Review: A Day w/the Zoombak GPS Locator

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My pug Gus is micro-chipped. He’s never gotten lost *knock wood*, but if he did &mdash and somehow broke free from his dog tags &mdash I’m confident the chip could help garner a safe return home. However, pet hospitals and shelters stock a variety of scanners, which aren’t equally effective at picking up the varying frequencies of various chips.

Plus, if Gus gains weight, we could be screwed altogether. Blogger/veterinarian Patty Khuly explains: “For each 5-pound increase in body weight, the odds that a 125 kHz chip would be missed increases by 5%–by 8% for other frequencies.”

Rather than wandering the streets whistling and calling your dog’s name hours after you realize the pup’s gotten loose, you can get real-time location updates from the Zoombak, a small GPS unit which utilizes web-based Bing Maps, as well as email and SMS alerts.

In theory, this is brilliant. In reality, well, check after the jump for my experience tracking Gus…

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Tiny and lightweight (2.5 oz.), the Zoombak comes with a little Velcro pouch that attaches easily to your dog’s collar or harness. Wearing the device all day, Gus seemed to pay it no mind. Granted he has an ample supply of neck fat/skin/fur. So I’m not certain a chihuahua would have the same level of comfort, but then again, how often do chihuahuas go native?

Set Up & Initial Location

I charged the device overnight, logged into the demo account I was given, and figured I’d be good to go. Seemed easy enough. Not so much. I tried a number of times to locate the device online, but the service had trouble picking up my unit. After some back and forth with the folks at Zoombak, I tried cycling the power on and off one more time and the problem was solved. I’m told it’s difficult to get a signal in tall buildings or deep garages, but I was in a two-story building, literally 3 feet from a glass door that leads outside. Disappointing. Of course, my cell phone is via T-Mobile (same network the Zoombak uses), so I’m used to patchy coverage; though, I supposedly live in a “Best” zone.

Needless to say, once the device registered, it was smooth sailing.

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I have to admit I was a bit surprised to find such a staggered batch of updates — especially since Gus hadn’t crossed the street in the last six hours. Nevertheless, I don’t need a device to tell me what room of the house my dog is in. So I digress…

Safety Zones

I entered my home address online, initiated a 200-yard perimeter around that location, and requested both SMS and email alerts. In theory, anytime Gus left, then re-entered, that zone, I’d know right away.

It worked like gangbusters.

Here are the two email alerts, I received (the texts came promptly, too). The top email was when Gus and I left the safety zone to go to the dog park. The bottom, when he/we returned to the zone.

from: alerts@alerts.zoombak.com
to: steven@boingboing.net
date: Mon, Jun 8, 2009 at 7:45 PM
subject: ZBDemo20 Safety Zone Notification

ZBDemo20 has left Gus at 10:45 PM, 06/08/09.

Current Location is near 1176 [REDACTED], San Francisco, CA

from: alerts@alerts.zoombak.com
to: steven@boingboing.net
date: Mon, Jun 8, 2009 at 8:00 PM
subject: ZBDemo20 Safety Zone Notification

ZBDemo20 has arrived at Gus at 11:00 PM, 06/08/09.

Current Location is near 1556 [REDACTED], San Francisco, CA

Pretty neat. Then again, if the email provided a link to an actual map, that would be even neater.

Accuracy

Those initial staggered location logs lowered my expectations a bit. The Zoombak advertises accuracy with 10-20 feet. Much of the time, that was my experience.

In this instance, because I was walking with Gus, I know for a fact that the provided address was off by 1-2 blocks. We never made it that far north. Also, one minor point which I can chalk up to human error: the email alert said 10:45pm, even though I know it was 7:45pm. I forgot to specify my time zone, which is my fault, but the email doesn’t specify a time zone either, which could get confusing if you’re traveling or getting a late email after a long flight, etc. Then again, the email time stamp is quick clarification. Still, something to keep in mind if you’re NOT on the east coast and/or you forget to set the time zone, as I did.

Battery

I kept the device on Gus all day, about 7 hours more or less. Good to go the whole time.

Overall

If it’s an emergency, getting an update with a specific address that is even 1-2 blocks away from your dog is an AMAZING proposition. For only $100 and a monthly fee of $10-15, despite some technical difficulties, this thing’s a winner.

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7 Responses to Review: A Day w/the Zoombak GPS Locator

  1. bryan says:

    i bought a zoombak and have had nothing but trouble with it. it only works some of the time. you might get it to work once then a few minutes later it wont be able to locate it even if it in the same place as before. dont waste your money on it

  2. Rob Beschizza says:

    Morkus, your confirmation bias is showing. Better tuck it between your legs.

  3. morkus says:

    Show me a review of an expensive gadget which doesn’t involve the writer fawning all over it and perhaps I’ll be less skeptical.

  4. Steven Leckart says:

    Morkus,

    1) I didn’t realize using the word “Disappointing” in a review constitutes fawning.

    2) http://gadgets.boingboing.net/2009/06/09/review-a-weekend-wit-5.html

  5. morkus says:

    Why is it that every gadget review I’m reading on BBG the last few weeks sounds like it was bought and paid for?

    You all can’t seriously love a $200 knife sharpener, a $1000 wetsuit, and a $100 dog GPS unit (wtf?) as much as these gushing reviews imply.

  6. Odaecom says:

    OK so the battery lasted all day and then what you have to charge it, and hope the dog doesn’t hop out an open door without the device on?
    Does it have a stand-by mode that you can make location requests, that will give a more respectable battery life?

  7. ToolShedUK says:

    I’m going out on a limb here and disagree with Morkus.

    I thought this was a thorough review and despite the somewhat surprising thumbs up at the end it didn’t take much effort to read between the lines and see Steven’s overall impressions were mixed at best. Hey, who can blame him, he got it for free! If he had paid $100 for it (plus $120 a year…ay yi yi) Steven might have been inclined to bear his claws a little bit more.

    Come on, it’s a new product. Can you imagine the reviews for the Model-T? If people hadn’t been open to a few hiccups with THAT new technology we’d be here commenting on Steven’s review of Woolworth’s latest buggywhip.

    Dave Tool

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