I tested this $3,000 smart messaging display — and it's awesome

Vestaboard
(Image credit: Future)

I’ll admit, I was skeptical about trying out Vestaboard, the $2,995 smart messaging display that looks like it belongs in an old train station. But after setting it up and using it in my smart home, I’m convinced it’s one of the coolest gadgets you can get — that is, if you can afford it.

While it’s hard to look past the price tag, I can honestly say in my years of reviewing smart home devices I’ve never seen anything quite like the Vestaboard before. It’s a split-flap display composed of 132 character modules that spin to show all kinds of messages, from personalized greetings and sports scores to inventive designs, dad jokes and more. It’s like a piece of art, except it can be customized endlessly.

Installing Vestaboard

Vestaboard sent me a review unit of its classic model to test out. After taking down the digital photo frame in the place I thought the display would look best, I commissioned my dad for help installing the Vestaboard. Following the instructions on the adhesive mounting guide, we screwed in the included mounting hardware and hung the device on the wall. The unit weighs 55 pounds, so I’d consider it a two-person job.

Vestaboard

(Image credit: Future)

The only true headache I had with installation was the length of the power cable. It comes with a 19.7-inch cord, which works if you have a recessed outlet behind the display — but I do not. Vestaboard sells a longer cord, though any IEC 320 C5 cable from the hardware store works. You could also do what I did and use a standard extension cord. Luckily I had one laying around, but I think if you’re paying $3,000, you should get a second cord option included.

Testing the Vestaboard features

Vestaboard with app

(Image credit: Future)

Once I had the Vestaboard mounted, I used the pairing code shown on the display to connect the device to the Vestaboard app on my smartphone. From there, I had the freedom to experiment with the different messaging features.

I started with the default, “All you need is love,” with a pixelated red heart. In a household of Beatles fans, this message went over well. But I started exploring the other daily recommendations, which included inspirational quotes and even holiday-themed designs. Some templates leave you space to personalize messages with names and occasions, or, you can make messages entirely from scratch. I used this to put up the evening’s dinner menu, so no one had to bother me about what we were eating all day.

Vestaboard

(Image credit: Future)

After dinner, I sat down and dug into features exclusive to Vestaboard Plus, a $95/year service that unlocks a large collection of Vestaboard-compatible apps. First I tried one that rotated through the song titles of the Sonos playlist I had on. Then, to get a chuckle out of my family, I launched a series of dad jokes. We ended the night on a game of word scramble, which let us use our smartphones to compete against each other to create words using a letter jumble shown on the Vestaboard.

Vestaboard

(Image credit: Future)

This is when I should mention the Vestaboard is rather loud when it’s changing messages. The clicking sound is somewhat satisfying when you’re expecting it, but it can be disturbing early in the morning or late at night. Luckily, you can set “quiet hours” that stops the Vestaboard from receiving new messages during designated times.

Vestaboard

(Image credit: Future)

But in the morning, with the World Cup final underway, I installed the World Cup app to update the display with minute-by-minute match progress. While I was in the kitchen tidying up for most of the match, when the Vestaboard alerted me that France had scored two goals in two consecutive minutes, I knew I had to head to the living room TV to watch the rest of the game.

Is Vestaboard worth it?

Vestaboard and all of its messaging features are awesome, but unnecessary for most people. Besides, for half the price, you can get a premium LG OLED TV or Samsung QLED TV that has ambient display features. But if you’re equal parts techie and arty, I think you’ll find the modern Vestaboard comes to life with a magnetic personality — taking inspiration from mechanical split-flap displays you used to find in every train station, of course.

Vestaboard

(Image credit: Future)

I think the longer cable and Vestaboard Plus membership should be included for the device’s steep price; though, it’s also fair for me to think that those who have the money to spend on a Vestboard can also afford an extension cable or recessed mounting, as well as the subscription fee.

For your fancy friend or family member who likes functional art and has an appreciation for interactive gadgets, the Vestaboard is the ultimate splurge of a smart home gift. Though, I’ve heard some new smart features are coming to the Vestaboard in 2023, so it could also pay to wait until it offers deeper integrations with your other smart home devices.

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is an editor at Tom’s Guide covering smartwatches, TVs and everything smart-home related. Kate also appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account (opens in new tab), which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her on an exercise bike, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.