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nio Bluetooth security tag review: your phone's new muscle

nio Bluetooth security tag review: your phone's new muscle
Richard Lai
Richard Lai|@richardlai|October 14, 2009 12:08 PM
Picture this scenario: you've just left work after a long shift, and have to endure the lengthy commute in the hot, crowded subway. The last thing you want is to doze off and wake up to the horror of your bag or phone gone walkies. This is exactly the kind of problem TenBu Technologies is trying to solve with its nio Bluetooth security tag. Announced at the Mobile World Congress back in February, this little dongle aims to create a personal security space by the means of proximity, linking your tagged belongings with your Bluetooth-enabled phone. Read on to see how we got on with the nio – a dramatic video awaits you at the end.%Gallery-75423%
We'll admit: the review didn't start off all that well. When we expressed our interest in testing the nio with our iPhone, the Edinburgh-based company broke news that they are not yet Apple compliant and pointed us to its compatibility list. A little further digging taught us that they are simply waiting for Apple to allow background apps, but they do have a semi-baked solution in the workshop. Fair enough, so we wiped off the dust on our Nokia E51 and started charging up the gear. Here's our unboxing video:


While the minimalistic nio has a fair form factor and build quality, we were annoyed by the lack of buttons or a switch; these would eliminate the need of carrying a paper clip for the reset pinhole all day long, in case you want to pair the tag up with a different phone, or even just for the times when things go pear-shaped with Bluetooth. After all, this thing does cost a dear $77.95 (or £42.40 for local buyers), and we're quite sure that Mr. Clippy isn't worth that much. We also think that a native battery indicator would be nice, as opposed to just the indicator icon in the software, although they do claim with two hours of use per day it can last up to two weeks on one charge. Not bad.

Configuration and Performance

According to nio's website, their app supports the Windows Mobile platform and most of the latest Blackberry devices, provided they are Bluetooth-enabled of course. There's also a list of supported phone models and series of the big names, just no mention of Apple, Palm or any Android devices. Rest assured though, as we have word straight from TenBu's Director, Ben Hounsell, that both Android and Palm Pre versions "are in the product pipeline and may be released before Christmas."

Installation of the client software on the phone was a breeze, all done in a couple of clicks on nio's download page (in the phone's browser). Likewise with connecting the phone to the tag, although somehow we did hit a bug: throughout the early stages of the review the nio struggled to connect, but the software didn't complain and whistled along, leaving us slightly confused and irritated. Eventually we bypassed that problem by starting up a new tag profile. Once we got in, we were offered a variety of customizations for up to five connected tags simultaneously. Most notably, there are three levels of security zones that you can choose for each, starting from around 25 meters for "Low Risk" (e.g. for forget-me-not alerts) up to 1 meter for "High Risk". We also like the "Locate" feature which makes the tag beep out "SOS" in Morse code, revealing the most awkward locations of your lost keys such as under your keyboard or in your poor dog's gut.

As an advanced option you can also set the tags to be triggered by motion, but our unit didn't respond well to that. We also tried the "Schedule" function which lets you set different security zones for different times and days, but sadly you cannot expect this to run fully automatic on the Nokia; 100% of the time it insisted on asking the user to allow the Bluetooth access. Still, it's better than going through the tedious menu with this one-click process.

Below is our video walkthrough of setting up a "Medium Risk" tag, followed by a field test:


Despite the few drawbacks on both the hardware and software aspects, we see great potential in the nio. Sure, the experience does vary from one phone platform to another, so we can only admire the concept of the perfect security model while TenBu optimizes their code. Now the question remains is whether this device will actually prevent the loss of your beloved gadgets? To answer this, we recruited the other half of our UK crew, Vlad Savov, and put it to the test.

On this bombshell, we can conclude that: one, you'll need to be a good sprinter to make the most out of the nio; and two, Vlad's trousers are guaranteed to fall off while running.