Gadling Gear Review: hipKey Proximity And Motion Sensor

One of the best things about the rise of the smartphone over the past few years is the incredible number of creative ways that companies have come up with to utilize them. We’ve seen thousands of innovative and interesting apps, and more recently some cool secondary gadgets that extend their functionality by interfacing directly with the phone. Take for example the hipKey from a company called Hippih. The device is a motion and proximity sensor that can alert us when our valuable items have been moved, something that can come in very handy when traveling.

The hipKey is a small, half-moon-shaped device that is designed to be attached to a set of keys, your luggage or even a person. When powered on and paired with an iPhone via Bluetooth, it can provide a host of useful functions. At its core, hipKey is meant to alert us to changes to the location of the item it is attached to or help us find that item when it becomes lost. If you attach the device to a set of car keys for example, hipKey will let you know when you’ve left them behind via an alert on your iPhone. Or, if you’re one of those people who can never remember where you left your keys, the hipKey companion app (available for free in the App Store) can activate the device, forcing it to make a loud noise.

The sensor features four distinct modes, each of which is designed to address some specific need. For instance, Alarm Mode is meant to alert the user when the hipKey has moved beyond a certain distance from their smartphone. The distance at which the alarm sounds can be set to short (2-5 meters), medium (15-20 meters) and long (30-50 meters) ranges. In Safe Zone mode, the user can designate a specific place on a map as the “safe” spot, then create a geofence around it at the same preset distances as Alarm mode. If the hipKey moves outside of the zone, it will again automatically trigger alerts. As the name implies, Child Mode attaches the hipKey to a child and sets off alerts if the kid wanders out of range as well, while Motion Mode immediately sets off an alarm if the item that the device is connected to begins to move.The hipKey dongle is roughly 2 inches in diameter, which is at times too large and at others just the right size. I say that because when you attach the device to a carry-on bag, for instance, you barely even notice that it is there. But add it to your keychain and suddenly it feels enormous. But the device packs quite a bit of technology into a relatively small space and for the most part you’ll barely even notice that you have it with you.

When designing the hipKey, Hippih integrated BlueTooth 4.0 technology, which provides better range than previous versions of the protocol while sipping less battery life. The device has a built-in rechargeable battery that I’m told will power the proximity sensor for anywhere from two to four weeks. I tested the device for a period of just over three weeks and I wasn’t able to ever run it out of juice, which bodes well for travelers who want to attach this to their baggage while on the go. I also didn’t notice much of an impact to the battery life of my iPhone while connected to the hipKey either.

As mentioned above, Hippih has developed a companion app for the hipKey that allows the user to program it to their specifications. It is through that app that you can set which mode the device is operating in, adjust the volume of alerts, select the alarm distance and so on. It’ll also tell you the current battery level of the device and allow you to designate your “safe zone.” The app is functional and easy to use – and works nicely on an iPad – but for the most part there isn’t much that is impressive about it.

It should be noted that communication between the iPhone (or iPad) and the hipKey is not just one-way. If you can’t find your iPhone, you can tell the device to send an alert to the phone, causing it to make a chiming noise while also vibrating. The alerts can be heard even if the iPhone is set to silent mode, which can come in very handy when you just can’t seem to remember where you left your iPhone.

For the most part, the hipKey works exactly as advertised. It is a snap to set up and it provides alerts when it moves too far away from the iPhone with which it is paired. I tested the device extensively and it performed flawlessly each time. It is nice to know that it has a solid record of dependability when you’re counting on it to ensure that your bags, keys or child stay safe.

Unfortunately, at the moment the hipKey doesn’t work with any other devices except the iPhone. Android and Windows Phone users will just have to wait to see if Hippih brings the device to those platforms. It seems likely that support will be there eventually – particularly in the case of Android – but for now the proximity sensor only works with Apple devices.

The hipKey carries a price tag of $89.95, which seems a little steep at first glance. But if you consider the level of mobile security, not to mention convenience, that it brings to the table, it comes across as a small price to pay. The perpetually forgetful will appreciate the gentle reminders the device will send them when they walk away without their keys, while worried parents will wonder how they kept track of their little ones without it. Make no mistake, this device is indeed a luxury item, but it is also one that could possibly save you a lot of grief when you need it. Particularly when keeping tabs on your important gear while traveling.

The hipKey is an excellent compliment to any iPhone and surely a gadget travelers will love to have on their side in times of trouble.

Best destinations for gadget geeks

Chances are, the laptop you’re reading this article on was not made here in the U.S. It’s a well-known fact that most of the world’s consumer gadgetry, from mobile phones to laptops to gaming consoles, is created abroad, in places ranging from Japan to Europe and beyond. A visit to one of these tech-centric destinations is a great chance to pick up a one-of-a-kind tech product or grab a great bargain. But gadget travel is also about more than just buying cool stuff – it’s also chance to experience the future of technology. Wondering where you can get in touch with your inner geek on your next trip? Check out our ten picks below.

Batam, Indonesia
If you have the hankering for inexpensive Asian-made electronics, the island city of Batam in Indonesia is hard to beat. A twenty-minute ferry ride from Singapore, this city offers duty-free shopping for a variety of imported electronics. Be sure to check out Mega Mall Batam Centre located in the Batam Central Business District, as well as Nagoya Hill, the biggest shopping center in Batam. Beware of knock-offs and be willing to bargain to get the best prices here.

Stockholm, Sweden
Early adopters will drool with envy over Stockholm’s city-wide WiMax network. With WiMax’s increased connection range and high-speed bandwidth, Stockholm is surely the world’s most wired city.

Yongsan Electric Market – Seoul, North South Korea
With over twenty buildings and a bustling outside flea market full of electronic bargains, Yongsan Electric Market located at Yongsan Station is a haggler’s paradise. Shop the nearly 5,000 stores for steep discounts and a wide selection of Korean and imported gadgets.Science Museum – London, England
For the young geek or the geek young at heart, the Science Museum in London offers a dizzying array of gadgets and gizmos, along with a good dose of science. Admission is free, which is good, because the fun gadgets in the gift shop are not.

– Jakarta, Indonesia
Offering a gigantic variety of electronics, Glodok’s 500,000 square meters will require several days to shop. Well known to Indonesians, this area sells dirt-cheap Asian-made electronics and offers some of the cheapest, although not always legal, DVDs and video games. The best way to get to Glodok is by TransJakarta, a bus that stops in front of the district. Watch your bags if you go, as the area is known for pickpockets.

Tribeca Grand Hotel – New York City, USA
If you are a true Apple fanboy, the Tribeca Grand Hotel in NYC has you covered. Reserve an iStudio room and you can use your room’s G5 Mac, fully loaded with film, music and photo editing software. Don’t forget to bring your iPod for the in-room Sony Dream Machine Speaker Dock. Reserve your iStudio by calling 877 519 6600.

Consumer Electric Show – Las Vegas, USA
Gadgets so hot you can’t even buy them yet! This annual Consumer Electronics Show showcases the up and coming gadgets from around the world. While you can’t purchase these toys yet, you can certainly find one to start drooling over.

Inamo Restaurant – London, England
Even geeks have to eat, but that doesn’t mean that they have to go cold turkey on technology. Inamo, an Oriental fusion restaurant in London’s Soho district, offers a high-tech dining experience. Diners can order dinner, drinks and even set the evening’s mood lighting by interacting with their dining table. Quite an innovative experience and the food is good too.

Cafe Grumpy – New York City, USA
With over 25 coffees on the menu, Cafe Grumpy will jump start anyone’s day, but its not just the coffee that has gadget geeks drooling. Cafe Grumpy’s unique $11,000 Clover coffee machines that the gadget aficionado will fall for.

Akihabara – Tokyo, Japan
Also known as Akihabara Electric Town, Akihabara is giant shopping area a few minutes from Tokyo Station. The newest international electronics are available next to discounted used gadgets. Visit Akky International Main Store at 1-12-1 Soto-Kanda for duty-free shopping. Don’t forget to shop the smaller stores to find the best bargains.

— Written by Jared S. Bernstein, Seed contributor.

How the iPad is changing the way I travel already

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a gadget freak. I love new tech toys, especially ones that can make my life better and enhance my travel experiences. That’s why I was very intrigued when Apple announced the iPad a few months back. Not only did it look like it had the potential to replace my netbook as a lightweight travel computer, but it could also double as an e-book reader, allowing me to leave books at home, lightening my load even further.

Of course, there were questions and doubts about the new device. The virtual keyboard seemed like it could be a challenge to use and the included Safari web browser doesn’t support Flash, a common element on websites across the Internet. Some critics, unimpressed with what was shown at the unveiling, even said it was just a “big iPhone”. But as the days rolled by, and we got closer to the iPad launch, it became clear that the tablet computer had a few tricks up its sleeve, and that new, compelling apps clearly demonstrated how it would separate itself from its smaller sibling.

I’ve had the iPad for a little over a week, having picked one up at launch, and as I prepared to leave the country on a two week long trip, it dawned on me just how quickly the device had become ingrained in my life and how much I was looking forward to traveling with it.
As predicted, the iPad is indeed a worthy replacement for a netbook computer. The virtual keyboard is surprisingly easy to use and I found that after a day or two of practice, I could be quite productive on the iPad, especially with the platform specific version of the iWork suite, which includes a full featured word processor called Pages. Throw in an e-mail client that rivals something you’d find on a desktop, not to mention a fast and responsive web browser, and you’ll have no problem handling work while on the go.

Usually when I pack for a long trip, I squeeze a couple of books and an mp3 player into my backpack before catching the flight. But with the iPad, I can simply grab a few e-books from the new iBook store and load all of my music onto the device, cutting down on weight and clutter in my pack. And just in case the inflight movies turn out to be something that wouldn’t even go straight-to-video, I can add a few movies from the iTunes store too. My carry on bag now has a full fledged media center inside of it and if the flight also happens to have WiFi, which is quite common these days, your entertainment options extend even further.

The iPad isn’t just good for keeping you occupied while en route to your destination however. The built in Maps app is great for finding your way around once you’re there, and having travel guide books pre-loaded on the gadget opens up a host of possibilities too. And once Apple ships its iPad Camera Kit, due at the end of the month, you’ll be able to load your photos at the end of the day, giving you an opportunity to share them on the nice big screen, while simultaneously making a back-up of your travel photos too.

All of this functionality comes in a sleek, well designed package with a multitouch interface that is fun, intuitive, and down right addicting to use. But perhaps the most impressive thing about the iPad is its battery life. Having all of this functionality at your fingertips is great, but if it can’t even stay powered up for a coast-to-coast flight, then it’s not really all that useful. Fortunately, Apple hasn’t scrimped on the battery, and it is possible to get 12+ hours of up time on the device. More than enough for most flights.

The iPad is one of those devices that you have to play with to understand. It is an amazing device that does a lot of things very well, and much like its iconic older brother, the iPod, it could have a huge impact on the way that we travel. I suspect in a few years time, the iPad will be an incredibly popular traveling companion for nearly everyone.

Augmented reality: a traveler’s dream?

Gadling has previously investigated how mobile devices are changing the way we travel, whether it’s helping us navigate public transit, letting you make cheap phone calls abroad or showing us location-based maps of nearby restaurants, hotels and businesses. Now, an emerging mobile phone technology called augmented reality looks ready to bring this mobile experience to the “next level.”

It works like this: you start up an application on your phone using a built-in accelerometer, GPS and camera. As the application scans the world around you, it recognizes what you see, providing images, web links and information depending on where and what you’re looking at. Think of it almost like the real world was “clickable.” You could be walking down the street, pass by a restaurant, and have a link pop-up with a menu and weekly specials. Or in the case of augmented reality applications like acrossair on the iPhone (shown above) it can help you figure out the location of the nearest subway or metro stop. Other applications, like Wikitude and the Dutch service Layar let you browse directories of ATM’s, bars and hotels around you.

As with any cool new technology, there’s sometimes a catch. At this point, augmented reality apps like acrossair, Layar and Wikitude are only available to users abroad in Europe, although the companies are all promising a launch for U.S. users later this year. You’ll also need to have a supported phone – in this case either a device with Android or an iPhone 3GS to take advantage. Still, the coming of augmented reality offers a bright view of our travel future. Imagine taking a trip where we were free of our guidebooks, able to have information on transit, shopping, eating and sleeping at our fingertips when we wanted it and hidden from view when we didn’t. It’s a concept that is rapidly approaching reality, though still working out some kinks – don’t throw out that map just yet.

Through the Gadling Lens: photo gifts for Mother’s Day

Last week, my friend Willy pinged me via instant message: “Hey, do you have any ideas on how I can share photos? I have a ton of them sitting on my hard drive doing nothing.” I know the problem: if it weren’t for the fact that I had a photoblog, I’m sure most of my photographs would never see the light of day. But since we’re approaching Mother’s Day here in the United States, it occurs to me that using your photographs for some great Mother’s Day gifts might be a cool way to share some of your best travel photos. And so this week, I thought I’d share some of the best ideas I could find for Mother’s Day. So read up and take note: time is running out.
Gifts for the Mom Who Doesn’t Understand Why, If You’re Traveling All the Time, You Can’t Stop In and See Your Mother Once In a While

Both my husband and I aren’t from the United States, and therefore, we have family all over the world. And as you can imagine, if we take a trip to somewhere other than where our family is located, they Aren’t Always Happy. So sometimes, it helps to send them lovely photographs of their children and grandchildren having Lovely Happy Family Time in far-off places, so that they can think, “Ah, well, our children are happy, that’s all that matters.”

Or something.

Anyway, here are some gifts we’ve given in the past that seem to have scored pretty high:

a) Photo books: Everywhere you turn these days, you can upload your photographs to a website or a software application, a few clicks here and there, and badda-bing, a credit card number later and a bound volume of your photographs appears at your (or your mom’s) doorstep. Most of these services even let you customize your own photo captions, with things like “Mom, as we were sitting here staring at this beautiful sunset, I was overcome with emotion thinking about the love you have shown me all these years,” or something equally heartfelt and sincere. Ahem.

Some of my favourite services:

Qoop — an online service where you can upload your photographs, or even better, simply suck them out of your Flickr account. Softbound books start from as little as US$ 12.99, and hardbound books at US$ 29.99, each of them 20 pages long. Very simple to use, and books are of decent quality.

Blurb — another online service that helps you create “bookstore quality books.” Browsing through some of their “staff picks,” and you’ll see the beautiful work that’s possible to be created using their service. Mom will definitely be impressed.

iPhoto — If you have a Mac, don’t forget the iPhoto software that came free with your computer — the software comes with free templates that help you customize your photos into softbound or hardbound books, which you can then order online.

b) Digital Photo Frames: I actually purchased one of these for my dad on a Father’s Day gone by, and this might actually be his favourite gift from me ever. This wireless photo frame has its own e-mail address, and I merely email photographs to this frame, and the photograph magically appears on his desk. This is a particularly effective if your parents also happen to be grandparents — trust me, once they receive pictures of your little cherub having the time of their life in some beautiful paradise, they’ll forgive you for traveling so much. Just Google “digital picture frame” to find the thousands available for purchase (remember, your Mom is going to have to have an internet connection to make this work).

Gifts for the Mom You’re Married To, But Now That The Baby Is Here, Who Knows When Your Next Trip Is Going to Happen

Ah, remember that wonderful trip you took — the safari, perhaps, or the mountain climbing expedition — as your last hurrah before the baby came? Nowadays, as your little bundle of joy keeps you awake at obscene hours of the morning, it might look like you may never travel like that again. Mother’s Day is a great opportunity to have some prints made and featured for when the baby finally naps, and Mom has a few moments to reminisce about the intrepid old days. So in addition to the photobooks above, here are some of my favourite ideas.

a) Create a photo wall — Have a wall in your home that you’ve been wondering what to do with? Create a photo memory wall: pick some of your favourite shots from one of your previous trips, and have them printed to a similar size. Then buy some matching frames (IKEA has some great inexpensive ones, as do most hobby or craft supply stores), and arrange accordingly. For inspiration, be sure to check out some of the images on Flickr.

b) Create a photo lantern — Feeling handy? Then check out this great little do-it-yourself project courtesy of the amazing design site, decor8. The entire project takes relatively few supplies, and with the help of battery operated tea lights, your photographs will be highlighted with a warm romantic glow — a great way to feature those lovely shots you took in the back streets of Rome or from a balcony in Santorini. And with warm weather just around the corner, Mom will love sitting outside with these memories all around her. Full instructions can be found here.

Gifts for the Mom Who Is Morally Opposed to Email

Finally, perhaps the mom in your life is like mine: email’s cute and all, but nothing beats a lovely, thoughtful, handwritten note. So why not use your photographs to create stationery for your mom? There are really great services which will allow you to upload your images and create custom stationery: tiny*prints is one, for example. However, my favourite way of creating stationary is to simply print 4″x6″ prints of my favourite shots, and then purchase some blank 5″x7″ folded notecards (available at most arts & crafts stores). Then I simply adhere 8 prints on 8 notecards with 8 envelopes, tie the stack with a pretty ribbon and voila — totally personalized stationery for my mom, featuring my favourite images, from places all over the world. And trust me on this — when you give you mom this gift, and she realizes her baby made it especially for her, just like he did when he was in kindergarten? Dude, you’ll be rolling in maternal goodwill for months.

Hopefully this helped provide a few great ideas for using your travel shots for some Mother’s Day gifts. Now get out there and get your presents together — Mother’s Day is only 3 days away. And next week, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled Through the Gadling Lens.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.
Through the Gadling Lens can be found every Thursday right here, at 11 a.m. To read more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.