Hiku Labs Hiku review: Speak and scan for an app-based grocery list

Another quirk is the reset button. To press it, you need to stab blindly with a thin piece of metal into a tiny divot under the USB input. With luck, you'll hit the button. Katcher recommended a paper clip, but the hole is so tiny that even that seemed like it would mar the casing. I had the best luck with a stripped bobby pin. A sewing needle could also work. Thankfully, you shouldn't need to hit the reset button that often.

The app is of course also where you'll manage your Hiku-generated shopping lists. You can enter items on the list in a variety of ways, both with the Hiku unit and without. In addition to speaking and scanning, you can use an app-bound bar code scanner that reads codes with your smartphone camera. It works about as well as the hardware version. You can also manually type in items, or choose items you've previously entered from a list of favorites, aka "regulars."

The Hiku app isn't much more complicated than that. An aisle feature can organize like items by category, clustering them around typical locations in a grocery store. Swipe an individual item and the app moves it to the crossed-off section at the bottom of the list. Tap an item and you get a menu that lets you add it to your list of regulars and populate or move that item to another list.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

I found Hiku's voice and bar code recognition mostly reliable. It didn't always pick up my voice entry correctly (its error when I said "peanuts" was notable). And some bar codes showed up incorrectly, too. It's hard to feel too disappointed by these mistakes, since they're all easy enough to correct by typing directly in the app. The cloud-based bar code logging may also help matters.

You can enter multiple instances of an item by entering it multiple times (say "milk" twice, or scan a carton of eggs more than once). What you can't do is scan or say multiple items at a time. So if you want to enter cheese and eggs and milk, you can't say "cheese and eggs and milk" unless you want that phrase to appear as a single line item. Instead you need to enter them in one at a time.

Hiku's in-app scanning function.
Hiku's in-app scanning function. Rich Brown/CNET

Software and device responsiveness can also be annoyingly slow. I occasionally saw delays of a minute or more between entering an item and the item appearing on my list. On other occasions, pressing the button to enter an item made the device beep and flash at me as if I'd just entered in an unfamiliar command. Neither of those issues is enough to turn me off Hiku by itself (our office Wi-Fi network could also have had a hand in the delay), and it's possible that future software updates will smooth things out.

When I ask why I would need a Hiku, it's not only asking from a utility standpoint, but also given that contemporary smartphones offer both bar code scanning and voice recognition. Why isn't the Hiku just an app?

Katcher's response to this question centers on simplicity. If Hiku was just a software product, you'd need to find your phone and track down the app to use it, eliminating any convenience benefit over traditional pen-and-paper list making. With a single-function device at hand on your refrigerator, the Hiku hardware speeds up item logging, and makes it fun, Katcher argues. "A 5-year-old can use it," he said.

Deciphering a 5-year-old's voice entry doesn't sound like the biggest argument for the Hiku's convenience, but even if I'm skeptical about its present ease of use, I'm intrigued enough by the possibility of future online ordering capability that I'm not yet ready to write the Hiku off. Logging a shopping list and hitting "buy" sounds pretty convenient. Katcher says Hiku Labs is still working out its approach to this feature, and the company has not yet decided whether it will debut with a regional service or some nationwide retailer.

I will keep tabs on the Hiku as it develops and update this review accordingly. For now, it's not a slam dunk, but there's enough novelty and potential for convenience that the general gadget enthusiast might enjoy using it. It's not a must-buy right now, but the Hiku is worth keeping an eye on. You can pre-order here.

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