Review: Touchkraft Auris
Kickstarter projects are always a mixed bag, as you give an unknown vendor money in hopes of a project coming to fruition as described. On top of that, you’re not actually buying the product, but giving money to support its development, often in exchange for a final version as a “reward”. This model has worked well for many (just ask the guys at Studio Neat), and once products actually become successful, they can sustain an enterprise enough to be sold and manufactured via traditional means. Such is the case with Touchkraft’s Auris, a product I initially became interested when I was trying to find a better way to integrate my iPhone 4 in my car. After some changes from the initial deign, the Auris will now be available to the general public for $40.
Available in black or white, the Auris is a essentially a small Bluetooth audio receiver. Powered by a 250mAh rechargeable battery (12 hours in use, 10 days in standby) or a 30-pin Dock Connector, the Auris receives audio through a Bluetooth connection with a smartphone, tablet, or computer, and outputs audio through either the aforementioned Dock Connector or a 3.5mm line-level jack. What this means is the Auris is quite flexible—the idea was originally for repurposing speaker docks or iPod-integrated car systems for wireless use, but thanks to the Lightning connector, any “obsolete” accessory can be used with a brand-new iOS device. The line-out jack also allows the Auris to receive audio and send it to a set of computer speakers or audio receiver.
Initially, the Auris started life as a battery-less, Dock Connector-only product, but there was a point where Touchkraft wanted to offer a bit more flexibility and set it apart from the already high number of similar products that have appeared over the last few months. In addition to the design change, the Auris also gained a microphone and lower-powered Bluetooth 4.0. The microphone change is both good and bad—just about anything can become a speakerphone and this creates a complete system for those who have cars without a Bluetooth speakerphone. Bluetooth 4.0 is backwards-compatible, so if you have a device that doesn’t support it, it will still work, just not take advantage of new features, such as lower power consumption, quicker connections, better latency, and the aptX codec, which is designed to improve audio quality.
With all of these features, the Auris is still a simple product to use. Controls work similar to most Bluetooth headsets—a multifunction button on the front turns it on and off by holding for a few seconds, while two buttons on the side skip tracks when tapped or adjust the output volume when held. The multifunction button also enters pairing mode if held longer when powering on, and when held while on, it activates Siri/voice controls. Finally, tapping it serves as play/pause. All these double functions may seem complicated initially, but they become quite easy to remember quickly. They work with most media-related apps, including Music, Videos, Podcasts, Pandora, and TuneIn Radio. Instacast 3 was nonresponsive, but a quick search on Twitter revealed that the app seems to be having trouble with hardware buttons.
In testing the Auris with an Altec Lansing speaker dock and an iPhone 5 (readers of the site will remember it replaced my 4), everything worked as expected. When paired, the battery level of the Auris appears in the corner of the iPhone’s display, and all music, calls, and alerts are routed theough it automatically. Using the microphone for calls also seemed reasonably clear, and Siri didn’t seem any less accurate. It would be nice to see the Auris give up on a connection a bit easier when the phone was on the edge of range (about 30 feet). Using the Auris with a Sony receiver and home theater setup also worked well.
In the car, the Auris worked as expected with a few things to note. It was tested using the existing Dock Connector-to-USB/3.5mm line out Y-cable I had been using with my iPhone for months. The Auris turns on any time power is applied through the Dock Connector, allowing it to be quick to pair and ready to play whenever I started the car. It also served as an excellent “remote” for controlling playback when my iPhone was in its windshield mount. When I left the car, the Auris automatically shut off once the iPhone was out of range for a few minutes.
In the case of my car, there already is a Bluetooth speakerphone, but no streaming audio integration (they added that a model year later), so I potentially have the issue of both fighting to be the system for answering calls. The iPhone is smart enough to know that if I initiate a call or answer with the car’s built-in system, it will use that. If I call up Siri using the Auris, the iPhone will use it.
Audio output from two different Auris units seemed a bit quieter (even with the output volume turned up the highest) and had slightly less bass than the line-level output from a Lightning-to-Dock Connector adapter. This was especially noticeable in my car, as it has a six-speaker system with a separate amplifier. Still, there weren’t instances of interference, pops, or other noise, commonly associated with Bluetooth audio solutions.
Other items to note are that the Auris does feature red and blue LEDs to indicate pairing and charge status, and a 0.5m 3.5mm-to-3.5mm audio cable is included. The Dock Connector and the 3.5mm jack are a bit close together, so if you plan on using these together (to charge and stream audio), make sure your cables are on the slim side. A few extra millimeters of space between would’ve been nice. The Auris should work with most devices with a Dock Connector, but may always not charge of pass all signals through (in the case of remotes). Still, as it is a just-completed Kickstarter project, there seem to be a few issues with quality control and compatibility, as comments are showing. The Auris plays audio with older docks designed to charge iPods over FireWire, but will not charge (much like using an iPhone with those). Speaking of charging, you will need to charge the Auris using your own AC adapter or car charger. This won’t be a problem for most, unless you have eradicated all Dock Connector-compatible-charging solutions from your life.
In short, the Auris is a good little gadget if you want to accomplish one of a few tasks—repurposing old speaker docks, adding a Bluetooth speakerphone and audio receiver to a car that has a line-in jack, and making any sort of audio system a wireless one. Due to the nature of Bluetooth, the audio quality still suffers just a bit, but for most users, the convenience more than makes up for it.
The One-Sentence Verdict™
Touchkraft’s Auris is an exciting new product demonstrating both the potential of Kickstarter and clever ways to repurpose older accessories with only a few “in beta” quirks.
Pros: Good feature set, allows you to recycle old accessories with new iOS devices, good audio quality
Cons: Incompatible with some devices, quirks for some early adopters, lower volume than a direct connection, connectors too close together