Review Review: Xiaomi Populele – Smart Ukulele for beginners (with App!) for $119.99
The Chinese technology giant Xiaomi is not stopping at any industry with its products and now also wants to conquer the market of musical instruments. To get off to a good start, you seem to want to use a very popular musical instrument. The populele, something like a smart ukulele, can also teach you to learn to play whole pieces of music.
The instrument – processing of the populele
The populele is in itself an ordinary instrument, made of wood (more precisely: of rosewood) with four nylon strings and can be played as such like any other ukulele. It weighs 545 grams and therefore also has a normal weight for the instrument.
There are two differences: a micro-USB connector on the side and a power button next to it. The corresponding electronics are located inside and are only visible when looking into the sound hole. The second special feature: The fingerboard contains a total of 72 LEDs. But they are not visible when switched off and the board appears completely black.
The ukulele is equipped with an 800 mAh battery. To charge it, a micro-USB cable is included, which is plugged into the corresponding connector on the side of the instrument.
Accessories – Everything a musician’s heart desires?
Besides the mini guitar, there are also a few accessories in the box. But first you have to find it, because it is well hidden under the carton, which you only perceive as padding for the instrument. Everything seems to have been thought of here. There are two picks, a cable and a set of spare strings. Even a Capo (capo; yes, I had to google) is included, even if you won’t need it at the beginning.
The highlight among the included extras is the linen carrier bag. The ukulele is easy to transport in it. There is also room for the rest of the accessories in an inside zippered pocket.
The smart gadget – The app for the ukulele
To use the “smart” functions, a specially developed app must first be installed on the smartphone. The Populele app is available in the Playstore for Android as well as for iOS mobile phones at iTunes. You can also start the app without an instrument, but you have to create an account. Without populele you can’t replay the songs, but you can browse the explanatory videos and playlists.
To connect a smartphone and populele, turn on the instrument and activate Bluetooth in your phone. The app will show you available devices and you can establish a connection.
The app is colorfully kept in a somewhat childlike design. But the animations look good throughout; the same applies to the videos. There’s one for every step on the long road to becoming a ukulele superstar. In the beginning you will learn basics such as where the ukulele comes from, how to hold it and how to strike the strings. Most of the videos are set to music; the speaker speaks clear and easy to understand English without a Chinese accent. In addition, there are animations and video material from the populels, for example when it comes to explaining changing techniques or different chords.
You can also tune the ukulele, which the app reminds you of regularly. There is a separate application for this, in which you can tension the individual strings correctly. This is especially necessary at the beginning, as the strings are always slightly out of tune.
Learn ukulele via app?
The first lessons start slowly. You’ll learn three chords that you can practice without time pressure. Then you play the chords alternately in rhythm and get points for doing it right. The app will detect if you are playing the right chord.
After a certain number of points you can move on to the next exercise. You can also skip the very first tutorial if the progress is too slow for you.
On the one hand, the finger position is shown on the mobile phone display, but on the other hand, the LED in the corresponding position on the fingerboard lights up. Especially as a beginner, however, you quickly feel overwhelmed with the information, and in my experience you hardly even look at the LEDs.
However, I find the tips helpful. If you take the time, you will notice at least small progress after a few lessons. It is then difficult not only to hit the chords correctly once, but to play them in the rhythm of songs that are getting heavier. I guess I’m still at the beginning of my ukulele career.
Playing songs – Guitar Hero 2.0?
In addition to the “Game” function, in which you play through these various exercises, there are also whole songs that you can replay. There are a lot of well-known (western, no Chinese) pop songs here. Whether Adele and Ed Sheeran or classics like the Beatles and Michael Jackson – the choice is great.
The songs are sorted into different difficulties. But even the simplest are not for beginners; to find the right rhythm and at the same time be learned fast enough. But if you succeed, you can elicit beautiful melodies from the instrument. Julian, who, unlike me, can play the guitar, gave a version of “Over the Rainbow” after getting used to it.
For right-handers only
The special nature of the ukulele means that it is unfortunately not (yet?) suitable for left-handers. An ordinary instrument can be turned around and the strings can also be strung in a different way, which is not so easy here. The app only shows the chords for the left hand (using the right-handed), and also the LEDs in the fingerboard only light up in one way. The only possibility for left-handed players would be to learn the complete game upside down, which would be unnecessarily complicated. Whether there will be an update of the app in this direction is not known and probably not necessarily probable.
Conclusion – Does the Xiaomi populele replace the music teacher?
The populele definitely has a special position among the “gadgets” with us. We don’t test a musical instrument every day either. I didn’t presume to judge a ukulele in terms of its sound quality, but it is at least an average instrument here. It doesn’t sound worse than any other ukulele I’ve heard so far.
But what I can very well rate as a beginner is the app that is supposed to teach me how to play. The app is clearly arranged and the structure of the exercises is comprehensible. I’m still far from getting something like music out of the populele, but my chords are getting better. The videos and hints in the app were definitely a help for me. Last but not least, learning with the app is fun.
I would even go so far as to say: Yes, you can learn to play ukulele with the populele. Does it replace the music teacher 100%? Certainly not, but it is the less complicated and more flexible variant (and in the end also cheaper). It is a reasonable price for the time you can spend with the instrument. But I would still have one restriction: You have to be up for it. If you get down to it half-heartedly, you’ll soon find the populele in your closet getting dusty.To the gadget