This is another recent piece of woot-loot I got. For $20 bucks I was able to pick up this Internet-enabled talking weather station plus external wireless sensor. The pitch was to have Internet updated weather forecasts for my location, plus my choice of news feeds, all spoken at the push of a button. On top of that, the unit makes the reading of the local wireless sensor available on the Internet.
When the unit arrived, first impressions were not that great: the unit came in the blister pack from hell. Honestly the worst packaging I have ever encountered. Beyond that, the weather station feels a bit cheap, with one of the volume buttons working but lacking the "click" feel of the other buttons. Included was also a small dongle with an Ethernet port and the wireless external sensor.
The setup of the unit was pretty easy, although the setup is a bit odd - the unit uses an Ethernet dongle to connect via a proprietary 915Mhz signal to the station. Notable was the huge selection forcast location, including local landmarks which enabled me to set the location within a few blocks of my residence. Once done with the setup, the unit set the time correctly, downloaded the forecast and connected to the external sensor. Getting the unit registered with the Weather Club, aka the site were you can see your sensors temperature on the 'net, was a bit more of a hassle, but multiple tries were eventually successful.
The unit does mostly everything that was advertised - the forecast is spoken with computer text-to-speech in an alternating male and female voice, same for the 3 news feeds selectable. While the forecast is pretty useful, the selection of the "news" feeds is more then limited. As a matter of fact, the selection lacks any real "news" and has barely more then a few cnet and zdnet feeds available - the option of custom RSS feeds would be really nice here.
The feature of the station to make your local temperature available over the Internet generally works, but requires the use of the somewhat poor knock-off of My Yahoo! including empty (thanks to adblock) advertisement window - the temperature in anything more usable, like a feed or widget for my site, is missing.
On the good side, a call to Weather Direct's customer service number was handled promptly and was followed thru with an email - compliments to a good US based customer service department.
After a few days I wanted to find out more about the unit, partially motivated by the lack of custom RSS feeds. I look inside the station did not yield much - custom chips all around. I was curious if the unit actually contained a text to speech engine or just downloads compressed audio over the 'net.
I tried to find out more about the Ethernet wireless dongle and came across this site exploring a different Weather Direct model
. Based on the info on that page, I hooked my dongle via an old hub to WireShark and started taking a closer look.
The result was unfortunately not what I had hoped - instead of a build in TTS engine the unit just seems to play really low quality mp3 files. I didn't really go much further at that point, since I was hoping for a talking RSS reader and not an wireless low-fi mp3 player.
Beyond the set-back on the TSS engine, the unit is ok. It does what is advertised, although the crappy selection of "news" really hurts the unit in my book. If you like an instant weather forecast and can live with the cheap feel of the unit, for the right price I would go for it again.