Smart Key full review

  • Smart iPhone and iPad app for tracking keys and lost objects
  • Our Elgato Smart Key review tests the range for tracking objects
  • How does the Elgato Smart Key compare to the HipKey?

The Elgato Smart Key is an innovative new gadget and app for iOS users that acts as an iPhone proximity and movement alarm.  You attach the circular dongle physically to your keys, and then connect it wirelessly to your iPhone using the Smart Key app. Our Elgato Smart key review tests the proximity alerts to see if it works in the real world.

The iPhone proximity alert kicks in when you walk away from your keys (because the Bluetooth connection is broken). The Elgato Smart Key app also alerts you when they are back in range. The Elgato Smart Key can also help you locate your keys. It does this by providing a map of the last known location, and you can get the Smarty Key dongle to emit a ‘pinging’ noise helping you hone in on the keys.

Elgato Smart Key Review

See: iPhone 5s review

What can you do with an Elgato Smart Key?

The Elgato Smart Key has other uses too. You can leave the Smart Key in your car, for example, and the mapping function will help you locate it in a large car park. You can place it in a bag to get an alert that you’re leaving your bag behind (unless of course, your iPhone is inside your bag). Elgato suggests placing it in a camera bag which makes sense to us: it’s a valuable piece of kit to lose; you can also place your Smart Key in a suitcase before a flight and it’ll alert you when it arrives in the baggage hall. We didn’t actually get to test this final use (next time we fly we will).

Each use has a slightly different feature set, and the Smart Key offers the following profiles:

  • Keychain
  • Car
  • Camera
  • Handbag
  • Luggage

Each profile has a slightly different action depending on when you Connect or Disconnect to the Smart Key. In Keychain mode it shows a confirmation message on iPhone on Connect, and a notification on Disconnect; in a car it plays a sound when you Connect, and remembers your GPS position.

You can add your own custom settings too, choosing to flash the LED and play a sound on the key; and on the phone you can add custom notifications and choose from a range of sounds.

Elgato Smart Key App

Testing the Elgato Smart Key?

The Elgato Smart Key uses Bluetooth 4.0, which is the newer low energy solution (it’s the same technology that makes AirDrop possible). But it still has a drain of sorts, and using the Smart Key requires you to have Bluetooth turned on all the time. We’re not too keen on having Bluetooth on relentlessly on an iPhone, because if the iPhone connects to a device using an older version of Bluetooth it drains the battery. But it’s clear that Bluetooth is becoming a viable low energy connection for the future.

See: Wikipedia Bluetooth Low Energy

The range for connect or disconnect appears to be approximately 20 metres in a clear space. So we managed to get across the road and start walking away before the phone makes a bingly noise. But it is possible in a larger house to find the connect/disconnect alerts coming on as you move around. We tested it in a old Victorian house with thick walls and with the key in the front door the alert came on in the kitchen (less than 10 metres away). So if you live in a larger, or older, house you might find alerts coming on as you simply move around the home.

The alerts only appear when you move in and out of range of the Smart Key, however, and you cannot locate a Smart Key that is out of range of the iPhone (and especially if it is moving around). This limits the device somewhat, rather disappointingly it cannot be used to keep track of the movement of pets, although it could be used to help locate a missing cat if you walked around with the iPhone and looked for the Bluetooth connection to kick in (and then tapped the alarm).

Having the alerts come on and off as you walk around the house can prove to be annoying. Fortunately you can also set Safe Zones, areas where the key does not come on or off. Tap Settings and Add Safe zone in your home and the Elgato Smart Key app will not give you an alert in that area. It will wait until you leave the area (using GPS) and the Bluetooth connection is broken before issuing a notification. This extend the area that the phone works, for us we found it kicked in a little further away (but not much, another 5 metres). The App does warn you however that turning Safe Zones on “may drain your battery more quickly.” We didn’t see any confirmation of this but assume that because the app is using Location Services along with Bluetooth to monitor positioning that it may be causing a drain on the battery. We used the Battery app to monitor usage but noted little difference between using the Smart Key or not.

Elgato Smart Key Notifications

Does the Elgato Smart Key drain your iPhone battery?

While we didn’t suffer from battery drain on the iPhone from using the Smart Key, the real challenge is how long the battery life lasts in the Smart Key itself. Elgato claims that the replaceable battery (a CR2032) will last a healthy six-months. This seems credible to us, and replacements can be picked up (it’s a lithium battery) for around £5. This method outlasts the rival HipKey device, which comes with a rechargeable battery which needs charging via USB every two to four weeks.

It’s also the cheaper option. Whereas the HipKey with its rechargeable battery costs £70, the Elgato Smart Key costs just £40.

Whether £40 is worth it to keep track of your keys is a different matter. There’s little doubting that the Elgato Smart Key a useful little device, but we don’t tend to forget our keys so often that we feel the need for a £40 iPhone dongle. But that’s a personal judgement call and if you’re the sort of person who is forever forgetting to carry their keychain out the door you’ll find it invaluable.

The other uses: car park and suitcase tracking seem interesting, but we doubt if we’d use them often enough. Again: frequent flyers may think otherwise (we are looking forward to having a coffee in the baggage lounge and waiting for an alert to let us know when our suitcase arrives). Keeping track of a camera bag (and getting alerts if it goes missing) seems a practical use for any mobile photographer. Although it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s of little use if the bag is stolen, because you can’t track the bag once it’s out of range of the Smart Key.

So whether the Elgato Smart Key is an essential device is somewhat debatable. But what is clear is that the system works, so if you think the Elgato Smart Key is the sort of device you would find useful, then it’s certainly the way to go about it. It’s both cheaper and the battery lasts longer than its rival.

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