Reactable have a long history in creating innovative musical instruments, starting out with their original Reactable, moving to Reactable Mobile, and now with ROTOR and their accompanying controllers.
Of course tangible controllers for an iPad aren’t actually a new thing. In fact, two years ago Tuna DJ brought out their control knobs (you can see them here in this post). Enough of those for the moment.
When Reactable brought out their first mobile app it was a very different beast to the other modular apps around at the time. When they recently followed up with their new ROTOR app it was another big step, but not just a software step, one that they aimed to provide users with an experience that is somewhere in between using the full hardware version of the reactable and an iPad app.
So the real question is, have they succeeded?
I’d say yes. In many ways. However, I’d also say that this is not a perfect solution, and if that’s what you’re seeking then you’re almost certainly looking in the wrong place. Before deciding whether the ROTOR tangible controllers are for you or not it’s worth understanding what to compare them against. A brand new Reactable will currently cost you 5900€ (that’s with an 800€ discount). A set of ROTOR controllers will set you back 39.90€, which is about 0.7% of the cost of a full Reactable. In my mind that’s a pretty good deal.
Personally, whilst I’d love to spend some time playing with a full Reactable, I’m more than satisfied with the new ROTOR controllers. I think that they represent excellent value for money.
Let’s move on to how they work and what you can do with them
I’ll start by saying that I think that the presentation of these is lovely. They come in a nice little round tin and are cushioned in foam. In my view presentation is important, and even though you’ve only paid less than 1% of the cost of a Reactable I still think that the whole experience is important.
When you get the controllers out they’re simple things, which initially made me wonder if they’d work at all. However, placing them on the ROTOR app, they work immediately. They will control any on screen ROTOR object.
One thing that quickly became apparent was that to use these controllers you absolutely need a flat surface to work from. Whilst I’ve not tried using these in a mobile environment (and by that I mean on a bus or a train), I’m fairly sure that they’re not going to perform at their best. Having said that, for indoor, flat surface use, they work better than you might expect.
But they are not perfect. And I think that it would be wrong to think that these little devices could be. They will slip and can change from controlling an object on screen to moving it around. In my view I think that with practice I could limit a lot of that slippage on the screen and end up being quite deft with these, but that would take a little time, and would be time well spent.
A quick try with the old Tuna DJ knobs
As I had mentioned them earlier I thought I’d give these older knobs a try out on the ROTOR app. Sadly they didn’t work at all which reminded me that I’d had trouble getting them to work originally. I can’t remember how much they cost so I can’t compare them to the ROTOR controllers.
My verdict …
If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to get an experience a little more like the full scale Reactable then the ROTOR controllers are worth it in my view as they cost less than 1% of the full device, and with a little time and practice I think they’ll be really useful.
If you think you’re going to get that full experience for 39€ then that’s a bit unrealistic and you probably shouldn’t bother.