As the low-power Bluetooth 4.0 standard becomes more and more popular in electronic devices, one area that seems to be getting a lot of attention from accessory manufacturers is that of "finders". No, not the OS X file manager, but the type of devices that let you find things from your iPhone or iPad. Find'Em Tracking will start shipping its credit card-like tracker to the public next month, starting at a price tag of US$24.99 for one card and down to $19.99 per card in packs of ten.
I had a chance to try out one of the cards over the past few weeks and had mixed results that I'll report on here. Note that the unit I was testing was a pre-production sample, so your mileage may vary if you purchase and use a production model.
The Find'Em Tracking card is physically about the same size as a credit card at 3.35" x 2.05" x .08" thick (8.5 x 5.2 cm x 2 mm thick) and weighing in at 0.5 ounces (14.2 grams). The dimensions make it a no-brainer for placement in your wallet, purse, computer bag, or backpack. Inside the card are two CR2016 batteries that will last for about 18 months before needing to be replaced. There's an easily removed tray that facilitates battery replacement.
I'm hoping that Find'Em decides to package some simple quick-start instructions with the card, as just saying "download the app" isn't a big help. There is a tiny power switch on the side of the card that needs to be flicked on in order to use it. I have a bit of a problem with the design choice of using a microswitch, as it makes it very easy to inadvertently turn the card off -- basically killing the very thing you bought the card for.
The only other visible controls on the Find'Em card are a tiny LED and a place marked Sync. When squeezed, a switch is activated under that Sync label to allow for Bluetooth pairing. The LED flashes quickly, and it's at this time that you want to launch the Find'Em Tracking app. I found that the device I tested had no Bluetooth name, so I was confused for a bit when it couldn't find the device in the list of nearby Bluetooth devices. I finally just tapped randomly in a blank area of the Bluetooth device list and was pleased to find that I had chosen the card. There's a way to give the card a custom name, which I did a bit later.
Other settings allow you to determine how far away the card needs to be for an alert to occur. Alerts on the card can be set up with a tone or blink and tone, while alerts on your iOS device can have a choice of sounds and also include vibration.
So, let's say that you set up the card and drop it into your wallet like I did. You're at a restaurant and end up leaving your wallet on the table. You should receive a warning as soon as you walk the pre-set distance from your wallet -- in reality I found that there's usually a slight (less than a minute or so) delay.
The alert on your iPhone definitely gets your attention, and a notification appears telling you that your card has "moved away". If you're on the road when you get the notification that you've left something behind, a tap on a "Map location" button in the app tells you exactly where the card was the last time the app saw it and also displays your current location. Since the app uses Apple Maps to show the location, you just tap "Start" to get driving directions to your lost item.
In operation, I found that the Find'Em Tracking card initially gave me a lot of false alerts. For example, I usually carry my wallet in my right front pocket and my iPhone in the left front pocket. For no reason at all, the iPhone would alert me that my wallet had moved away -- nope, it was right where it had been all the time. This could be a bit annoying, so I set the alert distance to the furthest setting (25-30 feet) to reduce the number of false alerts.
It's possible to use your iPhone to find a wallet that may have slipped out of a pocket and between seat cushions on a couch. With a tap on a button in the app, the card will either beep or beep and flash. Unfortunately, that beep is pretty darned weak and you will need to be in a quiet location to hear it.
There are two more negatives I'd like to point out -- first, the font used in the app is awful and the app designer should be publicly flogged for choosing it. It's almost unreadable. It took me a week to figure out that the word "bunk" was actually "blink". The entire UI in the app could use a lot of work to make it more easily understandable -- for example, there's a reference to "CHIP" when you're syncing the card to your device. Was that the name of the product in a previous incarnation? Make the naming consistent! Second, when the app is running, Bluetooth is turned on and connected to the device constantly. That's going to have a negative impact on your iOS device's battery life, although it should be minimal on newer devices.
There are literally dozens of these "finder" devices coming out, most being crowdfunded. The Find'Em Tracking card is a good example of how useful these devices can be, and it has a slim form factor that makes it easy to consider putting into your wallet. The Find'Em Tracking card is reasonably priced if you want to try out this location technology. If the manufacturer can clean up the app UI and tweak the sensitivity of the card or app a bit to eliminate false alerts, I think the Find'Em Tracking card could have a future.
Rating: 2-1/2 stars out of 4 stars possible