The One Smart Piano review: This smart keyboard will teach

graceacupuncture - 10/02/2023 - STRATEGY - 336 Views

Chris Monroe/CNET

I played a lot of piano as a kid -- first, by figuring out how to bang out crappy versions of movie scores and TV theme songs on my grandma's Steinway, then, eventually, with actual piano lessons (my family could only tolerate my rendition of the theme from Indiana Jones so many times).

So, forgive me if the One Smart Piano gets me all nostalgic. It's a $300 compact keyboard (or a $1,500 full-size electric piano) that leverages the power of your phone or tablet to give you a more feature-rich experience. Plug your device in and open the companion app, and you'll be able to follow along with video lessons, song tutorials, and Rock Band-esque games on its screen, with LED lights in the piano's keys lighting up to guide you along the way.

If you're just looking for a keyboard that best approximates the feel of a genuine piano, you can find better than the One at both the $300 and $1,500 price points (roughly £205/£1,025 or AU$390/AU$1,965). Still, there's an awful lot to like about those app-enabled smarts -- especially if you've got kids with a budding eye or ear for music. I know 7-year-old Ry would have had a field day with the thing (and my family would have definitely appreciated the headphone jack).

The One Smart Piano is all about the app. Take that app away, and you're left with a very, very basic keyboard that offers just a volume knob and three buttons: a power switch, a button to tap through different instrument tones, and a sustain setting.

The One Smart Piano review: This smart keyboard will teach

This is at least partly by design. The One's website touts the clean, minimalist look of the thing, with the usual controls stripped out and relocated into the app.

The keyboard settings are comprehensive, but a little hard to find.

Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET

The problem with this approach is that those in-app controls aren't that easy to find. They aren't anywhere on the app's home screen -- it takes a couple of not-terribly-intuitive taps before you'll find them tucked away in a settings menu.

Outside of those core keyboard features, the One Smart Piano focuses on teaching you how to play it. For example, you can pull up interactive sheet music that highlights the notes on the screen (and with those LEDs in the keys) as you play. You can also watch one of 105 video lessons with a virtual instructor -- again, the keys will light up as he coaches you on what to play and how to play it.

There are also song tutorial videos geared towards people who prefer to play by ear. The app has a wide collection of popular songs from everyone from Ben Folds to Beyonce to the Beatles, with videos that show you exactly how to play each section of a song (and yep, the piano's keys light up to make it even easier to follow along).