What is it about a split-flap display that’s so compelling? Perhaps that it’s the perfect blend of analog and digital technologies. In goes the programming; out comes a result, messages or designs clattering away as little pieces of plastic flip into the right order.
A few years ago, with a couple of hours before a flight out of JFK, my wife and I sat entranced watching the delightful split-flap display in the TWA Hotel’s Sunken Lounge (I highly recommend a visit if you have time, plus explore the entire amazing public areas of the hotel and better, stay overnight). What would come up next? And why wasn’t there a way to have a split-flap display at home?
I did a lot of research into the space and discovered there is: Vestaboard. There are some other options, which I’ll mention at the end of this post. But Vestaboard is what I settled on as the best for us. Here’s what it’s been like enjoying it after our first year (spoiler: it’s been great).
Prepare for the price
Let’s get the big issue out of the way first. Vestaboard is expensive. Currently, it costs $3,300. Discounts sometimes happen, taking $200 or so off the price (if you use this link, you’ll get $200 off the list price, and I’ll earn the same. Sometimes, it might also discount any discounted price. Also, this is not a sponsored post. I just really like my Vestaboard and wanted to share about it, especially as I’m often asked about it if I share a funny message on social media).
Price was the biggest reason I debated getting a Vestaboard for months. Eventually, I made the commitment. Ours arrived in September 2022, any my only regret is not getting it sooner. It may help to consider the Vestaboard like a piece of art. It certainly gives me the enjoyment of art, but an ever-changing, interactive piece.
I installed our Vestaboard myself. If you have basic DIY skills, you’ll probably be fine. Vestaboard has a wonderful installation video and page. When the unit arrives, there’s a giant sticker template that’s the size of the Vestaboard for you to place on the wall in order to determine where to drill screws for the support bracket.
Ours went into our kitchen, just over an electrical socket. Eventually, perhaps I might get another socket installed so that the power cord isn’t visible. The Vestaboard is designed to make this easy, with a recess on the back of it. But the cord is short enough to our outlet that it doesn’t bother us much.
When picking a location, realize the Vestaboard is loud. Like really loud. It won’t deafen you, but if you’re within 5 to 10 feet of it, you’ll probably have to stop a conversation while it goes off. It’s both a conversation starter and a stopper!
The good news is the app – which I’ll talk about more below – allows you to set quiet hours when it won’t go off. You can also turn it off on an as-need basis through the app. But I eventually changed out our outlet to a smart one so that I could turn it off faster by talking to our Google Nest Hub or the old fashioned way, by pushing a button. That can help if you’re on the phone or FaceTime and it starts to clatter away unexpectedly.
The app and Vestaboard+
Vestaboard has an app of the same name to control the unit, but you’re going to find that’s not very useful unless you upgrade to a Vestaboard+ subscription for $95 per year. Do it. It’s worth it. Without the subscription, you can only send messages and designs to the unit on a one-time basis or with rudimentary scheduling. With the subscription, you tap into the many “channels” that are offered and schedule them as you’d like.
Below are some of the channels I use, to give a taste of what’s available. But there are way more that what I’ll cover, over 300 channels, Vestaboard shared recently. You can learn more on this page at the site or download the app itself via this page.
I have headlines that come in from places like the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the BBC. You can schedule headlines to appear as they happen (which is what we do) or on a set basis, such as every 15 minutes, or once per hour, or other time options.
It’s pretty amazing how it keeps you updated. Sure, you can get breaking news through the social media app of your choice. But to have the Vestaboard start flapping away? Oh, what’s the latest?!!! It’s pretty old-school, a perfect audio-visual experience. It also does get me going to the sites of these publications to read the latest stories I heard about this way.
Beyond news, Vestaboard delivers all types of information. It keeps us up-to-date on the weather:
It alerts us to the standings our favorite baseball teams (even when we wish the results were better):
Sadly, World Cup Rugby and results for the Six Nations don’t have channels yet (hint!). But there are channels for the NFL, MLS, NBA, US college basketball, Premier League and many other sports and sporting events.
After I do a run, my Strava results are waiting for me when I come in the door:
There’s so much more. It’ll show your favorite stocks. You can track the airline fight status of someone coming to visit. Phases of the moon, highs-and-lows for tides, what’s currently playing on your Spotify — those are just some of the other information and productivity channels offered.
I love flags, so Vestaboard gives us some flag artwork on a regular basis, such as this:
That’s a California flag I made using the Vestaboard app. Yes, I know, you have to have some imagination here. But this is ultra low-res!
I also have it set to show us things like landscapes and wave art:
Like quotes? There are channels for the best of Ted Lasso, Seinfeld, Arrested Development and more. Prefer lyrics? How about famous 80s lyrics? OK, grandpa, maybe you’d prefer Taylor Swift lyrics. Yes, there’s a channel for that, too.
Adding and scheduling apps on your Vestaboard
Having covered some of the channels, let’s talk about what it’s like to install and schedule them. You browse similarly to what you’d do with your smartphone’s app store and choose what you want. After selecting an channel, you’ll then generally be asked what schedule you want to apply to it. In general, you can have an channel trigger several times per day at a set time. The exact options will vary by channel.
For example, my MLB Scores channel is set to to show the end of game score for when the Angels play (you can have multiple teams, if you choose). However, I could have it display updates every minute, whenever there’s a scoring play, at the top of innings and some other options.
As you add more channels, you’ll quickly realize how important scheduling is. You don’t want one going off at 5 past the hour, then another at 6 past, another at 7 past and so on. That would barely let anything stay on the Vestaboard long enough to be enjoyed. It also gets really noisy and distracting if the Vestaboard is constantly flapping.
Seriously, the adage of less is more certainly applies to Vestaboard, in my experience. At first, I had a lot of different channels going. Seinfeld quote! An emoji! Star Wars quote! A flag! Eventually, I settled into fewer channels that I especially enjoy.
The Vestaboard app got an improvement about six months ago that makes scheduling easier, because you can see at-a-glance when each channel is set to go off. That can help you space things out more:
You can also toggle channels on-and-off or “mute” them. For example, over Thankgiving or Christmas, I have special channels that will happen during those periods. Then I toggle them off. That keeps them handy for the future, with no need to reinstall.
Making your own creations
Want to have your own message on the Vestaboard? It’s super easy. There’s a messaging composer where you just type whatever you want in, and the composer will auto-format it and send to the Vestaboard:
How about your own designs? Or if you want to custom format a message? Then go into visual mode, where you can control exactly what will show on each of the 132 “bits” or elements that make up the display. There are even a variety of templates you can use to help get you started, if you want to add some low-res imagery to your messages. You just select the Templates option in the compose window and pick a template you like. Then add a name or adjust it however you want:
Want to make a collection of special messages or displays? You do that using the Channel Creator. It allows you to add messages manually, or import from favorites you’ve saved, or even important from a spreadsheet. Then you can scheduled that channel just like any of the regular channels you may have added.
For example, I made a custom channel of all the great quotes from the Mad About You “Giblets for Murray” Thanksgiving episode, which, as you would expect, I have switched on during the holiday. Similarly, there’s an airshow that happens nearby once per year, so when all the planes are flying overhead, I made a custom channel with Top Gun quotes and designs to get in the spirit.
I haven’t tested this yet, but in addition to importing into a channel, you can also export as a CSV file out of a channel. Then designs you made can be brought into another channel. That’s helpful since there’s no type of copy-and-paste feature for individual creations.
Contributing your creations
Come up with something you think other Vestaboardians would love? You can submit your own channels for review. That’s what I did with my Top Gun channel, and now it exists as a channel others can use:
You can also submit individual creations that might get included in other channels. Here’s the Welsh flag that I made with ended up in the flag channel:
Without a doubt, our favorite thing is that you can give members of your family access to the Vestaboard so they can send custom messages. Think of it as texting to a split-flag display.
Our adult sons use this to remotely send us messages of love. That is, if you consider tricking your parents with made-up news headlines is an expression of love:
That actually made me go to my phone to check for the latest news until I realized it wasn’t real. We have a good laugh over these, as we did over this “spam” message one of them sent us:
Warranty and robustness
Vestaboard has a lot of moving parts. How have they held up? Pretty well. About two months ago, two of the bits occasionally would stick. They would flap but not end up on the right character. Vestaboard sent replacements, as the unit is still under warranty. That problem hasn’t happened again.
There’s a two year warranty on the unit, and it would be nice if there were extended warranty options for longer. But individual bits are fairly inexpensive should you need them out of warranty, around $30, and the other key components are also promised at relatively low prices as covered here.
Above, I mentioned having done some research into split-flap displays generally before settling on Vestaboard. Without a doubt, the runner-up was Oat Foundry which has beautiful looking displays. However, the company seems more geared toward custom-projects. Which – if you’re after a custom display – should make them among the top places you’d consider.
Split-Flap TV is a relatively new option I might test in the future, just to see what it’s like. Instead of an actual split-flap display, it turns a Google TV or Android TV into a virtual split-flap for a subscription fee beginning at $19 per month. It not clear how extensive the app library is, however. But if you wanted a cheap option, it might be worth exploring.
I’d certainly love an app-based solution that worked with TV as a way to bring the joy of at least a virtual split-flap display to many people. It’s one of the things I originally sought and was surprised didn’t really exist, nothing like Vestaboard’s robust app. It also makes me wonder if there’s an opportunity for Vestaboard here.
I love the actual display, but it’s the Vestaboard app that’s makes the magic happen. If the app could work with Google / Android TV and Apple TV, many people could have split-flap displays on low-cost TVs. And hopefully Vestaboard would deservedly earn well off the app subscriptions.
Overall, I love my Vestaboard. It delights me daily with news, entertainment and more. If you can afford one, but have been holding off wondering if it’s as good as it seems – yes, in my experience, it is!