Having spent most of Christmas away, I’ve been pretty quiet on the writing front lately. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t still working.
During my time away I was able to test out two products from Vodafone xone, a relatively unknown division of Vodafone that specialises in testing new products and services on early adopters.
The two products are each tracking solutions; Drivexone and Findxone. The former connects to a vehicle, the latter is a portable tracking device for putting in a bag, suitcase, or perhaps a child’s pocket.
The xone concept
There’s very much a feeling of being a beta tester when looking around the site, but the rewards can be great. Namely getting early access to exciting new products, and paying less in the process.
Even Amazon now has its own Launchpad section to sell new ideas to a more niche market, and all of this means a greater chance of new ideas becoming a success, as companies can afford to take a punt on manufacturing things in small numbers, and without having to spend a fortune on marketing.
Vodafone has a relatively small portfolio of products and services at the moment, but is looking to expand all the time. On my recent trip to Vodafone, I was able to meet Paddy Harrison Harvey, head of Vodafone xone, who explained the thinking behind it all and also talked about some new products in the works.
Everything is sold and marketed via the Vodafone website, but products are despatched from Amazon, meaning you can enjoy free next day delivery.
User engagement is key
Customers engage via Vodafone’s e-forums, where new ideas for devices and services (Vodafone is also keen to develop apps) can be discussed. Users might also find themselves invited to take part in trials of products before release on the xone store, effectively becoming alpha-testers.
Successful products might then go on to make full-scale production and get a wider release, such as being sold in Vodafone retail stores and elsewhere.
The two devices I received to review are very basic to look at, reflecting the lack of investment in fancy materials or packaging, but it’s all about the technology inside. This keeps prices low.
As tracking devices, 2G is used for the best coverage and the acknowledgement that the amount of data being sent and received is tiny. Each has a GPS receiver to give accurate location tracking.
2G’s superior coverage makes it more logical than 3G or 4G, as well as the reduced power consumption.
Usage even includes roaming, with no extra data usage costs beyond the the monthly subscription fee of £3 per month for the Drivexone (after a £60 purchase fee for the unit itself) and £2 per month for the Findxone (and £15 for the device).
Without the Vodafone logo, you’d have no reason to think this was anything more than an adapter for car mechanics to use. That’s no bad thing, as thieves are unlikely to recognise it as anything they should whip out if they decide to steal your pride and joy.
There are of course more expensive tracking system on offer, carefully hidden away and coming with a 24/7 tracking service that can contact the police even before you know your car, van or lorry has been stolen.
Oh, but they cost more to buy, install and keep going with a monthly or annual subscription. A lot more!
With Drivexone, you can be alerted if the vehicle moves when you don’t expect it, but from there you will have to do the work yourself. However, even as a much more simplistic offering, it’s very reassuring to know you can check at any time to see where your car is.
Even if it’s just checking it’s still outside the house when you’re in bed.
Setting the Drivexone up is incredibly simple, as proven by the incredibly simplistic instructions that come in the box and are designed to let Vodafone sell the device around the world without having to customise for each territory.
By connecting the unit itself to the engine management port on your vehicle, it doesn’t just send locations, but also interrogates the car to look for any errors that might warrant a trip to a garage. It can also detect other things, like hard braking or excessive acceleration.
A good way to keep an eye on younger drivers perhaps?
Keeping track of journeys also enables you to keep records that could be useful for, say, putting in expenses claims for travel. All the data can be exported to be added to a spreadsheet, and you can see exactly where you went from and to, including the time taken to do so.
Setting up the app is easy once you’ve logged in to the xone account you’ll have already created when ordering the device. There’s no need to pair with the device, because the device communicates directly via mobile data to the xone servers, which then passes the information on to you.
The details you need are printed on a sticker on the underside of the device, and once in the car you should have no reason to ever need to remove it.
You can also add multiple Drivexone devices to your account, which is useful if you have a fleet of vehicles and wish to keep tabs on their location.
The app has a number of features, including seeing your vehicle location, the status of the vehicle, previous trips, alerts (such as errors that might warrant a trip to a dealership), insights (hard braking, excessive acceleration, hard cornering etc), car profiles (car details, driver details etc), data export, and support and feedback options.
Vodafone invites feedback because these products are very much works in progress, and users can gain new features based on constructive feedback.
Drivexone is an incredibly affordable device. £3 a month isn’t going to break a bank, and there’s no chance of bill shock because it covers all your data usage, even when roaming.
As long as your vehicle has a compatible (OBD-II) connector, which probably covers most vehicles going back to the early 2000s, then you’ll be able to make use of it.
As such, I’d recommend anyone to invest in one. After the initial £60 purchase fee, £36 a year to keep track of a vehicle is a no-brainer.
The chances are if this device ever goes into full commercial production, getting a fancier set of instructions and a nicer casing, it’s going to cost a lot more but still do the exact same thing!
At just £15 and £24 per year, the Findxone is an even cheaper tracker, and one that is a lot more flexible. But by its very nature, it relies on a battery which introduces some limitations.
If you want to keep track of something as accurately as possible when moving, you’ll need to charge it a lot – perhaps once or even twice per day.
Like the Drivexone, setting up was simple and straight forward. Inside the box you get a charging cable (a normal USB-A to micro-USB lead; there’s no power supply), the tracking device, and a weird stretchy rubber holder with hook, which I found rather tricky to manipulate to squeeze the tracker inside and equally annoying when trying to remove it.
It’s not something you only have to do once, as it can’t be charged inside the holder. As such, I can’t imagine it lasting long (before it splits), although mine will because I decided never to use it. Far easier to just slip the unit in a bag or pocket and have done with.
I have to say that out of the two products, the Findxone seems to require a lot more work. Before I even got started, I had the device get ‘stuck’ and refuse to turn off, but at the same time not sending any tracking information.
I strongly suspect it had crashed, given the power light was fixed on, and the only way to fix things was to let the battery die. There was no reset procedure that I could find (and I did try holding the power button for increasingly long periods of time in the hope it might work).
Hardly a way to inspire confidence in using this to keep track of a valuable item.
The app also had problems of its own. More often than not it gave an error and quit. It’s only when the Findxone periodically sends a location or reports a status change (like low battery) that you get a notification, which then allows the app to start.
Once the app does successfully start, you can see the current (and previous) locations for the device, and any others you may also own and have added to the same account.
It’s clear the app should always be letting you see this information, but whereas I’ve had three updates to the Drivexone app in just one month, at the time of writing there has been nothing for Findxone.
Even for my review, I was unable to get the app to load to get screengrabs. I’ll try and add some later, but I didn’t wan to delay publishing my review and it only goes to make a point that it’s so unreliable.
When it did work, I also found it tricky to create zones and adjust the reporting period. While you can set automatic notifications at set intervals, which I found hard to adjust and save, creating zones will trigger immediate alerts if the Findxone goes outside them.
Common sense says that with something this buggy, I can’t really recommend the Findxone in its current state, but assuming these issues are fixed then it’s another highly affordable product that could prove incredibly valuable.
I should add that I haven’t had time to try the app on other devices, nor iOS, so it could be an issue related to the phone/OS (Nexus 6P, Android 6).
I’ll be keeping a look out for any updates, and will come back and revise my review if anything changes. I wanted this to be something I’d find useful, and hope it can redeem itself in the future.
The other products
Galleryxone is a simple Android app that analyses the content of your photos to sort them into categories. It’s free, but not really anything that Google Photos and other solutions aren’t already doing today.
There’s a lot of money going into the automatic recognition of faces, products and locations to aid searching, but it seems to me rather unnecessary for Vodafone to even want to try and get into this sort of thing when Google and Microsoft seem to have it all under control.
Motoxone is a tracker specially designed for scooters, with a cost of £25 for the unit and £2 per month for tracking. When put in the scooter’s storage compartment, the device will look out for unauthorised movement and alert the owner automatically, with the option to call the police and give the location.
Earlier I mentioned the possibility of using a Findxone as a tracker for a child, perhaps putting the device in a coat pocket. It’s doable (if you’d trust it to work properly, which for now I absolutely wouldn’t), but Vodafone is also working on a more practical solution.
The hereO watch takes the Findxone and puts the hardware inside a watch, along with a basic display to show the time.
The model I was shown by Paddy at Vodafone’s HQ is still very much in prototype form, but the concept seems sound.
Just like the Findxone, you’ll be able to use a mobile app for Android and iOS to keep track of the whereabouts of a child, and receive alerts if s/he moves outside of a defined zone – such as a shopping centre.
Depending on the final design, or if there’s in fact a choice of styles, the product could also be useful for older people suffering dementia that can sometimes walk off and get lost.
As long as the price is similar to that of the Findxone, it would seem like yet another worthwhile investment that shouldn’t need a lot of consideration.
Finally, another device in the works is Bikexone, yet another tracking device that is this time designed for ordinary bikes. The device, with a battery good for around two days of tracking, also contains a light.
The £99 device (and £2 per month) is securely attached to the bike, with a removable battery pack that can be charged indoors each night.
I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to test out many prototypes, including products that never make it to market. While there’s nothing on offer here that is incredibly unique, there’s still a certain buzz from trying out things that aren’t yet mass market.
Best of all, you can get something that offers the same functionality for a fraction of the price of similar products already on the market.
Drivexone is by far the winning product here, being stable and offering functionality you wouldn’t expect for just £36 a year. Just look at how much more it would cost to get similar connectivity added to a new car, even if you might be able to set the air conditioner remotely or pre-heat the engine.
The hereO watch for children, if as affordable and reliable, is something that parents are unlikely to be able to resist for that extra reassurance.
Vodafone xone is all about trying things out. Some things will work, some won’t. Some things may never go into full production as a result, but it is good to see a company that’s willing to give things a go.
I’ll be keeping an eye on xone in the future and aim to keep you informed on new developments, but don’t let that stop you keeping an eye on the site yourself.
And if you’ve bought anything yourself from the store, or plan to, or just have any questions of your own, please comment below.
More info: Vodafone xone