- Two-way communicationAbility to track any Bluetooth deviceRelatively affordable
- On-phone alarm never shuts upOn-device button is too smallFlimsy design
You may be familiar with the ZOMM from our hands-on at CES a few months back, and not a lot has changed since then. It's a simple, poker chip-sized device with a single button on the front, a little speaker on the back, and a Bluetooth antenna inside. Pair it up with your smartphone (or anything else that can be paired over Bluetooth) and the thing will start to flash, vibrate, and ultimately give off a siren when moved too far away from whatever it is you're interested in protecting. Throw it on your keys, pair it to your phone, and it'll certainly let you know if you forget one or the other -- but forget both and you're SOL.
A quick tap of the button silences the alarm (handy for when you intentionally left your phone behind but forgot to turn off the ZOMM), or you can hold it down to enter panic mode, where it will connect to your phone and automatically dial a number that you've specified earlier -- possibly helpful for those at risk of being unable to get back to their phone in an emergency. Additionally, should a connected phone receive a call you can tap the button and answer it from the ZOMM, which acts like a little speakerphone.
It isn't a particularly good speakerphone, only picking up our voice when it was held within a foot of our mouth, but we could at least hear others reasonably well. Otherwise the ZOMM behaved exactly as advertised, pairing quickly and easily with whatever we tried it with, chirping and blinking reassuringly to let us know everything is connected, and reliably sounding the alarm whenever the two got separated.
The Phone Halo is another device in the same vein as the ZOMM, but is a bit more sophisticated in some areas -- and a bit more remedial in others. Unlike the ZOMM, which for the most part simply establishes a Bluetooth connection and raises the alarm whenever that connection gets weak, the Phone Halo relies on a smartphone app to function (currently available on BlackBerry devices, with Android to follow). This makes it a two-way connection and, should the devices you connect get separated too far, both the Phone Halo and the phone itself will emit an alarm.
In this case we're not just talking about a single device. The Phone Halo can again easily hang from a keychain, but the app allows you to track other Bluetooth things as well, like a headset. Should that get separated the phone's alarm will again go off. That's great in theory, but in practice we found a few issues. The big problem is that the app can't tell the difference between a device going out of range and it simply getting turned off, which goes for the Phone Halo, too. Imagine leaving your phone on the charging stand, hanging up your keys on the wall, and going to sleep only to be woken up at 3:22am when the Phone Halo battery dies and your BlackBerry starts screaming bloody murder thinking a crook is making off with your car.
Of course, if you keep all your devices charged this won't be a problem, but given the lack of indicator lights on the deivce there's nothing to help you remember to keep it juiced up. And, while our minds are generally sharp, we certainly wouldn't trust ourselves to disable the app every night.
But, if you can dodge that sticky situation, the app is quite useful. You can not only specify the alarm itself but specify a range to trigger the alarm (close, far, or very far). You can tell the app to send an e-mail, SMS, or Tweet whenever the alarm goes off and, if your phone has GPS, that message can even include its location. Useful if your concern isn't so much leaving your phone behind as it having the thing walk off. Finally, the two-way communication comes in handy if you can't find either your keys or your phone, as you can cause the alarm to be triggered on the other remotely.
Our back-to-back testing for the two devices was fairly straightforward: we paired them both to a BlackBerry Storm, enabled the Phone Halo app, and wandered off. However, we quickly found that the two seemed to be interfering with each other, triggering at random distances (or not at all) when held close together. So, we did it one at a time, and reliably found the ZOMM to trigger at about 30-feet, pulsing and vibrating for a few seconds before letting loose on its full alarm. When walking back to the phone the ZOMM would turn itself back off, but the distance that it would do so seemed rather less consistent -- sometimes popping off when about 10 feet away, sometimes not silencing until sitting next to the phone. We're guessing this is due to the phone taking more or less time to re-establish a connection.
But, it did at least reliably turn itself off, whereas the Phone Halo does not. Set on the "Very Far" distance the Phone Halo took about 50-feet to trigger its shrill alarm and, once triggered, it never shut up again. You have to push a very tiny button on the front to silence the thing, impossible to do without pulling it out of your pocket, and even then it's a bit of a challenge. The ZOMM, on the other hand, was easy to manually silence -- even while still pocketed.
Of course, when the Phone Halo is singing so too is the phone it's connected to, and, if the two have become disconnected, there's no way to silence that remotely. So, if you leave your phone at your desk and go to a meeting you can shush the Phone Halo in your pocket -- but your co-workers are liable to throw your handset out the window after it rings for 20 minutes straight. This is a situation you're especially likely to cause if when using the "Always Something There to Remind Me" ringtone...
Ultimately both devices worked as advertised, but in testing them to verify that we came to the conclusion that working as advertised won't necessarily fit in with everyone's lifestyle. For those who simply want a way to get a warning when leaving their phone behind, the ZOMM fits the bill, and doubling as a speakerphone with the ability to make emergency calls also makes it a potential alternative to something like a LifeCall. (You know, the "I've fallen and I can't get up!" people.)
The Phone Halo, on the other hand, offers rather more functionality and does so at a lower price but, potentially, rather more annoyances too thanks to having not one but two alarms to accidentally set off. The hardware design leaves a bit to be desired compared to the ZOMM, but its software suite is quite comprehensive, making this a solid alternative for anyone wishing they could get a premium phone tracking app like Find My iPhone on their BlackBerry or Android device.
Which would we buy? Well, looking back at the Nio from a few months ago, neither of these exactly compares despite similar prices: again, the ZOMM will set you back $79.99, while the Phone Halo is $20 less at $59.99. For the ZOMM you're paying for a nice design and the voice capabilities; for the Phone Halo you're buying simpler hardware and a solid app. You'll have to decide which, if either, makes sense for you and your particular brand of absent-mindedness. For us, we'll be sticking with Post-its and bits of string tied on fingers -- no risk of accidental alarms there.