By Nate Adcock updated on 09/26/2014
Want to keep tabs on someone (or maybe someone wants to keep them on you?) Consider V.ALRT (on sale for $59.99) which requires no expensive monthly services. The V.ALRT mobile tracking application can detect a fall, and has a panic button that can be configured to automatically alert and send SMS texts to friends andfamily, but the open API means that new apps will become available for this interesting and versatile health accessory from VSN Mobil.
The V.ALRT is a disk about the size of a quarter. It runs on a CR2032 watch battery and comes with a pendant and watchband accessory to allow you to wear it on your wrist or as a necklace (belt clip sensor add-on also available). The rubberized bracelet band and the device are waterproof, and under normal conditions, the included battery should last about a year. Located under the face are embedded LEDs that flash either green or red during alert or monitoring conditions. In bracelet mode, it looks and feels much like any wearable fitness or health sensor on the market. The face also serves as a button to trigger actions through the device.
Configuring the device is easy. Download the free app, and go through a simple three-step process on your smartphone (iOS and Android both supported—iPhone 4S or later required). Hold the face button down for an extended period (which will start it flashing). Next, select the active V.ALRT device listed in the phone app, enter your emergency contact info into the supplied fields (three contacts supported), and configure an alert message. You can configure a few custom settings, and enable the fall sensor, but V.ALRT should be ready to use at this point. The app has to remain active to alert, of course. Once paired, it will also alert you if you go out of range of your phone by emitting a beep and will occasionally flashing. Handy reminder if you tend to lose or leave your phone behind in places like restaurants.
I tested the typical scenarios one expects: keying the panic button, throwing the darn thing across the room, walking out of range of the sensor, etc. It worked well, but not perfectly. When keying the panic button, texts were sent out promptly to my contacts, though in the case of my wife's iPhone, her phone had to be reset before they were received (which was bizarre, but could have just been her phone). An audible siren sound emanated from my iPhone when it alerted, as expected. The fall sensor did not generate an alert some of the times I attempted a drop test, though the instructions warned that accuracy in this regard is troublesome. The app also helpfully sends an SMS text with a Google Maps link of your location. Of course, you need to allow the V.ALRT app access to both contacts and location services for these capabilities to function.
V.ALRT is exactly the kind of accessory that could assist under emergency conditions, but I found myself thinking of other helpful situations where this would be greatly useful (because I do a ton of stupid things like forget my keys or my phone, lock them both in the car, etc.) Provided you had the device itself with you, V.ALRT could still allow you to send a message to friends and family even if you weren't able to get to your phone or your keys—say you dropped them into the tiger exhibit at the zoo, you could still alert someone you needed help (provided your phone wasn't destroyed). Maybe your annoying brother-in-law shows up and you send him down to fetch them for you. If the other way round (you have your phone but not V.ALRT), you can also select a function in the app that will help you locate the device itself (it emits a tone and flashes).
Third-party developers have created new apps to extend the V.ALRT functionality. I tested one of the free apps that allows it to function as a remote shutter for your iPhone (which worked well). One minor issue I had after using the shutter app was that I had to manually reconnect the V.ALRT sensor to the original monitoring app to get it into an effective monitoring mode. VSN Mobil is providing a developer guide to anyone interested in designing their own applications for the device.
This year at CES, and since, we have covered a wide array of health and wearable monitoring technology, most in the Bluetooth 4.0 (so-called Bluetooth Smart) family of applications in which the V.ALRT resides. Many are going the road of opening up access to developers to freely extend the device capability. An innovative trend that keeps the app and accessory ecosystem healthy, and is good for everyone involved, including users. So it's probably not surprising that we approve of the affordable V.ALRT, and recommend it!