Today we are taking a closer look at the Alexa keyboard from Roland. The latest entry in its hobbyist GO:PIANO lineup brings Amazon’s wildly popular virtual assistant to the experience along with wireless Bluetooth transmission and integration with the company’s learning platform. But does the Alexa integration amount to a gimmicky experience that unjustifiably increases the price of entry or not? Read on for all the details.
Roland GO:PIANO with Alexa Built-in
The latest Roland GO:PIANO introduces on-board Alexa voice control to its lineup of home digital pianos — a product category generally aimed at casual home players and beginners. Along with some interesting possibilities under the hood for Mac/iOS connectivity, the main focus here is using Amazon’s accessible virtual assistant tech to make the hobbyist and learning experience even more enjoyable.
GO:PIANO with Alexa built-in ships in your typical cardboard and foam box with a manual, detachable sheet music stand, and the AC adapter. Connectivity includes Wi-Fi (Alexa) and Bluetooth (wireless MIDI, app connectivity) along with a minimalist approach along the back panel including wired DC power, 1/4-inch pedal (sustain pedal etc.), a mini stereo aux audio input, and a combo master output/headphones jack. The optional battery power will offer up to 5-hours of untethered operation.
Alexa Keyboard Build Quality/Visual Appeal
GO:PIANO is housed in a hard plastic exterior with stereo speakers and a control panel spread across the top above the keybed. I certainly didn’t expect it to feel or look overly robust — the plastic speaker grates and silver/white paint job aren’t doing it any favors — but it is about on par with what I was expecting for a digital piano that isn’t aimed at the living room furniture category. Fortunately, for me the inlayed matte-finish control panel and blocky keys certainly elevate the Alexa piano’s overall aesthetic appeal significantly.
Those little control panel hieroglyphs lined up on either side of the “custom” LCD display represent most of the device’s flat touch controls. While some of the iconography here feels a touch juvenile for me, everything is quite responsive and reinforces the instrument’s clean, minimal visuals.
Alexa GO:PIANO’s Keys
It features 61 “Ivory Feel” box-shape keys with adjustable touch velocity/sensitivity. In reality they “feel” different to everyone, but the best way I can describe them is like a slightly lighter or matte-finished version of the real thing. In terms of feel and shape, they are closer to one of those very pricey high-end digital pianos than a high to mid-range MIDI controller. Considering the technology-laden learning direction Roland is taking here, the design seems like a smart choice. Some not-so-musical friends that got their hands on my review unit seemed to think the keys “felt” better than some of my much more expensive gear and more like an acoustic piano.
The almost dull-feeling exterior was slightly odd to get used at first for me, but actually became comfortable and enjoyable quite quickly.
The internal sound generator does offer up a collection of the typically high-quality, digital Roland tones, built-in effects, and a series of performance customization options. There’s 10 piano sounds, seven electric pianos, seven organ tones, and 16 others including a drum kit, SFX, hilarious sounding Jazz Scat samples, and much more. Nothing is going to blow your mind here, but I’ve always found Roland’s digital piano tones to be solid and that legacy carries on with the Alexa GO:PIANO in my opinion.
There are a series of built-in songs along with a recorder which allows for users to save performances, demos, and ideas with the touch of a button on the control panel. It’s nothing overly deep, but certainly a nice touch for casual players and those on the come-up.
An Alexa Keyboard from Roland
After a brief setup process you can talk to and control your GO:PIANO with Alexa. Download the Roland app, setup the Alexa Skill using the on-screen instructions, and you’re ready to go. It was mostly painless and simple to get going.
Once it’s setup, you can access Alexa for both typical virtual assistant queries and to control GO:PIANO with your voice. Simply say “Alexa” as usual, then you can ask what the weather is or why the sky is blue or to have Alexa change the tone of the GO:PIANO to an organ. After Alexa is enabled, either by summoning her (Alexa, Ask GO:PIANO to …) with your voice or via the dedicated button on the GO:PIANO control panel, she can make all sorts of setting changes on the keyboard and more. Engage the metronome, change the tempo, play built-in songs (or from Amazon Music), shift the octave, start a recording, make volume adjustments, and well, voice-control almost all of its main functions.
As far as I can surmise, there is no way to actually change settings using voice-commands mid-performance without interruption on the output. In other words, the output of the keyboard dims momentarily when you ask for Alexa. While it isn’t likely stage performers will gravitate to Roland’s latest talking keyboard anyway, it is worth noting in case you had your heart set on exercising that ability.
Bluetooth MIDI too
Roland has included some wireless Bluetooth MIDI tech here as well. I have been enjoying using the GO:PIANO as a sort of wireless sketch pad for iOS production apps and for Logic Pro X on my main Mac system. A quick jump into your Audio MIDI Setup on the Mac after enabling Bluetooth output on GO:PIANO will allow for what has been seamless wireless MIDI transmission to virtual instruments in Logic.
The Bluetooth connectivity also allows the Alexa GO:PIANO to play nice with Roland’s Piano Partner 2 app. The learning platform features of number of ear training games (some are also built-in to the keyboard), as well as light lessons on music scores and more. The educational platform itself could use its own entire review, but in my time with it using the new GO:PIANO with Alexa Built-In everything worked great and I found the combination of both products to be a solid educational experience, if not slightly more casual and independent than real-life piano lessons.
Roland’s new Alexa keyboard GO:PIANO offers up the company’s solid digital sounds in a compact learning device for the modern beginner musician. While I would have preferred a more living room-worthy look overall, most digital pianos of this particular nature are similar. Roland is trying differentiate its Alexa-equipped keyboard with the bright white and silver design here, it just seems like some parents and potential customers might have preferred something that looks a little bit more classy for the music room.
At $499.99 it’s not exactly a small investment. Although drastically less expensive than say a small acoustic piano, you’re paying significantly for the Alexa integration here. Even Roland’s own 88-key GO:PIANO without Alexa sells for $100 less than the virtual assistant-laden 61-key model featured in this review. The overall playing experience here is fantastic, but you’re specifically paying for the ability to talk to it. While for me personally, her integration here is somewhat gimmicky, if not particularly novel and quite a conversation starter, just make sure Alexa is worth the extra $200 or $300 to you by comparison to what could be a very similar experience on other keyboards.
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