Mac keyboard, for example, the software doesn’t recognise it as the one to be mapped. It needs some work.
Where the band is meant to shine is on presentation mode. Flipping back and forth between slides, triggering animations and the like. With support for Powerpoint, Keynote, Google Slides and more, controlling presentations is really what the Myo should be doing full time.
The band itself is actually pretty comfortable to slide on and wear.
It’s meant to be worn on your forearm, closer to your elbow than to your wrist. The metal contacts inside the armband haven’t reacted to my skin in the time that I’ve been testing it, and it doesn’t heat up while it’s in use.
Elastic connectors give it a great one-size-fits-all design, and more connectors can be added if you need a larger stretch band. The elasticated design also means it’s not about to slide off your forearm as you use it.
You do look like a bit of a knob wearing it around the office or your house, and it requires a connection to the skin to work, meaning you can’t exactly wear a jacket or jumper while controlling the Myo. Drag.
Honestly, when this thing works, it’s great.
Presentation mode really is great. Being able to quickly draw and zoom on important details is awesome in a group setting. I’ve had to present a few things during my time in this job, and looking like a computer sorcerer because I can change slides and point things out without touching my laptop really delights your audience.
It has a wow factor, but beyond presentations, your Myo is going to become one of the most frustrating gadgets you’ve ever bought.
So it’s comfortable to wear, it’s smart to set up, clever when it works, but still it all goes wrong with the Myo. What gives?
After testing it on different arms and many different staffers around the Gizmodo offices, I can conclude that the Myo just isn’t sensitive enough to pick up the small gestures you need to do to get it working.
Take locking and unlocking the software, for example. By double-tapping your fingers together you can unlock the device and its software so that the Myo controller and the software knows to start taking inputs on your PC. You lock it so you don’t accidentally trigger actions while you’re sitting at your desk working.
This is where the problems start: literally right at the beginning of your Myo interaction. Double-tapping to unlock simply doesn’t work. And when it does work, you’re so surprised that it’s unlocked that by the time you go to do something, it’s relocked itself after two seconds for “safety” reasons.
One time we were able to get it working for a period of 30 seconds with the iTunes Connector, and I sat at my desk turning the volume up and down with my fist gesture, skipping tracks by waving to the right and pausing it by flexing my hand open. Then the band slipped ever so slightly on my forearm and it lost sync with my body.
When this happens, you’re made to do the gate-like sync gesture again to get it working and then it’s meant to pick up your body’s signals and movements again with no problem. Except it didn’t do that. After reperforming the sync gesture, we had to then recalibrate the Myo band again to get any of the gestures working again. This happened more than a few times, and it sucks.
It’s more than just a bad user experience: it’s down-right maddening to use.
Add on top of that the fact that it pretty much doesn’t do anything Thalmic Labs promised it would when it was flogging the damn thing on Kickstarter in the first place, which if you ask me is a scathing inditement of Kickstarter in general: gadgets making promises that their developers can’t keep.
Should You Buy It?
It’s ever so slightly unfair of me as a reviewer to hold up an early video that a company put on Kickstarter and compare it with what they’re shipping to market in reality now. Kickstarter isn’t a marketplace: it’s a funding platform, so promising features there is hardly binding. But then again, that video is how Thalmic Labs convinced people to part with their money.
Thalmic showed off people seamlessly snapping their fingers to start music, drawing their weapons in video games and controlling gadgets like the Sphero. What they shipped was a glorified remote for Microsoft Powerpoint. And that’s bad. It’s a broken promise. Another in a long line of broken promises from the universally stupid Kickstarter.
So, should you buy it? Good question. Personally? I say no.
Somewhere inside this futuristic little gesture control band is a good idea, and one that can be executed with revised hardware. It needs to be more sensitive; able to pick up a whole range of tiny movements.
Without that sensitivity, users are destined to spend $US200 on a device that they’ll ultimately banish the device from their arm and into a cold, lonely desk drawer, never to be used again.