Look Ma, No Hands – AirTurn BT-105 Bluetooth Controller for iPad

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On the face of it, a hands-free accessory sounds superfluous for a chic device designed for hands-on use. Not only is the iPad screen meant to be touched, along with the OS, almost all well-designed Apps have been perfected to have an intuitive UI that requires minimal sequence of gestures to get a task done. With your fingers.

As it is plainly obvious however, these short years have seen the boundaries of function of the iPad repeatedly redrawn, or quite frankly completely erased. Along with the living room, bedroom and playroom, the iPad has now found its way to the classroom, boardroom and, err, apparently cat room! For all the love we have for its beautiful screen, there are specific moments that we could do with stepping away from it, whilst still in some control of it. Like when you need to flip a page with hands full of that cat. Enter AirTurn, the wireless page turner (and more), especially for those very moments.

Although this review is specifically on the 2-pedal BT-105 unit, the principal behind the growing list of products by AirTurn is the same – a momentary switch is used to relay user input signal to the iPad via a Bluetooth transceiver. This signal is read by an active compatible App, and the assigned function is triggered – scroll, page turn, menu toggle, and so on.

This particular unit is thus made up of 2 parts: a BT-105 transceiver, and two ATFS-2 foot switches. And when purchased as a complete unit, these parts come with the transceiver fixed between the two pedals on a custom acrylic (removable) pedal board.

airturn full 01

airturn full 02

The black plastic transceiver is about half the size of an iPhone 5s, with an added few millimetres of thickness. The enclosure is continuous except for one face, which houses:

  • a tiny red power/reset button,
  • one green/yellow/red LED indicator,
  • a mini-USB charging port, and
  • two stereo ports (to connect to pedals).

It has an internal 430mAh lithium polymer battery, and comes with a USB charging cable, as if you need yet another one of those. Maybe to replace one that your cat chewed.

airturn buttons

The non-slip ATFS-2 foot switch is black, and is about the same dimensions as the transceiver, but at 2/3 the length of the 5s. It is:

  • injection moulded with a unique blend of high strength plastic, which is virtually indestructible;
  • mechanism-free with a moulded hinge, making it completely silent;
  • actuated with a rare earth neodymium magnet and a rhodium reed switch, both of which are embedded within the body of the foot switch.

The ‘completely silent’ and ‘virtually indestructible’ claims? From personal experience, yes, believe the hype.

Other more detailed information, including Bluetooth specs/range and a full operating manual PDF can be found on AirTurn’s informative, if a little disorganised, website.

Made me smile

This unit is well made overall – it is light but robust, has a relatively small footprint, and sports a low profile. (It’s a bit cropped, but I thought I’d include the image below anyway to show you a size comparison next to a pen. Okay, it’s not as slick as the iPad/pencil ad, but you get the idea).

airturn pen

These features should make its largest group of users very happy – musicians. And speaking of musicians, those who have migrated to iOS-based effects processing Apps will be even happier as some of these Apps are compatible with the AirTurn. (Although I will admit that software effects is not to everyone’s taste, it does minimise creaky knees, hips and backs for those long-time gigging musicians). I also like the fact that the unit is almost modular – break one bit, just replace that bit without forking out for a full unit.

Outside of music-type uses, this unit can be configured to page turn digital documents as well, although the list of compatible Apps is not as great. Again, the AirTurn website has an exhaustive list.

Practically, it pairs easily the first time, and re-pairs in seconds on switching on the unit. And battery life is great – I’ve managed to get up to 10 full-length gigs on a single charge, albeit with switching it off between sets.

Lastly, the support team seems to be on the ball and always willing to help. I have only used them through Get Satisfaction, but suspect that their direct email link would be just as sharp.

Made me frown

Pet hate #1, 2 and 3: set up is a challenge! It’s factory set to work with the iPad, but if you’re unlucky, this will need resetting. Hats off to AirTurn for making a compact product, but one button to control it all has resulted in needing to use ‘length of time’ of holding down the power button as a way to change mode/function. And therein lies the challenge: is holding for 1, 2 or 3 (or 8?) seconds just a slow count of 1 to 2 to 3, or should I Mississippi it? Then there’s the counting of the number/colour of flashes to select the correct mode. And not to mention trying to keep the tiny button depressed whilst attempting to hold a foot switch down. Or was it both switches? At the same time or in turn?

May be it would’ve been easier if I was a console gamer – you folks use that sort of skill for cheats, don’t you?

Pet hate #4: switching on the unit automatically toggles the iPad virtual keyboard off, regardless of the running App. Not the biggest problem, but annoying when charging the unit and trying to work on iPad at the same time. Oh, and the reason why it’s better to leave the unit on whilst charging is because the LED is also the charging indicator. Talk about multitasking.

Finally

The negatives irritate, but to be fair, it’s mainly at the set up phase. Once up and running, it looks the part, it works a treat, and it can take a reasonable-use beating and survive well. And it sure does leave your hands free to show that cat even more love. (They only make you think they love you back, you know).

Here’s a store link for AirTurn; it’s priced at $119.95 and is a universal accessory designed for iPad, iPhone and the Mac (and other unmentionables).

One more thing: This accessory was independently purchased by the post author. It lives with his iPad permanently.

f'reez

Part-time Medic, full-time Creative - I'm either performing on-stage, writing backstage, or practising off-stage, using nothing but those shiny things they keep designing in Cupertino. Shame they aren't waterproof yet - it's always a challenge against the elements here in the Northeast of England.

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One thought on “Look Ma, No Hands – AirTurn BT-105 Bluetooth Controller for iPad

  1. I’ve had very good luck with a different device that serves the same purpose called PageFlip at http://www.pageflip.com. I have used it onstage as a pianist with great results and do not have some of the issues, like resetting the mode,that you had with the BT-105 — I only need it to turn pages left or right and it holds that mode even after not using it for months. It’s also cheaper, but does not have a rechargeable battery pack.