It's not every day that you open the door to your toilet to watch it automatically opening its door for you, but then it's not every day you find yourself staying at the Waldorf Astoria in Shanghai.
Being a journalist can be a pretty good gig from time to time. We're not going to lie to you. Getting flown to the other side of the world and put up in the best accommodation in town by Nikon while visiting the factory where the Nikon 1 camera system is made was one of those times. Now we wouldn't normally write about a hotel room - even if it did have a electronic toilet - but there was so much thought put in for the travelling gadgeteer by the Waldorf Astoria team, that we simply had to tell you all about it in case you're planning a trip to China. Let's begin at the beginning.
Gadget bogs may be all the rage in the Far East but it was a first for our bottom. Open the toilet door and it springs into action. The servos wind into motion and the upper lid of the pair rises to meet you, proffering up the seat with a smile as if to say "Go on, take a load off."
The second pleasant surprise is when you sit down on the white plastic rim you'll find it warmed to a comfortable body temperature. Now, some other journalists on the Nikon adventure complained that it felt disconcertingly like some other person had been on it just before you, but it certainly beats the usual wince and genital retraction of parking your rear on an ice cold seat.
The next part we can skip, you'll be relieved to hear. That's down to you and is no different no matter what toilet or hole in the ground you happen to be perched, but it's when it comes to wrapping up the proceedings that the Toto comes into its own.
A silver panel mounted on the toilet wall offers wireless control to a host of aftercare functions and we'll admit that it was with a great deal of trepidation and quite some shock that we pressed the Rear Cleansing button. On doing so, a small arm extends from underneath the inner toilet rim and sprays a jet of water up at you much like a bidet.
You can use the controls on the panel to move the jet forwards and backwards and turn the pressure up and down. However, it just so happened that the moment we turned it on, it was set by default in the perfect place and on maxiumm power. Again, we're not going to lie to you; there was definitely a small scream, quite a bit of not altogether comfortable laughter and a moment where we leapt in the air before managing to turn the pressure down. That said, once we tamed the beast, the rear cleansing was a perfectly acceptable sensation. If you're of the fairer sex, then there’s also a Front Cleansing button. Having a clean enough front already, we did not try this one out.
After you’ve completed your bottom ablutions, the final stop is the dryer button which was actually probably the weakest of all the Toto toilet’s functions. It certainly has decent puff but, after a good soaking to our undercarriage, it was going to take quite a while to make us dry enough to pull our pants back on. We reverted to more traditional, paper-based methods for the task instead.
Once you leave the Toto's seat, the flush automatically kicks in. Jobie done. As a general rule, we liked the Toto, but the fact that we used its bidet features once and once only during our 4-night stay speaks volumes.
We didn’t have a measuring tape on us and the deeper menus of the set were purposefully inaccessible to any meddling guests, but we’d approximate that the Samsung LCD TV in the room was in the region of 42 inches or above. It wasn’t a state of the art affair. No LED backlighting nor any refresh rate above 50Hz, but the picture was good nonetheless. The missing DLNA might have been a problem but there was an excellent system for playing your own content. More on that in a minute.
The selection of channels was good if not impressive, but you do need to show a foreign passport at the front desk in order to access more than just the Chinese state TV. The remote control could be found tucked into a leather holder on the bedside.
Great to see some home cinema sound in a hotel room. Something all too often neglected. The Waldorf Astoria, Shanghai, provides a 2.1 system in the shape of the Samsung HT BD8200 from 2010. The sub is tucked away neatly inside the oak panelled cupboard while the main unit sits mounted on the wall just under the TV. Blu-ray discs are available for rental at reception.
Nothing says luxury like a TV in the bathroom and what’s particularly impressive about the way it’s been done at the WA is how it's incorporated into the mirror; perfect for brushing your teeth, having a shave or watching from the shower if you leave the door open and squash yourself into the corner.
You don’t notice the TV at all and it’s only when you press the power button on a mystery remote control sitting on the top of the sink that it jumps into life and your jaw drops to the floor. A truly classy touch.
The reason there’s no need to sweat it about the missing DLNA on the main TV is because of the Guest Link panel you’ll find embedded in the desk area at the end of the room. Lift the flap of wood to reveal just about every kind of connection you could need to get audio or video from any of your devices straight onto the TV. There’s S-Video, HDMI, 3.5mm, VGA, RCA, iPod connector and even USB for both data and charging. That’s also where you’ll find your Ethernet socket if the free, hotel-wide Wi-Fi isn’t good enough for you.
So, you’ve discovered the Guest Link but you didn’t bring your cables. Don’t worry, that’s where the black, velcro-flapped technology box comes into play. Open it up and you’ll find every connector you need to get your laptop, pod, tablet or phone hooked up to the TV. In fact, the only cable we’d like to have seen that wasn’t included was a micro USB to USB converter for mobiles and devices with no HDMI-out. Come to think of it, there was no mini-HDMI to HDMI either. Two for the list, management team.
Keyboard and mouse
Of course, you might not have an internet-capable device on you at all. (As if!) For those people, the Waldorf Astoria has enabled internet access via a browser built into the TV. Naturally, for that to work properly there needs to be a wireless keyboard and touchpad which, mercifully, there is. The iBahn unit is good, fits nicely on your lap and works while you’re in bed too. Just a shame you can’t get YouTube, Facebook and Twitter in China.
Coffee machine and kettle
Coffee and tea was complimentary - at least we hope it was - and that’s all taken care of thanks to the Nespresso Essenza coffee maker as well as a kettle and draw full of coffee pods and teas of all kinds. Sure, it wasn’t a Swarovski crystal version or a bean-to-cup, but both did the job very nicely indeed.
It’s not quite a tablet because it’s big, thick, plugged into the wall and not the sort of thing you could play any other media on or stuff into your suitcase, but the bedside console is an excellent idea. All you have to remember to do before you get into bed is brush your teeth and the console makes everything else possible from the comfort of the duvet.
The custom UI to this custom device is incredibly clear and allows you to draw the curtains, turn all the lights on and off as a group or into preset mood modes, order room service, adjust the air-conditioning, set an alarm, use as a world clock and even ask for privacy or for your room to be made up.
Three. One on the bedside, one on the desk, one in the toilet. A cordless phone might have been nice but we’d only have misplaced it.
Electric - operating either from the wall, the console or just by beginning to pull on them.
The Chinese seem to have this sorted. All European, North American and Australasian plugs pretty much fit into them as standard. UK three-pins still require an adapter.
Digital. Voice might have been nice but then someone could overhear.
Not something we’d expect in the average hotel room and not something we used either. Nonetheless, each room at the WA, Shanghai, comes with a pair of gas masks. We’re not sure if it’s state regulation, for purposes of amusement, a touch of kink or just for the sake of completeness, but if there happens to be an outbreak of airbourne nasty during your stay, then the Waldorf team’s got you covered.
Probably the finest hotel for the gadgeteer that we’ve ever stayed in. If you can afford it, it’s a cert for your Shanghai stopover.
Know a hotel round the world packed with more kit? Let us know in the comments.