The PocketFinder personal GPS locator by Location Based Technologies is an unassuming device. It's basically a small lump of white plastic with no buttons, no lights, and no obvious purpose. However, inside are an accurate GPS location antenna and an always-on connection to the Internet. Attach this device to something (or someone) that you'd like to keep tabs on and you'll always know where it is in the world. This could give you a bit of extra peace of mind in the event that your dog leaves the yard while you're at work, a child or person with special needs wanders away during a shopping trip, or your laptop case goes missing from the local coffee shop.
The PocketFinder locator device itself is rather small, measuring 1.625 inches wide by 2.25 inches tall with a thickness of about 0.625 inch. It tips our scales to the tune of a mere tenth of a pound (1.6 ounces), so it is definitely very pocket-friendly. The PocketFinder is devoid of controls or indicators. There is no power switch or reset button. The only distinguishing features are the embossed PocketFinder logo on the front of the unit and, on the back of the unit, a sticker that carries the device activation number and two flush metal contacts that connect the PocketFinder to its charging cradle.
The PocketFinder is always on and, as I'll discuss shortly, all of its settings are handled online. The unit's body is completely sealed and is waterproof, dust-proof, and shockproof. LBT tells us that the PocketFinder could be run over by a car and suffer no ill effects, but we decided not to test that claim.
After unboxing the PocketFinder hardware, charging the device is as simple as plugging the charging base--a 2.75-inch circular puck with an indentation for the PocketFinder locator--into a wall outlet using the included AC adapter and placing the locator atop it. An LED on the charging base will illuminate red to indicate that charging is under way and then turn green when charging is complete.
Next, you register the device online with the PocketFinder service and a service plan is set up. There's only one plan to choose from, a $12.95-per-month, pay-as-you-go service that includes every service and function that I'll explain in the next section of the review. Two months of service are included with the purchase of the hardware.
And then you're done and ready to attach the PocketFinder device to whatever you'd like to track. The PocketFinder personal locator that I was able to test ships with a pair of gel skins that slip over the puck-shaped device and make it so you can attach a metal ring and D-clip for attaching the locator to belt loops, backpacks, pets' collars, navel rings, et cetera.
Once the PocketFinder device has been set up online, you'll be able to poke around the Web site to access all of the features and functions of the device.
For starters, you can view the device's most recently reported location on a Google Map overlay and trigger a request for an instantaneous update if the device is between reporting intervals. The reported information includes an approximate street address, current speed and heading, distance traveled, altitude, latitude and longitude, and battery and signal strength.
Users can also view a 60-day location history of the device in 1-hour increments. There's also a zones setting that lets you mark areas on a map and receive notifications via e-mail, text message, or mobile-app notification whenever the device enters and exits the zone. You can also set a speed limit for personal and automotive PocketFinder units and receive notifications when it is exceeded.
Finally, a set of power settings allows you to balance the frequency of updates with the device's expected battery life. The most conservative setting (the one that we tested at) sends automatic batch location updates to the Web site every 60 minutes and checks if it's in a zone every 15 minutes. I say batch updates because the device actually checks and caches its location every few minutes, only uploading that cache to the Web site at the predetermined interval. At this setting, PocketFinder estimates five to seven days of battery life, but during our testing the device went dark after three days. Your mileage may vary as a number of factors determine the PocketFinder's battery life. For example, an internal sensor detects whether the unit is moving and puts it into a power-saving sleep mode if it sits still for 30 minutes.
More aggressive power settings include modes that send location updates every 30, 20, and 10 minutes with battery life estimates dropping to as low as two to three days at the most frequent update setting. Additionally, you can set up notifications for when the battery life drops below a preset level.
Users can track multiple devices on one account, which makes it easy to keep tabs on an entire family. Additionally, each account can have multiple users with different levels of access to the information. For example, you could set up a limited account so a friend, family member, or--in the event of a missing person--local law enforcement can track a device's location, but doesn't have access to billing information.
Users on the go can also access every function available on the Web site through a free iOS app for iPhone and iPad, from tracking individual and multiple devices on a live-updating Google Map to viewing the 60-day location history, speed, and altitude of a particular device to monitoring and setting alert zones and power settings. You can even edit advanced account settings directly from the app. Additionally, you can receive any zone, battery, or other notification as a push alert on the smartphone or tablet.
With the exception of the device history screen (which can get cluttered quickly due to the way iOS formats map point labels) the interface of the iOS app is on par with, if not superior to, the one on the actual Web site, making this a very viable primary point of interaction with the PocketFinder device and service.
As GPS locators go, the PocketFinder system is one of the easiest that I've tested. It's got no power button to fiddle with, no moving parts to break, and no status lights to annoy you. The addition of the cradle charger means that you don't even need to think about plugging it in or digging around for a charging cable--you just toss the PocketFinder onto the contacts every few days and get on with your night.
Additionally, the PocketFinder's soft gel case makes it easier to attach the locator to a backpack, belt loop, purse, or pet's collar than, for example, the bulky (but also more durable) zippered and strapped case that comes with the smaller Garmin GTU 10 personal locator. PocketFinder's colorful cases are also less of an eyesore. And, interestingly, the lack of obvious PocketFinder branding hides the device's intentions as a GPS locator (as opposed to the Garmin branding on the GTU 10's case). In fact, for the entire week that I wore the PocketFinder, no one could guess what the small green and white bauble hanging from my belt loop was. This leads me to believe that thieves, kidnappers, and other ne'er-do-wells will be less likely to spot and discard the device despite the fact that it is more brightly colored.
At an MSRP of $150, the PocketFinder also undercuts the GTU 10's $200 price tag significantly, making it the obvious choice where entry cost is concerned. However, because both of these devices require a service plan to operate, costs over time should be considered before choosing either. With a no-contract $12.95-per-month service fee and the two free months included, the PocketFinder will cost you about $130 for the first year and a maximum of $156 per year thereafter to run, whereas the GTU ships with one year of its extremely limited basic service for free and will cost you only $50 per year thereafter. However, to match the level of functionality of the PocketFinder plan, the GTU 10 requires an additional $5 per month Deluxe service tier. So the PocketFinder purchase and continuous service end up costing $66 more than the GTU 10 after two years of ownership. For the extra greenbacks, PocketFinder's service gets you 60 days of location history versus Garmin's 7 days.
So which personal locator should you buy? The PocketFinder has the edge in physical design, ease of use, and Web interface design. Based purely on the user experience, it is the superior device. However, it will be the more expensive device in the long run despite its lower initial cost. For some, that will be money well spent, but those looking to save money in the long run should consider the Garmin unit (particularly if the hardware can be found at a discounted price).
Note: All prices and plans are listed per device, so users interested in tracking multiple devices should multiply my estimates by the number of intended units.
Editors' note: Updated with more accurate pricing information and to correct the days of available location history to 60.