There's nothing like that sinking feeling you get when you suddenly realize that you've left something behind somewhere or had a valuable item stolen from you. A growing number of "smart tags" are being developed in order to alert you to either your forgetfulness or someone else's thievery, all working off of Bluetooth Low Energy. One of those tags, the nio Tag (US$69.99) recently hit the market, so we tested it to find out just how it works.
The first thing to know is that not all iOS devices work with Bluetooth LE, so not every iPhone or iPad works with the nio Tag. At this point, you can be assured that the iPhone 4s, 5, 5s, and 5c; iPad Air, 3rd and 4th-generation iPads; iPad mini and Retina display iPad mini all work with nio.
The nio Tag is a small and sturdy little device that measures about 1.75 inches tall x .8 inches wide x about .5 inches at its thickest point. On the bottom is a micro-USB connector for charging -- a charge apparently lasts for about three months -- on the right side is a power switch and a "search" button, and on the left side is a speaker port. The front of the white plastic tag has a nio logo and two small LEDs.
nio comes with a clip for attaching it temporarily to a shirt or jacket, but there's also a small keychain attachment as well.
How it works
The idea behind nio is to alert you in two situations -- first, if you have the tag attached to you and you leave your iPhone or iPad behind, and second, when you have the tag attached to something else and you walk away with your iPhone or iPad with you. In either case, it's constantly checking the proximity of the iOS device running the free nio app and the actual nio Tag.
Once you've paired the nio and your iOS device through a simple process of just opening the app, turning on the nio, and then tapping one button, it's time to make some settings decisions. There are four LOUD and obnoxious alert sound that can play on your device or you can select a vibrate mode, and you can set the distances of the virtual "chain" connecting you and your nio. Once you're out of range, the alarms go off.
And boy, do they go off. The sound from the nio is quite loud as well, and will be sure to get your attention. When the nio is turned on, there's just a blue light that flashes about every 10 seconds to let you know that it's staying in touch with your iOS device. You can also set alarms to shriek (sorry, there's no other good term for the noise) when your nio Tag is moved, even just a small distance. The actual range of the device runs from 0 to 15 meters, or approximately up to 50 feet. That depends on the sensitivity setting selected in the app.
The nio folks also provide a $9.99 premium app that adds more features. For example, you can set the alarm feature to only work during certain hours of the day, use a geotagging feature to determine exactly when and where an alarm took place, get email, Twitter or Facebook alerts when an alarm takes place, and data wiping. This latter feature will lock your device automatically when it has moved out of range of a nio Tag, then wipe the device if it's not within range of the tag for 10 minutes. Last but not least, the app can prevent someone from disabling the alarm.
That last feature prevents what I think is the Achille's Heel of the basic nio system -- someone can just shut the nio device off with the side switch. Yes, the app will warn you that the tag is not responding, but if you have it set for vibrate mode only, you might think you're just getting a text message or other notification on your iPhone. The best possible situation would be to have the nio Tag hidden inside a bag or other item so that someone stealing your property would probably just drop it immediately rather than search for the source of the racket.
If the nio is turned on, the basic app also provides a way to find the tag. Within the app, just go to nioLocate and tap the large Locate button, and the nio begins wailing to let you know where it is. A "cold/warm/hot" indicator on the iOS device screen lets you know just how close you are to the tag.
Many of the other features that are visible on the nioLaunchPad screen of the basic app are available only with the premium app, such as setting up a "soft tag" or virtual proximity detector between an iPad and iPhone.
The nio Tag is a smart and useful device, particularly for those who are forgetful or who frequent locations where it's possible that an iOS device or other property could be stolen. It's reasonably priced, much less expensive than replacing stolen or lost property.
- Excellent three-month battery life
- Piercing, loud alarm from both the nio Tag and the iPhone/iPad app
- Well-integrated with iOS through the app
- Unobtrusive design, yet it can get your attention when it wants to...
- Tag appears to be quite sturdy
- Tag is not waterproof, so it won't survive a trip through the laundry
- Tag can be switched off easily by a knowledgeable thief
Who is it for?
- The person who is always losing something or who is worried about theft
We want one lucky TUAW reader to be protected from losing something or having personal property stolen. Here are the rules for the giveaway:
- Open to legal US residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 and older.
- To enter, fill out the form below completely and click or tap the Submit button.
- The entry must be made before November 15, 2013 11:59PM Eastern Standard Time.
- You may enter only once.
- One winner will be selected and will receive a nio Tag valued at $69.99
- Click Here for complete Official Rules.