Embrace smart mirror – Google while shaving (review)

The Embrace Smart Mirror is a motion activated, splash resistant, touch-enabled, smart mirror that shows lots of potential as the next big thing in the bathroom – apart from you of course.

GadgetGuy, GadgetGirl and our gaggle of Gadgeteers were impressed by what amounts to a design feat. It is a 23.6” (60cm) Android tablet cleverly and invisibly embedded in an 800 x 600mm mirror. But no matter how well it has been done – and it has – the smart mirror concept is still quite embryonic.

Embrace

Embrace

Don’t get us wrong – we are not bagging “Mirror, Mirror” on the wall (sounds better than OK Google). It is just that as tech/lifestyle writers and reviewers we want more, nay we see so much more potential.

It probably did not help when a Gadgeteer pointed out, “The manual is version 1.0 – Never buy 1.0 of anything”. And to be fair, this is a hand assembled prototype – not the finished retail product.

Embrace smart mirror is the beginning of ambient bathroom computing

Embrace

But can it answer the question, “Does my bum look big in this?”

The term ambient or ubiquitous computing is used a lot these days. It is the convergence of computing devices with everyday devices like toasters, fridges, washing machines and now embraced by Embrace.

The concept extends to recognising environmental factors (like location, time, different users) and accessing vast AI clouds (like Google Assistant, Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Bixby et al.) to add context and ‘the meaning of life and everything else.’ In short, it is computing focused on helping you to achieve whatever you want, whenever you want.

What you must remember is that Embrace Smart Mirror is a 23.6”, Android 6.x touch tablet invisibly melded into a larger 800 x 600, IP65 splash resistant mirror. The screen occupies about 30% of the overall mirror area.

Ambient computing is Android’s purview, and it still has a way to go to answer the bum question. Rest assured it will get there.

Embrace

P.S. Rumour has it that you can change OK Google to another hot word like ‘Mirror Mirror’ with OpenMic+.

That is where GadgetGuy/Girl/Teers got creative

“It needs to extend the use as a mirror – the ability to show me with different hair colours.”

“I would be grateful for it just to show hair.”

“It needs to be able to magnify as well (it can via video mode and accessibility)

One trendy bearded hipster remarked, “Show my face with different beard styles – goatee, round, chinstrap or three-day stubble.”

“I would like to know what I look like 5kg slimmer.”

And so, it went until we ran out of wine inspiration.

The point is that as a mirror it is limited by what Android and its millions of apps can deliver.

Android does have apps that Embrace can use

Simply search Google Play for the word ‘Beauty.” There are 250+ to play with.

Yes, there is a beard/hair app for fashionable guys.

The gold standard beauty app is YouCam that offers real-time beautifying effects and face/body editing.

There are shops like Sephora Mac, Myer, DJ, etc. that offer membership and online shopping.

Or various camera apps that can take all manner of selfies from glamorous to Cyborg. Some claim to be able to measure and specify body type for online shopping, but I think you need an Intel RealSense 3D camera for that. OK, you can plug one into the USB port!

To make it more useful as a mirror we felt that the Embrace needs a custom skin. Waking up to Mirror, Mirror would be a good start.

The point is that Embrace could be outstanding if it came with a custom home screen chock full of goodies instead of bland old Android 6.x.

What about use outside the bathroom?

Using OK Google, you can control smart devices like security cameras and more. And it offers messaging and hands-free voice (Skype at present) and video.

And its big enough to put in the kitchen. I can see it as a family hub offering up recipes and more over breakfast.

Embrace

I guess the only drawback there is the 23.6” screen is not big enough or the speakers not loud enough to play blockbuster movies. Yes, you can stream Spotify, Netflix, YouTube, DLNA and web content.

But the future success of this device is as a Google Home hub. Every smart thing controlled from the one place instead of using a smartphone. The ‘Mirror Mirror’ version of Google Assistant. Think of this as similar to what Samsung and LG are doing with smart refrigerators/doors.

Mirror, Mirror – mirrors don’t really talk

It will answer to OK Google and do almost everything Google Home speakers will do. As it has a screen, it can give more answers instead of “I’m sorry I don’t understand that, but I am always learning.”

It is remarkably good at voice recognition except when playing audio or video – OK Google does not work. You must stop play completely.

You can skip Google login during setup, and everyone can use OK Google. But to do any more you need a primary user, secondary users, and guest users to set-up their accounts to access the Google Play ecosystem.

But apps are not shared across profiles, so there is a lot of redundant storage. Embrace needs a simpler ‘guest recognition’ interface.

Gesture or touch wake-up – not OK Google

The mirror is always on even if the screen is in mirror mode. Embrace can wake up by touch or gesture (motion) but not OK Google.

We found motion detection to be good to about 90cm and touch was always reliable.

On the issue of touch – it is a fingerprint magnet. Buy a microfibre cleaning cloth.

Let’s get techy

Let’s face it we are more comfortable with boring specifications. But they do show us what the hardware can do.

ESM2306 Embrace Smart Mirror Spec GadgetGuy comment
Display 23.6” (60cm), 1080p, IPS, LCD, 400 nits, 10-point touch IPS offers the best viewing angles, and 400 nits are bright enough under bathroom lights to present a good image.
What the display shows Either mirror mode (reflective as part of a larger mirror) or an Android screen. In video mode, the camera shows a smaller version of your face to chest (depending on wall height mounting)
Mirror body 800 x 600 x 27mm x 12kg (plus mount) It has either two hanging holes or can attach via a VESA 400 x 200 mount to a wall. Professional installation is a must.
Ports (on rear) Ethernet LAN, USB 2.0 (supports up to 32GB storage), Power, Camera on/off A wired LAN connection might be good in commercial environments.
Comms Wi-Fi N dual band, Bluetooth 4.0, Ethernet

The System settings show Wi-Fi tethering (if a signal is sent via Ethernet)

Due to typical bathroom construction Wi-Fi may be weaker there. Ethernet may be handy if you can’t get a good Wi-Fi signal.
Don’t overlook the potential of Bluetooth as well. You can connect smart scales, toothbrushes, blood sugar analysers etc.It does not appear to support Miracast or Chromecast out of the box. It may just need Google Home or casting app installed.
Android Pure Android 6.0.1 – no user interface overlay It would be nice to see it get to 7.x if only for over-the-air security updates
Processor 1.8GHz eight-core A7 with a four core 544MHz GPU We found it a little laggy at times, but it is fit for purpose.
RAM/Storage 2GB DDR3/16GB eMMC

Our unit had 11GB spare.

While these are relatively small and won’t handle Android 7.x or later they are fit for purpose.
Speaker 2 x down-firing 3W speakers In tests, we managed to get 80dB. Sound signature is mid-centric – recessed bass and treble. Don’t expect thumping bass. Having said that add Bluetooth speaker like a Sony Extra Bass could be connected.
Camera 8MP (3264 x 2448) with physical on/off switch for privacy. Positioned in the centre of the tablet display It takes reasonable quality selfies, video and stills under bathroom light conditions. Take care if all your light comes from halogen downlights as these give off a red cast.
Motion detection There is a basic Passive Infrared sensor Used for gesture wake-up
Microphone There is a basic microphone Used for OK Google commands
Supported sound codecs MP3, ACC, FLAC, WAV Standard music streaming including Apple
Supported video codecs H265 or earlier, MPEG and HEVC Hardware 4K decoding (but the screen is 1080p)
Power 240V to 12V adaptor.
3W standby and 36W on
It is a typical brick adaptor and power cable to a power socket. Think about this when selecting a mounting site. There is no battery.
User interface Embrace floating control bar manages Android commands for volume, recent apps, back, home, mirror mode and reboot. The unit is always on and defaults to mirror mode. The embrace bar is moveable and compressible.
Environment IP65 Means dust tight and resistant to water sprays for at least 15 minutes
Price RRP $1699 On special at the website – pre-orders for V 2.0

Embrace

GadgetGuy/Girl/Teer’s take – smart mirrors are for early adopters

If you are a techy type the concept appeals. Conversely, if you are a technophobe, it does not. As I said it is Android, not the mirror that needs to be used to get the most out of it.

One issue to be aware of is the older Android 6.x and 2/16GB of RAM/storage. You may quickly outgrow that. I hope Embrace have an upgrade policy that allows new ‘hardware’ to be retro-fitted to the mirror.

In fact, the concept is not new – using a two-way mirror you can attach an Android tablet of choice – but not a 60cm one!

A similar-sized two-way mirror is about $350 so you are paying for the tech behind a 24”, 1080p IPS panel and a basic Android tablet – not to mention design, warranty and support costs. Yes, the price is fair.

In any case, future technologies like transparent OLED (TOLED) and Android on a stick may help this innovative Australian company to achieve even more. Note Samsung has the honour of inventing the first commercial smart mirror – a 55” using TOLED and Intel RealSense cameras. Cost – don’t ask.

Would I buy one?

It depends on use and needs. There are some interesting use cases.

In upmarket hotels, it could double as the TV in the bathroom as well as a Wi-Fi hotspot.

I spoke to a holiday rental manager who was excited. “This could be the difference between an average home and an extra star for luxury commanding more money.”

Pros

  • Great idea from an Aussie company – deserves support
  • Useful if you know how to make the best use of a large Android tablet
  • Physical switch to turn the camera off
  • Could add an extra star to a home’s luxury rating (like a quality TV or sound system does)

Cons

  • Not for technophobes
  • Dated Android version
  • Occasionally laggy
  • The sound is loud but a too harsh at volume
  • Needs a killer custom skin and apps
  • OK Google does not work while audio content playing or while in mirror mode
  • Fingerprint magnet
  • Unsure of software and hardware upgrade policies
  • Get a professional to mount it – as you would a flat-screen TV to the wall

Ratings

It is not fair to rate a prototype especially when the manufacturer is asking for feedback on version 1.0. Our ratings account for a few rough pre-production edges.

  • Overall:  3.5 out of 5 (the final version may score 4 out of 5)
  • Features: 3.5 out of 5 – Given the version of Android – if it ships with 7.x then add a point
  • Value for money: 4 out of 5 – it is a unique product
  • Performance: 3 out of 5 – in all tests, it met specifications, but it is often laggy
  • Ease of Use: 3 out of 5 – if it had a custom Android skin/menu and more beauty apps it would go up a point
  • Design: 4 out of 5 – Black edges and back (which you don’t see) and corners rounded. Good mounting options