Securus eZoom tracking and safety locator review:

Compact GPS tracker finds yo' kids, finds yo' wife

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The Find link pings the device for a near instant update of its status. Using the Track command puts the device into a near-continuous monitoring mode where the location is reported every 20 seconds, giving close to real-time location data for up to an hour.

History brings up a submenu that lets users view the historical locations of the device for any period in the last few hours up to the last 90 days. The location data for a range of dates can also be downloaded as a Excel file for offline storage. Users can also delete historical data for a range of dates from this menu.

Finally, Settings is where users can adjust a number of preferences for the Securus eZoom device. Here, users can assign the device a unique name and icon, specify what e-mail addresses or SMS mobile phone numbers will receive alerts from the device, and what types of alerts will be sent. Alert types include power-down warnings, low-battery warnings, high-speed warnings, and geofence "SafeSpot" entry and exit notifications.

Securus eZoom
Geofences are virtual boundaries that trigger notifications for GPS-tracked objects. Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

A geofence is a virtual boundary that users can set surrounding a point or address on a map. When the Securus service senses that the eZoom device has crossed into or out of one of these boundaries, it can send a notification to the account owner. Interesting that Securus only seems to send in and out notifications, where many other services that I've tested let users specify in, out, or both, and even specify hours that the boundaries are active. With these other services, the user could set up, for example, to receive notifications only when their car leaves the garage at night. With the eZoom, I'd get notifications every time I left or returned home.

Users can specify a radius around the central point, but Securus warns that specifying too small of a radius can cause false alarms when the device moves to an interior position. It's simply a limitation of the technology when relying on cellular towers for positioning. I specified a 500-yard range around CNET's San Francisco office (admittedly, a massive swath of land, but enough to tell whether I was at work or not) and received no false alarms.

Securus eZoom
While highly functional, the Securus Android app was slow and buggy. Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

In, addition to the Web portal, Securus offers free mobile apps for Android, iPhone, and BlackBerry devices. I tested the Android version. The app worked but felt sluggish and mostly appeared to be a container for a mobile version of the Securus Web site. On the positive side, the app did allow me to access nearly every function accessible from the full Web site, including locating the eZoom device on a map, tracking its position in near real-time, and making changes to the settings for notifications and "SafeSpots."

The app also includes the ability to navigate to the position of the eZoom device, a feature not available through the browser.

How well does it work? (Performance)

Looking at my historical route for the weekend, it's nowhere close to a real-time account. The high points are there, but it's not as accurate as I thought it would be. For example, I spent a number of hours cycling around Oakland's Lake Merritt, but the eZoom showed only four reported positions, all within a few feet of each other. With updates coming every few minutes, I expected a much more granular representation of the day's activities. It's entirely conceivable that Securus' software was simplifying my position, but at my furthest I was about a mile away from the reported position.

Securus eZoom
The eZoom's default mode wasn't granular enough to show my movements around the lake. Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Making use of the Track mode would certainly force the level of granular reporting that I expected, but the function would often hang at a "Please wait while we track your locator" screen for minutes at a time when triggered. On more than a few occasions, I just quit and tried again later. This wait is frustrating when the "Find" function seems to take just seconds.

So the Securus service doesn't really do a great job of real-time tracking (that's not really what it's built for), but that doesn't mean that it doesn't do a good job of keeping tabs on where the device is and where it's been. It may not have known exactly where on the lake I was, but it did note that I was at the lake for the hours that I was there. (Were I curious to know more specific data at the moment, the Find or Track functions would have been able to supply that data.)

Looking back over a weekend of collected data, I may not have seen every street I traveled and every turn that I made, but the high points of the days' activities were reflected in the data. I think that for users interested in tracking a person or thing attached to the eZoom, the "Where is it" was more important than the specifics of "How did it get there."

The eZoom's true strength lies in its worry-free operation. With a battery life of about a week (and up to three), geofence notifications, and precise location on demand, I never had to worry about the eZoom. The device stayed in my backpack for an entire weekend, never once beeping or requiring charging or other direct interaction. After my experiences with devices like the Garmin GTU 10, which seemed to need constant attention and that were nowhere near as accurate as this Securus device (thanks to its A-GPS receiver), the eZoom was a breath of fresh air. However, that convenience comes at a cost.

Is it worth the dough? (In sum)

The Securus eZoom retails for $99.99, which gets you device itself. That doesn't seem like a high price for the ability to know where something valuable is at all times, but it's not the entire price. Like the example set by razor manufacturers, the real money's in the blades -- or in this case, the subscription fees.

Securus charges a $30 setup/activation fee to get you started with the eZoom, and then $19.99 per month to monitor the eZoom and keep the data feed active. Securus also locks you in with minimum one-year contract and charges a cancellation fee if you decide to stop using the service. All in all, your first year of services ends up costing a healthy $369.87.

Securus eZoom
The eZoom offers worry-free tracking of your valuables, but that convenience comes at a cost. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Pay for a year of service up front and Securus will give you a discount, dropping the equivalent monthly fee down to $14.99 and lowering the setup charge to $15, thus reducing your first year costs to $294.87 and saving you about $75. Pay for two years up front and the monthly equivalent drops to $12.99, but after those two years are up, it appears that you'll drop to the one-year discount level.

I recoiled a bit when I'd finished calculating the operation cost. Most of the people I showed the eZoom to around the CNET offices also stated that keeping the eZoom connection simply costs too much. Lower the monthly price to somewhere in the $7- to $10-per-month range or let users go month-to-month on their service without cancellation fees and it would be a much better buy.

However, you could weigh that cost against the cost of recovering a stolen car or the priceless value of a child's life, and justify the expense.

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