Music On: Electronic Keyboard Review
Posted by James Newton
Hits a few bum notes
The first in a new series of portable instruments from Abylight, Music On: Electronic Keyboard offers up a range of voices including pianos and clarinets, and accompanying styles, from reggae to polka, to create a simple musical keyboard you can access on the go.
One of the first issues with a portable keyboard is space, and Electronic Keyboard's two-octave layout walks the line between key size and range well. There's an alternative keyboard that starts from F instead of C and onscreen buttons increase or decrease the octave, giving a range of nearly seven octaves for each voice. Naturally, not all the instruments featured sound great at all pitches, but it's good to have the option of range all the same, with pitch bends available with a tap of a shoulder button and slide of the stylus.
Another problem is what to do without multi-touch, and here there's not such a good compromise. Directions on the D-Pad correspond to various chords, all of which are customisable, but the only way to play a chord is using the rhythm accompaniment: there's no approximation to playing a keyboard two-handed, and the lack of multi-touch harms it here. It would have been preferable to offer an option where melodies could be played with the touchscreen and chords played ad-hoc using the D-Pad, but regrettably it's not included. There's also no ability to zoom in on the keys, resulting in plenty of accidentals if you're going for a smooth approach rather than pecking out notes.
The voices in general are of MIDI quality; some fare better than others but mostly all will be familiar to anyone who's used an entry-level keyboard in the past ten years. They're not editable sadly, with no options for sustain, attack or delay for example, leaving you with little ability to create something truly individual. The accompaniments are of a similar standard, but with four variations there's at least some ability to chop and change.
If you want to get a bit more in-depth than simple melodies, there's a record function, though it's rather simplistic. You can record one melody channel and an accompaniment, but there's no layering involved, meaning you can't create that piano and clarinet duet you've always wanted. You can save your sessions however, so it's possible to play a piano part in one session, save that, and work on your clarinet part in another session, but the only way to splice them together would be to hook the DSi up to a PC and use its audio software.
If you're after a feature-rich portable music recorder then this isn't for you, and you should probably download Rytmik instead. If you want a tool that's fun to dabble with you'll be able to peck out some fun little melodies on this, and at 200 Points it's hard to expect too much: it won't help you to learn the real instrument, but it might keep your musical brain ticking over between sitdowns at the ivories.