Neposmart Camera Hardware Review

Neposmart Camera Hardware Review

May 23, 2015

The confluence of mobility and connected devices is alive and well, and home security is a big portion of this. Another minor problem are all those spare smartphones.

Neposmart a looks to zap these concerns with one solution: a connected camera that can be controlled and monitored from a smartphone.

The review package we received was a bit fuller than expected: the camera, ethernet cable, power adapter, mounting materials, documentation, bell wire and magnetic switch (the last two for intelligent garage setup).

The documentation provided is heavy with details, and gives several platform-specific sets of instructions. The basic idea is to connect the Neposmart camera physically to an internet ready source via ethernet cable, and then facilitate control via the companion Neposmart app, which is available on Google Play. In practice, it was fairly easy to get it all going; after downloading the app and finding the specific hardware, signing in (and changing the password for good measure), one needs to sign into local wifi, and then the the ethernet cable can be temporarily retired.

With that, one should get a live feed, and the fun stuff can then begin.

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The app is an interesting software hub; as noted, it’s primary purpose it to display the camera, but it also functions as part of the wireless setup, and can also physically control the camera; it’s possible to zoom, scroll up, down and sideways. In practice, there is some lag during movement operations, but nothing unmanageable.

One feature that is pretty interesting is the ability to set zones, such that one can get the device to focus on pre-assigned zones. It gives the unit a commercial flair, and after spending a career setting stuff up, I was surprised at how comprehensive the solution is.

The system is customizable, transferable and can be used in a number of ways. It breathes life into old devices (that can be used as handheld monitoring stations) and is easy to set up.

What’s not to love?

Logitech Keys-To-Go Bluetooth Keyboard Hardware Review

Logitech Keys-To-Go Bluetooth Keyboard Hardware Review

May 22, 2015

I feel pretty proficient on virtual keyboards, but every now and then, one needs a good portable keyboard to do the heavy lifting.

Enter Logitech. Enter Keys-To-Go Ultra-Portable Bluetooth Keyboard.

The review package Logitech sent us, which reflects the retail presentation, contains the keyboard, a hard grey plastic device stand, USB charging cable and documentation. The unit is light, almost shockingly so; the advertised size and weight definitely come across as a benefit when the keyboard is handled. The review unit came in bright blue, with whitish keys lettering and a tight, rubberized FabricSkin finish. The micro-USB charging port and a discrete power toggle are nestled on the side, and altogether, the piece feels quite durable. Officially, it comes in at 9.5 x 5.4 x 0.2 inches and 6.4 ounces.

If truth be told, I do prefer fuller sized “mobile” keyboards, but to be fair, this unit does allow for for a comfortable experience that doesn’t feel cramped. It incorporates most of the keys I’ve would want in a Windows-based keyboard: three rows for QWERTY arrangement, a number row with alternate “shift” symbols above that, and a row of quick access buttons above that. The bottom-most row of letters is cushioned by a prominent space bar, which is itself bookended by familiar arrow buttons and function keys and such. Tab, caps, shift and ALT keys all make an appearance, and mostly are where one would expect them to be.

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Pairing is intuitively easy; after ensuring the unit was charged, the bluetooth button ensures it can be discovered by a seeking mobile device. After pairing and setting up the target device on the stand, it was time to formally try it out.

The unit just works. I did do more finer-typing, but the keyboard is quite responsive; I didn’t discern any notable lag. I put it through the paces, and frankly, it competes well with bigger units. Now, not every button was geared towards Android devices, but an added bonus is the basic cross-platform functionality. Battery life? Close to the best I’ve used with regards to rechargeable keyboards.

Altogether, portability, useability and form (several colors to choose from) make it a fun and capable piece. I used it as a desk unit extensively, and love it on the go. Price-wise, it isn’t the cheapest $69.99 via Logitech), but the overall efficacy might make the price easier to swallow.

WorldPenScan X Hardware Review

WorldPenScan X Hardware Review

May 21, 2015

WorldPenScan X is an interesting Kickstarted gadget that brings document scanning/OCR functionality and translation to folks on the go.

In hand, it’s not nearly as thin as (or much longer than) a regular ballpoint pen at 4.52 x 1.29 x 0.88 inches and under 2 ounces; it looks more like a mid-sized temporal thermometer. It’s mostly white, with a hard plastic finishing. The business end (which is initially hidden by a greyish cap) has the image capture hardware assembly, and tapers a bit.

Using the unit first entails pairing it to the host device via Bluetooth. This is accomplished by first downloading the companion WorldPenScan app off of Google Play, and configuring it to find the unit. After that, one has to select WorldPenScan as a current keyboard for it to work. When this is done, the app appears as a notebook-type interface.

Then it’s off to use the scanner. I tried it on several different types of text on different surfaces; boxes, books, flyers and the like. Holding the unit close to upright and dragging it along lines of text like one would use a highlighter is the basic idea, with the incorporated arrow helping the user to keep a straight path. If the scan is going a well, a green light shows at the end, and when the drag is stopped, the unit’s OCR kicks in and the translated text pops up in the app editor, along with a captured interpretation.

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In practice, it is pretty interesting.

I did find it to be useful in several scenarios. Looking for and using attributable text, for instance, can be done on the go. Creating bullet points of underscored info from blocks of information is another use case, and even collecting previously highlighted data. It works as a translator too, which is pretty useful when on foreign isles. On mobile devices, one can switch back and forth between 22 languages, including English, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Dutch and more. The end result is digitized text. It does barcodes, too.

My biggest gripe has to do with the relative rigidity of usage, as it the environment and the item have to be just right to get the most accurate scans. In our usage, I found good lighting and flat surfaces along with an upright device make for the best data capture experiences. The OCR can be temperamental at times, which makes editing a bit more involved. Having to toggle the app as a keyboard every single time is a bit of drag, but not overly so.

When one considers the ease of use in combination with the functionality, it’s quite easy to fall in love with this product. It has its quirks, but none so painfully present as to preclude effective usage. At $169.95 (on Amazon), it isn’t so expensive that one is tempted to keep it in a safe, either.

Livescribe 3 Hardware Review

Livescribe 3 Hardware Review

May 18, 2015

Admittedly, using a smartpen is something I mostly considered a novelty. Till recently, I never really found a place for them in my workflow. After a lengthy stint with one, I have changed tune drastically; now, I’d much rather have one than not.

When it comes to smart writing tools, Livescribe is a household name, and it is mostly justified. It’s Livescribe 3 Smartpen is its latest and greatest, and the great news is that companion app Livescribe+ now makes the pen completely compatible with Android devices.

Better yet, we got one to try out.

The review unit that Livescribe sent us shows the piece in its retail glory: the unit, charging materials, a Livescribe Dot Starter Notebook and documentation. In hand, the pen clearly shares some aesthetic design cues with its cousin Wi-Fi pen, and that’s not a bad thing. Again, it somewhat resembles a fountain pen, mostly bathed in black with chrome end accents, with a cylinder that’s wider than most, but not unwieldy. The main body is split by a turn piece at roughly the middle, which works to unveil or hide the pen tip, as well as toggling the unit on or off. The writing end of the pen is interesting; it doesn’t taper as one would expect, but has a wide opening that envelopes the aperture from which the ink tube projects. This houses a nifty camera which makes up a big part of the pen’s functionality. The clip houses an LED light, and the top nub doubles as a removable cover for the charging port.

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The newly minted, aforementioned Livescribe+ app serves as the hub. Firing up the app along with bluetooth allows the phone to pair to the charged up powered on smartpen, and then the fun officially begins. Along with the supplied notebook, the separate units amalgate to become a pretty formidable note-taking solution.

As one writes in the notebook, the text appears in the app exactly as written. If the connection is live, the text isn’t exactly immediate, but it does appear pretty quickly thereafter. If disconnected, it does load up in the app afterwards. Diagrams and the like are reflected just as well.

Notes and such can be shared to a host of supported apps; of special concern to me is Evernote, and I was able to get PDFs of my Livescribe-hosted notes right into Evernote. Again, pretty easy going. It holds a charge for a respectable amount of time, though I did turn it off when not in use.

My biggest complaint is based on my earlier experience with the Sky Wi-Fi Smartpen; that system has tighter, more natural integration with my beloved Evernote. The Android Livescribe+ version trails the iOS version a bit in features currently, and to use the Livescribe+ Android app, one must also download another app: Livescribe Link.

In a few words, I did come to like it. A lot. It can be used in several scenarios, and it redefines hand-created data. At $174.99 for the basic package on Amazon, it isn’t too hefty of an investment.

Motorola E (2nd Gen) 4G LTE: A Belated Review

Motorola E (2nd Gen) 4G LTE: A Belated Review

May 13, 2015

For the longest time, Motorola has been synonymous with Android; it’s been a part of the Android takeover, and some of the best smartphone hardware has born its imprint. With the Moto E2, the device maker looks to show it can have a budget hit. Again.

The review unit Moto sent us contained the black handset (a white alternative is also available, two bands (more on that later), power cord and documentation. The phone goes against the grain somewhat, particularly with regards to size; still, it would be rude to call it diminutive at 5.11 x 2.63 x 0.48 inches and weighing in at 5.1 ounces. It is quite comfortable in hand, and feels well constructed, so much so that at first glance, one will definitely be forgiven foe not noticing the interesting band that goes around the side. This flexible band houses hardware buttons and protects SIM and SD card slots, but are also swappable, and allows a degree of aesthetic customization.

Under the hood, the Moto E does have some pertinent upgrades on its predecessor: our review unit packs the Snapdragon 410 with 1.2 GHz Quad-Core CPU (Adreno 306 with 400 MHz GPU)). It also has 1GB RAM and 8GB Flash, with the ability to expand with up to 32GB, and a 5GB rear camera paired with a simple VGA snapper set towards the top right on the front of the device.

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With Android Lollipop at the helm, the device is zippy and familiar. Interestingly enough, the OS is close to stock in appearance and navigation, with Material Design front and center in the stock offerings. The core apps are all here, and the hardware and software combine to create a smooth experience. We are able to test it out with a few choice games, and the Moto E did swimmingly.

The lack of NFC functionality is disappointing, the cameras are not going to blow you away, and that internal space might cause app-centric users some nervousness. Also, one will have to learn to love the installed apps, because a lot of them can only be disabled at best, and not uninstalled from the device; it boils down to a good deal of the stated being used from jump. Some folks might balk at the screen size, but it is better than decent in real life usage, and even browsing works well.

In the end, it’s a budget device that feels like it has the chops to at least not get left too behind by the flagships. It works surprisingly well as a hub, and, in some aspects, puts us on notice with regards to when Motorola drops its next high-powered device.

Kingston USB 3.0 High-Speed Media Reader Hardware Review

Kingston USB 3.0 High-Speed Media Reader Hardware Review

May 1, 2015

It’s a tough life.

I’ve whined about the first world problem of having to keep up with too many devices. Review units, old retro devices, rooting toys… they add up. When it comes to review units, I’m loathe to use my personal cloud networks with them, so I tend to do data transfer locally via flash storage. It’s easy to, say, take a picture via an SD card and move the SD card to a new device. Yes, there are more efficient ways to do this, but stubborn people think differently.

In any case, I use and move SD cards often enough for me to need a reliable means of reading the data on them. And, frankly, who better to provide this solution that a company renown for making the storage itself? Yep, Kingston. Its Media Reader 3.0 Card Reader is a comprehensive hub that looks to give users the ability to view and manipulate data stored on several types of flash storage.

The review unit Kingston sent us shows the unit in its retail glory: mostly grey and white, with red company lettering (which light up in bright red when the unit is engaged). It’s roughly 3.7 x 0.6 x 2.1 inches, but isn’t strictly cuboid; the angled corners give it some design flair. It comes with a USB cable, is quite light in hand. The storage slots are on one end, while the connection port is on the opposite side.

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in action, the unit is very easy to use. it has four slots, for regular SD cards, microSD cards and compact flash. Also included in the package is a short micro-B type USB cable for connection/data transfer. Plug in the one of the corresponding form of flash storage and attaching the unit to a computer allows one to read the contents of said card, and also to do operations like deleting, cutting, pasting, copying and more.

Simple, quick and effective.

Altogether, the portability, affordability ($19.95 on Amazon) and self-contained functionality make it a useful addition. The bundled 2-yr warranty adds some piece of mind.

Crayola Trace & Draw Hardware Review

Crayola Trace & Draw Hardware Review

Apr 30, 2015

In a world gone electronically amok, it is refreshing to see accessories aimed at kids… the type of gear that harnesses the power of mobile electronics in relatively atypical ways. Back in the day, we could have jamborees with some charcoal and paper.

It feels like the Crayola Trace & Draw is a system that hearkens back to those days, while being firmly planted in the present.

The review package Griffin sent us contains a single piece, a marker and documentation. The idea is fairly simple, almost crazily so: the main hardware piece is an adjustable clip that fastens onto a tablet (or, as became apparent during testing, even larger phablets). This clip’s main purpose is to hold a single sheet of paper plush against the device screen.

The secondary part of this combo is the Crayola Trace & Draw companion application, available on the Play Store. This app powers the images that are the core to the tool. The app contains a bunch of relatively simple basic images, black on white for efficacy, and grouped generally for identification. Now, with the device screen at the brightest setting (as the application advises) and a plain non-opaque piece of paper in place as described earlier, one can use the included marker to trace the image which shows through the paper.

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The app has some simple child/adult-friendly tricks up its sleeve to make the process as successful as possible. One pertinent method is the way is presents the image to be traced — in parts, such that one is overwhelmed with one difficult image all at once, but a smaller section that is more easily reproduced. When that section is completed, the budding artist can tap on an arrow that adds a new section to be added, and so on till the outline is completed.

When the outline is indeed finished, the young (or old) Rembrandt can then take the sheet off and further enhance the future masterpiece.

The system is rated for kids 3+, and I was able to try it out with my tablet-savvy 5-yr-old. Simply put, she loved it, and raided the printer for paper like a vagabond. She was able to get the hang of it almost immediately, and the app was easy enough for her to manipulate on her own. I find it quite interesting that she views the old Nook Color as primarily a tool to create art now. We (yes, we) were able to use pencils and such to do the initial trace too. Nifty.

When it’s all said and done, I really appreciate it. It’s simple, affordable ($19.99 on the Griffin website), and even useful. If only to see a continued smile on my daughter’s face, hats off to Griffin for encouraging childhood creativity.

Bracketron Road Boost XL Charger Hardware Review

Bracketron Road Boost XL Charger Hardware Review

Apr 29, 2015

To be fair, it just makes sense.

Consider the virtually unending need to power mobile devices… phones, tablets and everything in-between. The number increases exponentially with every computer-savvy person in one’s household.

Then, one thing that tends to happen with kids is battery loss. Mine always find a way to go back to the car — usually in search of a battery dead device, funnily enough — and will then leave a light on, or even a door open. The end result is a dead battery. Seriously, this has happened often enough for me to add checking the car lights and doors every night as part of my daily nighttime routine.

Even for folks with perfect offspring, a dead battery is one of those things that one wants to be ready for. There are plenty of dedicated mobile options, yes, but what about something that is gentke enough to juice up aforementioned mobile devices and still have the muscle to jump-start a car battery?

What if it was just as portable as a regular mobile charger? Now we’re talking… enter the Bracketron Road Boost 3-in-1 Emergency Jump-Start Power Bank.

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Based on the retail package Bracketron, it is mostly black, with neon green accents; it is relatively handy at 6.5 x 3 x 1 inches. The bank of buttons, ports and lights on the one long side give an inkling to how it does what it is supposed to do: USB and car charging output ports, power button/flashlight control, voltage and level LEDs, on/off switch, input jack and a jack to connect the auto charging clamps. The review package also came with a storage pouch, wall charger, car charger and jumper cable clamps.

The unit arrived with a charge… all the better to play with immediately. It’s device charging functionality is easily engaged with a 2.1A output; charging the bank itself is equally intuitive using the supplied cable. It charges devices pretty quickly too; I was even able to charge my stubborn device that requires higher amperage. With regards to jumping a car, I had to manufacture an event, but the unit worked very well.

It’s such an interesting option. I like the little things (like included car charger and travel pouch), and the advertised 3000 cycles of battery life and 3 month standby time are definitely attractive; my biggest concern with this type of solution is the it loosing charge. With this, I feel comfortable leaving it in the glove box and setting a reminder every 60 days to top it off. The flashlight is equally appreciated for obvious reasons, and while I might fuss at the fact that it only does one mobile device directly at a time, I will note the mobile charging is a secondary benefit. I do wonder about the long-term durability of the cable; it holds up well initially.

It isn’t the first time this type of solution has hit the market, but it does feel like a mature one. At $129.95, it might not be considered to be too much of an upfront investment.

ZAGG Pocket Wireless Keyboard Hardware Review

ZAGG Pocket Wireless Keyboard Hardware Review

Apr 21, 2015

I have a thing for Bluetooth keyboards. I admit it; I love the ability to have a tool to pound out an article on the go. Getting a look at the ZAGG Pocket Wireless Keyboard was definitely down my alley.

Out of the box, the unit presents a serious front; it looks stately, and has some heft to it, which helps with balance. It mimics a full keyboard closely, if on a smaller scale, with a row of number keys with standard shift options; it also manages to work in arrow buttons. The keyboard is mostly black with grey and blue lettering. Above the keyboard is an extra grey plate.

The review package also contained a USB charging cable and documentation.

It would be a shame to avoid mentioning the defining concept here; it incorporates an interesting quad-fold setup, such that when not in use, it can be stored or toted as a small accessory, occupying a relatively svelte 9 X 2.5 X 0.5 area, reminiscent of a tennis bracelet case. When opened up completely, it creates a keyboard with a built in devise stand.

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Pairing it to Android devices involves putting it into the appropriate mode, and then using the platform-specific button keys to complete the task. In action, it works especially well; quick responsiveness, dual independent space bars and crisp keys. After some test taps, I was able to do quite equitably with it. Folding the keyboard up turns it off, and

The mechanical construction allows only one seam to go along the the keyboard, and it folds up and not down, which makes sense from a functionality standpoint.

The portability does collect a usabilty tax, even if it is a relatively small one. I definitely wouldn’t describe the rows as cramped, but if one is used to full-sized keyboard, it might take some getting used to. The keys are bit smaller, so are a bit less forgiving of errant strokes. At $69.99 on Amazon, it is a bit of an investment.

Still, it is something I’d definitely rather have than not. It’s a slick accessory that begs to be on the go, and works to make it happen.

Lemur BlueDriver OBDII Scan Tool Hardware Review

Lemur BlueDriver OBDII Scan Tool Hardware Review

Apr 16, 2015

Another day, another opportunity to allow connected mobility make life easier. We are all for that.

Enter the BlueDriver OBDII Scan Tool, a piece from Lemur that allows folks to really drill down into auto management.

It is irregularly shaped, with a cuboid base at the core, but retains a relatively small profile. On the one end, one finds the plug-in portion with the telltale pins; on the opposite side is an LED light. The review piece is black with white lettering, and looks and feels like a a well-fused item.

The title says is all: this puck looks to give its user the power of OBDII in a handy little tool; to be very accurate, it does so with the help of a companion app that resides on one’s Android device. The app is a comprehensive sidekick; the UI is bathed in an almost purplish hue that backs the clear-cut icons that hint at the the true functionality of app-puck combo.

This two-part solution is fairly intuitive to use; the puck gets plugged into the ODB port in the car, paired to the device/app, and the accumulated data is accessed via the app. When the app is opened, it requests to turn on Bluetooth if that radio is off, and then looks to pair with the plugged in puck. When it gets going, there is quite a lot of stuff that can be accessed: accident reports, code reader, smog check and plenty more, including flashlight functionality. Additionally, one can get to the user manual from the app, order extra pieces, update sensor firmware and connect with the manufacturer via email, phone or social networks.

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In any case, in action, this piece just works. It pulls in the information seamlessly and presents it equally so, with “pro tip” pop-ups that help with deciphering data. I tried several of the tools, and was pleased with each; I didn’t have a control to confirm readings, or a chance to use the “clear codes” functionality at all, though.

As a permanent tool (it can be left installed), it is a nice accessory to have. It is transferable, easy to use and the mobile component is a big plus. At $99.95 on Amazon, it probably isn’t for the overly casual, but even taht can be argued. If anything, nothing beats having a clue what is going on with one’s car — before going to the mechanic.

Satechi Spectrum Connected Bulb Hardware Review

Satechi Spectrum Connected Bulb Hardware Review

Apr 15, 2015

So yeah, I’m all about spoiling myself nowadays. To be fair, I’ve always enjoyed spoiling myself; it’s just that with mobile technology, it becomes so much easier. As we continue to see more and more connected peripherals, life has the potential to be a bit more whimsical and whole lot more tech-ified.

We had an opportunity to check out some gear from Satechi, and got to take a look at its Spectrum Smart LED Bulb.

Out of the box, the unit looks much like a “regular” incandescent bulb, but a bit weightier at a bit under 6 oz, and with might casually look like a white cover on most of the 2.45 x 4.29 inch bulb surface. It has the standard E26 end, feels well constructed, definitely not as fragile as one might expect, and has an interesting range of stated specs: tops out at 8 watts, a voltage range of 100-240V (50/60 Hz); it boasts a lifetime of 25,000 hours, Bluetooth 4.0 (BLE) and requires at least Android 4.4.

Which brings us to a big part of the system: the companion Spectrum app on Google Play. Downloading and opening the app helps one glean a bit more of what the system purports to do. The bulb screws in much like a regular bulb, but when it is paired to the app via Bluetooth, one is able to control a bunch of extra functionality, like adjusting the color and brightness on the fly. Using the built-in color mixer, it’s possible to select from a plethora of hues in the color spectrum, using red, green, blue and white as the core bases. The app also incorporates a timer, a “scene” selector, dimming functionality, proximity sensor and even a missed call notifier (via the bulb).

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The use scenarios are fairly vast. Mood lighting? There’s disco flasher which is interesting. I shamelessly admit to using it as a visual intercom to summon the kids. Using the timer, it’s possible to set the bulb to dim to sleep at night and to go on in the morning if one’s morning starts before the sun rises. Admittedly, the bulb does come in handy in a number of real life ways. The fact that the app is able to manage multiple Satechi Smartbulbs — individually and collectively — is another benefit. It remembers the last color setting when turned off manually.

At $34.99 (on Amazon), each bulb is a bit of investment; the LED nature and added usability might help allay cost concerns. The timer function was wonky at first, but has ended up being quite reliable.

In the end, in a gimmicky accessory world, it was surprising at how well I cottoned to this item. Just as well too, as I think it fits in well with the concept of pampering myself.

The Quicklock Padlock Hardware Review

The Quicklock Padlock Hardware Review

Apr 13, 2015

We all love the connected home? What about a connected lock to start it all off?

How about the Quicklock Padlock?

The review package contained USB-cable, documentation, and NFC card and the lock itself; there’s no missing the lock, in that it looks like, well, a lock. The review unit is mostly blue and grey, with the metal shackle being the latter. The body is in the shape of a small cylinder, with a recessed charging port on the backside, and a bluetooth button/LED on the front.

The manufacturer also provided us companion Android software — in beta — that serves as the control bridge for the hardware. The app is simple, presented a business-like grey, and when it is initiated, it turns on the host device’s Bluetooth radio and searches for a lock. On the hardware side, one has to press the aforementioned button on the front of the device to initiate pairing. When the lock is found, the app requests a password (in our case, provided by the manufacturer). As soon as the connection and password is verified, a simple control screen appears, allowing the user to unlock, or set the unit to auto unlock. The app allows one to manage multiple locks, as well as edit the name and auto lock time.

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The unit also allows for NFC control; I was able to pair to the provided NFC card. It works as advertised, if a bit laggier than the app. The manufacturer offers a bunch of NFC accessories (like a ring) on its website.

It’s all pretty seamless, and fairly intuitive.

But then, the wireless connectivity that makes the solution attractive brings to mind some interesting questions. The first one has to do with complete power drain; if the unit drains out, it can be operated, but must be charged with, say, a portable charger (and the cable has to be just right too to fit); as such, I felt more comfortable topping it off frequently, which isn’t optimal. Another quirk is that button at the front. Prior to operating, it has to be pressed each time, meaning one would have to physically make contact with the lock every single time. Not life-ending by any means, but this did curb my dreams of sending my kids to the shed out back white I sip on a Pepsi watching Dancing with the Stars. The NFC functionality helps in this regard, as one can match a few to it, but that does put a damper on true access control.

I wasn’t able to view access control, but for an item still being designed, it’a pretty interesting piece. With some polishing, the whole thing can be a killer combo. It it something I’d use?

Absolutely.