Orb: tiny Wi-Fi music streamer with an annoying catch

So you want to stream music from your computer to another room. Congratulations, you've realized what century this is. First, you're going to need some kind of wireless receiver in that room. You could get an unnecessarily expensive system like the Sonos, or go with a cheap and easy streamer like this Orb, just $69. But, yep, there's a catch.

Orb is a light, hockey puck-size gadget that you plug into a stereo or table radio in order to stream music from your PC or Mac. All you need is a Wi-Fi network. Got one? Yay! It's quick and easy to set up (even easier if all your music is in one place, like in iTunes), and streaming audio to other rooms works extremely well. What could go wrong?

Just this: After setting up the Orb, you'll be prompted to download the Orb Controller app for either Android or iPhone. You see, Orb doesn't provide its own remote control, and since your smartphone already has Wi-Fi, it makes a bit of sense to put the controller in your phone (since chances are if you buy a gadget like this, you have a smartphone). You can't even control the Orb from your computer, astonishingly. The bad news is that you'll be hit with an extra $10 charge for the app.

To be fair, at $79 total with the app, Orb is still $20 cheaper than Apple's AirPort Express, which works similarly. But I'm stunned that anyone would include such a blatant customer turnoff as the fine-print charge when they could have just raised the product's price to $79 and given away the app for free. Then it would cost the same, and customers wouldn't feel like they'd just been charged extra for the olives in their martini glass.

Business models aside, the Orb is a cute, simple device that does exactly what it promises. The company also offers software for streaming your computer media to your phone over the Internet, and a video version of the puck, capable of streaming to TVs and other screens, is said to be imminent. Orb could turn out to be a good alternative to Apple's AirPlay (which promises much of the same), if only it wouldn't shoot itself in the foot by annoying its customers.

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