A couple weeks ago I lost Eric for twenty gut-wrenching minutes at a water park in San Diego. You can read all about that little incident here: "The Day I Lost Him at the Water Park". This was the fourth time we had "misplaced" our little renegade in his nine years and, by far, the longest span of time.
When my hands stopped trembling and I finished my last swallow of a greatly needed alcoholic beverage, I decided that it was well past time to invest in some form of locating (tracking) device for my little wanderer.
I did a little research and decided to purchase the Pocketfinder GPS Personal Locator. I was won over by its reviews, claims of small size, durability and ease of use. As promised, here is my review of the product based on our experiences so far:
Price: I found the Pocketfinder on Amazon.com for $99.00 plus tax. They offered free shipping, but I paid a little extra for 2nd day delivery. The monthly service fee for using the device is $12.95 per month in the U.S. There are no "basic" or "premium" plans to consider. There is only one plan and it includes all of the capabilities of the device, which includes some pretty cool features.
|Service Plan||United States||Canada & Mexico||International|
|Number of Location Lookups||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Number of emergency contacts||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|SMS (Text Message) Alerts|
|View 60 Day History|
|iOS Push Notifications|
|Unlimited Zones and Speed Alerts|
|Medical and Emergency Info Files and Photos|
Size: The Pocketfinder website touts the small size of the gizmo as comparable to an Oreo cookie. This is a little misleading. Yes, the device's diameter is about equal to an Oreo, but its thickness is closer to two Oreos stacked together. It also has a small protrusion that I believe houses the unit's antenna. It is relatively light, but not undetectable, which is an issue for my little guy as I will describe later.
Reliability: I was very impressed with the device's accuracy. The company says it can reliably locate the device within 10 feet and that seems about right in my experience. I had some initial problems locating the satellite for the first time, but I have had issues with RF interference hampering other GPS devices (heart rate monitors) in my home. After a brief walk around the block it located its satellite and has been very reliable since.
Durability: The gizmo seems very well built and solid. They say it's waterproof and shock resistant. I have not yet experimented with either, but don't see any indicators to doubt their claim. It comes with one latex covering (bright green) that serves as added protection and as the connector holding the included attachment hook (to secure the gizmo to clothes, backpacks, etc.). I am a little concerned that the latex will rip if pulled hard enough leaving the device rendered useless on the ground somewhere. I wish they had drilled a small hole in the plastic housing of the device itself to attach the hook and increase durability.
Ease of Use: I am pretty technologically savvy, but this gizmo is extremely simple to set up and use. It requires logging in to the website and/or downloading their free smartphone app. The app and website are very simple and intuitive. They both allow the user to set up "zones" of adjustable size and notify you if the gizmo travels outside the zones. I think this will be useful. However, so far I have received a ton of random alerts that the device has left my "home" zone, even though it hadn't moved from its charging cradle. If I can not locate the reason for these false alarms and develop a sense of trust of their accuracy, I envision turning off the feature to avoid "Boy Who Cried Wolf" moments.
It runs on a rechargeable battery and includes a sturdy and well-made charging cradle. They say it will last up to 20 hours per charge depending on the power adjustments you make. You can set it to ping at differing time increments. The more time between "locates," the longer the battery will last. This claim seems a little stretched, but close. It also will send you an alert as the battery life falls below a level you can set.
Bottom Line: All in all, the device works exactly how it is advertised. It is a quality product that operates very reliably.
Now for the bad news: There are some practical issues with the device for a family like mine. If you don't already know, my son has Autism. He is extremely sensory and not very tolerant of bracelets, necklaces, anklets or jewelry of any kind. The day after it arrived, I charged it over night. My father came to pick up Eric early the next morning for their weekly Chuck E. Cheese date and I slipped the gizmo in the cargo pocket of his shorts for a test run. In fact, to be extra cautious with my new investment (and knowing my son), I used a safety pin to secure it inside the pocket. I dressed my little monster and off they went. An hour later I fired up my laptop and attempted to locate my son. The website indicated that he was still in my house. I refreshed it a bunch of times and thought their might be a slight delay, but the application still located the device in my house. I was halfway through dialing customer assistance, thinking it was malfunctioning, when I saw the gizmo sitting on the kitchen counter. Within 2 minutes of putting on his shorts Eric felt it, located it, removed it and discarded it.
I tried a second test run that evening. I ditched the subtle and slick approach and approached the problem directly. I secured it to the outside of his pants (belt loop) and pointed it out to him. I told him that it was very important and not to remove it. He removed it within 5 minutes and handed it to me.
For the device to have any trust-worthy value to me, I will have to implement a behavior plan to keep him from removing it and discarding it. Hiding it is simply not possible. It is just too big and thick. This isn't a deal-breaker and I am not giving up. But it will be a little more complicated than I had hoped. I will keep you posted and welcome your thoughts and comments!