Forgetful folk who regularly misplace stuff are spoilt for a techie fix these days. Connected item trackers that link your valuables to your mobile phone have been crowding onto the market thick and fast, fueled by the rise of the less battery-thirsty Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity tech, and promising to put an end to your ‘where did I put my keys?’ woes. Just a few that spring to mind include Tile, Chipolo, Duet… the list goes on.
Well here’s another: Finnish made BiiSafe Buddy, which was crowdfunded on Indiegogo, offers item tracking via Bluetooth and a location-sharing alerts feature geared towards families by turning the gizmo into a physical button that lets you quickly share your location on a map with your chosen circle of loved ones.
I gave the BiiSafe Buddy a road test for a few days to see whether the concept lives up to the promise.
- MSRP: $50/€39 per single buddy, or lower unit cost multipacks
- Battery life of between 3 to 18 months
- Bluetooth Low Energy
- iOS and Android apps
- Product info page
- Tactile, minimalist design
- Easily share your location on a map
- Trigger range not yet customisable
- Interface has some niggles
The hardware design of the buddy is pleasingly tactile and non-slippery, given its rubbery face, although this material does attract dust so if you’re sticking it in a bag or pocket expect it to gather some lint. There’s a metal ring running around the edge of the device which offers a secure place to easily attach it to your keys or to the zipper inside a purse/bag. The buddy is not at all heavy — akin to the average key-fob in weight — and its tapered shape means it slips into even a small jeans pocket without adding unpleasant bulk.
Set up is relatively straightforward. First you need to download the companion iOS or Android app. You’ll also need to create your usage circle within the app — which means the group of people (or just yourself) who will able to locate a buddy and receive alerts from it. This is done by entering an email address and a password, both of which will be the shared login credentials for all other people in your circle. That’s a bit awkward but again it’s clearly geared towards families who are likely to be used to sharing login credentials.
NB: Only one circle can be linked to an installed BiiSafe Buddy app at a time. And all the others in the circle have to have the BiiSafe Buddy app installed — with the same username and password credentials inputted — in order to get alerts on their mobile device.
After setting up your circle, next you link and configure each individual buddy by tapping on the add new buddy icon in the app and holding one buddy near your BLE-capable mobile device and pushing the buddy button (up to five buddies can be linked per app installation). Each buddy can be named within the app and a display icon chosen for it, such as keys or a bag, to help manage multiple buddies. And that’s the set up done. The app offers other settings you can play around with, such as changing how loud the alert sound is (although the loudest setting is not very loud at all so there’s probably not much scope or need to make it any quieter).
Operation of the buddy is also pretty straightforward, although the interface does have some niggles. If you want to locate a lost buddy you open the app, tap on the particular buddy you’re after and its last known location is plotted on a map. You can also tap on ‘find buddy’ to trigger a short audio alert and a radar style interface that shows if you’re getting nearer to that buddy as you move around looking for it. Neither lasts very long (probably to save battery life) so unless your lost item is not actually very lost you’re likely to need to trigger this multiple times as you go a-hunting.
If you want to use the buddy to share your location — say with a family member who’s coming to meet you — a short press on the button will share your location to the circle. This type of location share is signaled on the buddy by a short burst of green light. Although, in daylight, the light is easily missed and if you press and hold the buddy button for too long (around 2 seconds) it will send the same location share but this time badged as a safety alert (meaning the app will mark your location with a big red circle). The buddy flashes red lights when you’ve triggered one of these safety location alerts.
The specific message that’s sent when you share your location with your circle can be configured to something of your choosing from within the app.
Given how easy it is to trigger the safety alert by mistake — say when someone only meant to share their location, or accidentally because of items pressing against it in your bag — it seems likely that a lot of false alarms are going to be triggered and sent to your circle. So it’s a shame they didn’t make the two trigger functions more distinct. Or the safety alert a little harder to trigger.
Another feature of the buddy is that it can alert you when you and your mobile device have moved more than 50 meters away from a connected buddy (you can disconnect individual buddies when you want to disable this feature). I found this less useful, because 50 meters is actually quite a distance — and you’re likely to have locked yourself out of the house long before the app gives you a warning that you’ve left your keys behind.
Currently the trigger range for this feature can’t be configured but the buddy’s makers say they are looking at ways to integrate that. It would certainly be a lot more useful if the range could be user-defined, given that the size of people’s houses vary — and a shorter trigger might make sense for your keys than for another item you want to keep tabs on. As it stands, 50 meters is only really going to help you if you drop your keys in the street while jogging. Or leave your bag on a park bench.
The buddy has a few other tricks up its sleeve. For instance the hardware includes a temperature sensor so you can view the temperature of individual buddies in the app, should you be curious about how warm it is where your keys are. Plus there’s a motion detection feature you can enable to trigger alerts when an item is dropped from a particular height. That’s neat if you worry about your keys falling out of your pocket, say, or if your child won’t leave the house without their favourite teddybear but always drops and loses it when they do take it out.
If you’re the sort of person who loses their keys in their own house the Biisafe Buddy has got your back, although if your household is generally noisy you may have trouble tracking down where its gentle beeps are coming from. But at least you’ll know for sure that the errant keys are somewhere near so you can be all the more zen as you peek under piles of washing. The location sharing feature is also neat, if that’s useful to you. Families with teenage kids to pick up from clubs and events may find it helpful, although teens may be less keen to have their whereabouts tracked and mapped. Privacy considerations are an issue with any tracking tech that can be used to keep tabs on people as well as insentient things. Ironing out those sort of disputes is likely to be more troublesome than dealing with the app’s more minor interface niggles.