A Spark review for Android users

  • All in all the app is working well for me with Android. However I cannot find a microphone and I cannot find Dave the drummer. Also I saw something on YouTube using an Apple iPad where the pad was turned horizontal mine will only work vertical

  • So I finally got my Spark last week. Got it set up and running. First, LOVE the sound from this thing. Second, the amp itself seems to be a really well built piece of equipment. (Lets recheck that in a year, but for now, seems really solid)

    Putting a small disclaimer here, now that I am done... this is long. But detailed. And, I think, accurate.

    Now, I am a software tester by trade for over 20 years, so A. I know what I am talking about, and B. My standards are pretty freakin high. Also, I have never used any Positive Grid products before, so some of this is a quasi-comparison to other competing products...

    The Android app itself is not awful, but it is also not awesome. Obviously built for phone screen vertical orientation only without much regard for scalability or flexibility. It lacks many standard conventions, which makes it immediately confusing to use. With it's "Smallest footprint only" design, figuring out (and accomplishing) downloading Tones from ToneCloud took me almost two days, and I am still trying to successfully save them after I change them. Jam Tracks is even less intuitive, and the backing tracks are pretty impossible to know what you are really getting into, since you get a 1 inch square tile for each track, and it holds a picture of a guitar (really, like the 10000 different guitar pics actually communicate something meaningful) which takes up 7/8 of the tile... so not even the title fits, much less the chord structure, which you can just see the very top of the chords cut off on the bottom of the tile. So you literally have to just poke and hope until you find something you like...and when you search, you find gazillions of results, mostly labeled "Request Analysis"... and with Dozens of results for "Hot for Teacher" labeled thusly, I am guessing (hard to know from this perspective) that somehow people can upload their discovered YouTube videos and ask PG to turn it into a tutorial... and while it does do the instant analysis and chord breakdown, the number of times that it cannot tell A Major from A minor would cripple anyone who did not really understand the underlying music theory involved. I have not yet found a way to only search PG Properly Created Tutorials. I tried the smart jam thing, which was one of the features I was most excited about, and... well, the amp sounds great. To be fair, on the online video demo, the guy I watched played a thumpin thrash metal two chord riff, which the smart jam picked right up. I am a blues guitarist... I play riffy, and slow, with lots of slippery major/minor drifting, and a loosey goosey sense of emotional rhythm. That, understandably, was a challenge for Dave the Jam Band Man. But some of the pre-built blues jam tracks were fun, so that is cool. And the official pre-built tutorials, although difficult to find something you like, are very impressive. Except... we are right back to small screen issues... the chords, the play along, and in some cases, the video is a lot to put on the small screen and keep up with.

    SO... I installed the app on my Chromebook. I had a little trouble getting the bluetooth connection to work, but once I forced that issue with a simple "BlueTooth Utility" everything worked great. And for all my nitpicking, again, it works great and sounds awesome... this really is all about usability. I was also disappointed in the "Vertical Only" screen orientation now that I had a larger screen, but, it was still a larger screen. And it did finally allow me to figure out how to download and work with ToneCloud tones.

    Finally, connectivity to Spotify. This DID work... it was a little slow, I thought it was gonna crash... but it did work. However... the real time song analysis is still pretty bad, and the display lags the sound by almost two full beats, so if you try to follow the red moving marker, you are always behind the song, and if you try to keep up, this bright red constantly moving visual lure is always dragging your attention backwards. It is, to say the least, a tad bit exhausting... especially when half the chords are wrong anyway.

    Okay, I know this has been long, but I think it has been a fair and honest review from someone who has been waiting since October for this. Sound? Awesome!! Basic Features? Solid and looks like it will be tons of fun. Software usability? Meh... I have seen worse, but definitely not great. And the super liquid magic features... well, son, there aint no such thing as magic.

    Have Fun!!

  • @johndagostino you can get play store on fire. My son did it on my daughter's fire. Not sure how but I think you can Google it.

  • @siriusdg Update after a few more days. First, still loving it. I have created three of my own tones for specific genres of playing, love them all, and finally loaded them onto the amp so I can get back to them with a single button push, even without connecting the app. But that brings us to the main problem I also found... running the app on my chromebook, when I try to save anything, it seems like the app is actually looking at where on the screen my finger touches to enter the new name or select the on board channel to store in, and rather than saying "Did you click on the right thing?" it is instead saying "Did you click on the right X:Y space?" ... while assuming it is still on a phone... so I can never save anything on the chrome book, no matter how many times I try, as soon as I touch the screen to rename it or pick a slot to save it in, the screen immediately closes and I am back at the main display. Doing it from my phone, as long as I make sure my big fat old fingers hit the tiny edit field properly, works fine. So I am happy I figured it out, but now I need to go find the proper place to register an actual Bug against the app and ask PG to fix it.

    Good Luck all!

  • @aaiigee Apple Music works as expected on my phone/tablet/Spark. I don’t currently use Spotify, so can’t help there.

  • @siriusdg
    Thank you for the review! Delivery for my Spark is probably still a week or two out but as an Android and a Chromebook user I was glad to read about your trials and tribulations with that particular OS. It's unfortunate Positive Grid didn't go through more extensive testing before releasing the app but we'll just have to have faith that they will be on top of the glitches and get those patches out to us quickly!
    Thanks again.

  • @siriusdg
    I'm not familiar with specifics of a Chromebook--does that run Windows? If so, do you think any Windows PC could run the Spark app? Any help with that would be appreciated. Thanks.

  • I've been using the Spark with my Android phone for a month with no issues whatsoever. I'm using a Pixel 4 XL.

  • @siriusdg

    Thank you for the review, found it quite useful AND mostly they're things I could have said myself, although I don't have all the same issues. :-)

    Now, maybe you can help me with the most recent issue I'm having with the amp. I tried to play along a backing track from YouTube, the app picked up it quite good, missed some chords :-D , but... I couldn't make it play through the Spark, even if it WAS set as the ooutput device for multimedia on my Android phone. Any idea? :-)