When VSN Mobil announced the Bluetooth V.BTTN a few weeks ago, I was uncertain what exactly I would do with one. The concept of having a device which executes a series of commands at a single press is cool, but I couldn’t see it being a very useful addition to my daily routine. VSN Mobil was kind enough to send us over a variation of the V.BTTN which they’ve called the V.ALRT.
As soon as I saw the box, it was pretty clear as to what could easily become the main use of the V.BTTN – marketed as a Personal Emergency Alert Device. Almost everyone carries a mobile phone around these days, or at least keeps one near, and having a “wearable button” you can press in case of an emergency is a great idea. With the V.ALRT app, the V.BTTN will send a text and/or call up to three phone numbers that you specify. Additionally, the V.BTTN can be set up to do the same should it detect a fall.
While there are apps that can do similar things, the time it would take to grab your phone, most likely unlock it, launch the app, and then finally use the app, would be done already as the V.BTTN simplifies and automates the process with a simple press of the button that covers its surface.
The device itself looks fairly simple. It is slightly larger than a quarter, and just under 1/2″ thick. It comes with both a pendant and wrist band to allow the V.BTTN to be worn around the neck or on your wrist. A clip is also available separately. The V.BTTN fits very snug inside both, and took a bit of work to get properly set in place. The good thing about that is there’s no way I can see the V.BTTN accidentally becoming dislodged from either the pendant or wrist band. Though I do think I’d find the clip more useful over the wrist strap or pendant.
In order to use the V.BTTN as a V.ALRT device, you need to install the appropriate app (Android, iOS) for your device. After launching the app, the user is led through a straight forward series of screens to set up the V.ALRT app and connect it to the V.BTTN. There is a pretty lengthy Terms and Conditions – and in this case I highly suggest reading through them as there are some important points regarding the device itself. I’ve outlined a few of the key ones below.
- Data plan on your smartphone is required
- The V.ALRT application must be running at all times
- Keep Location services and Bluetooth activated/ON
- A mobile phone number is required for Text/SMS message options to function
- You must have at least one contact’s Text/SMS or Call selected in the Settings screen
- To receive audio alerts on your smartphone, make sure your smartphone is not in silent or vibrate mode
All of the above seem pretty straightforward given the nature of the V.BTTN and the functionality of it in conjunction with the V.ALRT application. More importantly though, is the list of what the V.BTTN DOES NOT do.
- Does NOT call or initiate 911 calls
- Does NOT have a microphone or speaker
- Does NOT make or receive phone calls
- Does NOT directly send SMS messages
- …and the list goes on
For the tech inclined, this would pretty much be common knowledge, for the general public it’s nice to see VSN Mobil put this helpful information into their Terms & Conditions – as much as it is to cover themselves, it’s presented in such a format that it’s easy to read and understand.
The first real step in the setup is selecting your country. At this time, only the United States, Brazil, and Mexico are supported choices. Next, and one of the key features of V.ALRT, is entering in information for up to three contacts to text and/or call when the button is pressed.
After you’ve entered in your contact(s) and toggled the sending options, you can set your Alert Message.
Next, you are prompted to activate your V.ALRT. It is important – as noted above – that you have Bluetooth enabled on your smartphone at this point.
Now that your V.ALRT is paired with your smartphone, you can activate it and your first message will go out to your contacts notifying them that you have added them as an emergency contact to your V.ALRT app.
After the app is set up, any of the above options can be changed through the easy to use app interface.
The V.BTTN itself is pretty foolproof to use. Simply press on the surface for 2-8 seconds and a signal is sent to your smartphone. Almost instantly, your contacts receive a text message with your location hyperlinked to Google Maps, and/or a phone call. As I mentioned in the setup, the V.ALRT app only supports the United States, Mexico, and Brazil and at this time the calling feature does not work in Canada. When asked about it, VSN Mobil stated that “unfortunately the callback feature will not work in Canada as we have not provisioned it for up there. Our distribution is focused on the US and LATAM at the moment. We will get the V.ALRT up in Canada soon”.
I also tested out the fall detection alert and had mixed results. It seemed to work about half the time, but in the Terms & Conditions upon launching the V.ALRT app for the first time it does mention that “fall detection accuracy depends on the nature and impact of the fall”. When it did work, the app initiates a 60 second count down before alerting your contacts which allows you to cancel the alert in cases where notifying your contacts isn’t necessary. Once it initiates the contact sequence, the text message sent actually indicates that it detected a fall.
In case you’ve misplaced your V.BTTN, the app comes with a Find V.ALRT function which causes the V.ALRT to flash red and beep for 20 seconds. The V.BTTN uses a CR2032 battery which is supposed to last about a year. It is also waterproof up to 1m (3′) for up to 30 minutes. Immersion in a sink of water had no effect on the device, so there shouldn’t be a concern with getting the V.BTTN wet.
We were told that the the V.BTTN and the V.ALRT utilize the same hardware and the apps are interchangeable. The only difference between them is packaging – the V.ALRT emphasizes the emergency response use case, while the V.BTTN emphasizes the ability to create your own apps or download them. At the time of testing, there was only one other app available on the Google Play Store and I was unable to install it due to device incompatibility – presumably country restricted.
VSN Mobil did hold a contest during development and some of the available apps are listed below.
- Click-Shot (iOS): Control your camera with the remote V.BTTN! Take group photos, action shots, and videos.
- V.BTTN Walkie Talkie (Android): Send and receive voice messages in real-time at the push of a button.
- V.BTTN Mic (iOS): Use the V.BTTN as a remote control to start and stop audio recording.
- V.BTTN Blare (iOS): Play an emergency loud sound when the V.BTTN is pressed for more than a second. This will work even if the app is in background mode.
- V.BTTN Cam (iOS): Snap photos and videos with a press of a button.
It will be interesting to see what other applications people can think of for interacting with the V.BTTN.
At first I was unsure of how useful a Bluetooth button would be, but combined with the V.ALRT application I can definitely see some practical real-world usage. The V.BTTN works as intended, and even though the app was running in the background on my phone, it didn’t seem to use up too much more battery than it uses with my existing setup. The one drawback of the device – and it’s not the fault of VSN Mobil or the device itself – is that I can see the best use application for this system being for elderly relatives or children, and these are two age groups (more so children depending on age) which may not necessarily have a smartphone.
That being said, the V.BTTN/V.ALRT combination definitely cuts out the number of steps required by a traditional app for initiating an emergency message and works well. Adding call support to more countries would definitely increase the appeal of the V.BTTN in more markets.
If you are concerned about personal safety for yourself or a family member, the V.ALRT is definitely a personal emergency alert device solution you should look into. The V.ALRT is available at VSN Mobil’s website.