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

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The Good The Hiku Labs Hiku's voice recognition and bar code scanning capabilities make it easy to build an app-based shopping list.

The Bad It's hard to beat pen and paper for list-making convenience.

The Bottom Line Hiku Labs' Hiku grocery list assistant has the potential to streamline list making (and shopping, pending a software update), but in its current state it's a little too spare to recommend.

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7.1 Overall
  • Features 7
  • Usability 8
  • Design 7
  • Performance 6

Review Sections

The first thing you might ask about the Hiku is why you need a $79 piece of hardware to help you make a grocery list.

The Hiku is a simple-seeming device with a few clever tricks built in. In its most basic mode, you press its only button, and either speak the name of a product or zap it with Hiku's bar code scanner, and that item will show up on Hiku's mobile app-based shopping list. To log unfamiliar UPCs, those from Trader Joe's, for example, Hiku will use crowdsourcing. Scan an unknown code, correct it by speaking the name of the product, and Hiku will associate the code with your description in its cloud-based database, where it then becomes recognizable to other Hiku owners.

Ties to an unspecified online shopping service will come soon, says Hiku Labs CEO Rob Katcher, which is part of the reason why Hiku Labs calls this a beta release ("like Google," Katcher said, referring to the lengthy beta status of Gmail and other Google software products). An Android version is in the works, but right now the device is iOS-only. The hardware is essentially final, but customers today can expect regular software and firmware updates.

Unless those updates bring about a major functional revamp -- and the online-shopping angle might do it -- the Hiku seems a bit like a solution in search of a problem. Katcher argues that Hiku's ease of use will help it find a place in a family's shopping routine. Buy it if you're intrigued by the promise of future online-shopping capabilities. Most of us will be otherwise fine with a pen and piece of paper.

Hiku Labs has taken a mostly sound approach to the Hiku's hardware design. A small, metal, plastic, and silicone-wrapped puck, Hiku has about the same heft as chunky sport watch (minus the band). A magnet on the back secures it to your refrigerator or some other metal surface. You can charge it via an included Micro-USB cable, and it talks to the iOS app via your 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network. The Hiku iOS app helps guide you through that initial connection.

Any failing of the hardware design comes down largely to the fact that it's a bit too streamlined. Its only visual external feedback comes by way of three LEDs behind the bar code reader window. Red, orange, and green lights will blink at you when the Hiku is ready to make a Wi-Fi connection, when it's on but not connected, when it's ready to scan something, when something went wrong with a scan. You can more or less guess what they mean, but it's not the most intuitive design, nor the most efficient. For real-time battery life status, for example, you'll need to refer to the Hiku app.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

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.

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