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Hiku Labs Hiku (2015) review: The Gen-2 Hiku is promising, but still underdeveloped

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MSRP: $79.00
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The Good The second generation's simple interface and clever design up the appeal of the Hiku shopping assistant.

The Bad Hiku's performance is more reliable, but still hit-or-miss, and the app's new features -- especially "Get it now" -- are underdeveloped.

The Bottom Line Hiku Labs has made significant improvements over its original device, but in an increasingly competitive connected-grocery market, the Hiku can't quite justify itself.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.5 Overall
  • Features 6
  • Usability 9
  • Design 8
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

Imagine an alternate reality in which you don't have to go grocery shopping. That's the future Hiku Labs is hoping to make possible with its second-generation Hiku, a shopping assistant available online at the Hiku Labs website for $50, or $80 after the December promotional period. Basically, the Hiku magnets to your fridge, and when you finish a jug of milk or another grocery, you scan its barcode before you toss it, and the item is added to your shopping list. With the original Hiku, that's where things ended. But now, thanks to partnerships with Walmart Online Grocery and Peapod's grocery delivery service, you can upload that list to an online system that will purchase and (with Peapod) even deliver your groceries.

Besides the minor hiccups I've come to expect from voice-activated devices, the Hiku works pretty well -- the second-generation device has certainly sharpened the design of the first. The app is functional, and compatible with iOS and Android. I just don't see Hiku streamlining the grocery-list process any more than a note on your phone already does. That said, the device, in combination with one of its two purchasing services, could really reduce the frustration of buying groceries for busy families and disabled persons.

What's new?

In 2013 we reviewed the first-generation Hiku -- a clever grocery-list assistant that we decided was cool, but not worth its $80 price tag. Now, Hiku Labs has released the second-generation Hiku; the device is upgraded and its design has been sharpened. Both generations will get access to the also-new online grocery feature, but my first question is, what's new with the Hiku device itself?

Chris Monroe/CNET

The gen-2 Hiku's design is clever. At first glance, it just looks like a white plastic puck with a silver button on one side and a magnet on the other. But the design has been improved since the first generation: the body is sealed tighter to make it more liquid resistant, the button is responsive, protective rubber covers the edges of the scanning window. Overall, the device feels durable and stylish at once, and the unfinished look of some first-generation design features has been fixed.

The Hiku still attaches to most fridges (if you have a stainless-steel one, you're out of luck) allowing easy access in the kitchen. And whereas the first generation took a few seconds to wake up when you wanted to scan a product, this Hiku features an instant-on interface. This touch, while small, makes a big difference for usability: latency almost never gets in the way of efficient use.

Chris Monroe/CNET

I enjoy how the gen-2 Hiku looks and handles, but I don't like how it communicates. Like the first Hiku, when you scan something, the device will bleat either a low or high note, or it will make a bah-bah-bah noise. It's an unclear method of communication, and I only got a handle on it when I spent extended periods of time scanning groceries. Basically a low note means it didn't register the item, a higher note means it did register it, and the tri-note indicates that it registered, but didn't recognize the item (so you have to enter the app and type in the name).

The code sounds simple enough, but if I were scanning single items throughout the week, I'd probably forget which sound signaled what, and have to check my app to make sure the scans registered properly.

What's it do?

The Hiku is quick to set up and easy to use. No paper directions accompany the device; just a sticker that says, "To get started, get the app." And it really is that simple. The app walks you through the process of syncing the Hiku with your Wi-Fi network -- a process that involves light-blinked communication between your phone and the Hiku device. Within 5 minutes of opening the box, the Hiku should be ready to use.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Practically, the Hiku itself does two primary actions: it scans barcodes and it listens to you speak the names of items, like "milk" or "eggs." Then it logs those items into a list on the Hiku app. Both of these functions work pretty well. Besides the hiccups most of us have come to expect using Siri, Alexa, or any of the countless other voice systems on the market, the word recognition is pretty solid.

The scanning function is a little iffier. Big-brand products, like Kraft cheese, will scan without a problem. But if you shop at stores like Trader Joe's or Whole Foods that deal primarily in proprietary brands, the scanner's item-recognition is hit-or-miss. This is largely because Hiku depends on crowdsourced data for these items. So I got surprising precision on some items ("Trader Joe's 2008 Vintage Ale") and enigmatic descriptions on others ("Trader joes greek strawberry yogurt and a couple for mommy too please").

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