Kensington BungeeAir iPhone Lock: First Look

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A wireless security device with an extra battery pack, that also finds your keys – we like Kensington’s thinking

Kensington has made a name for itself with the Kensington Security Slot that has been included in laptops for 20 years. Now the company aims to help people not to lose their iPhones.

Companies regularly suffer data loss when phones go missing, and in the UK can be penalised by the Information Commissioners’ Office (ICO) for such losses. Kensington’s answer is a wireless tether that warns you – and locks your phone – when you and your phone part company.

Better than the Kensington lock?

When Kensington’s business development director Stephen Hoare promised to show us a physical security solution, we envisaged something like the locks they provide for laptops – a cable anchored to the device.

Frankly, that’s not a great solution for PCs (we’ve lost laptops which were anchored by Kensington or Kensington-clones) and would be ludicrous for a smartphone.

Fortunately, Kensington is well aware of this. What Hoare brought round to eWEEK Europe’s offices is a plastic case for an iPhone 4, which has a wireless tether to a key fob.

Walk out of the room without your phone, and the fob makes an alarm and vibrates, while the phone powers off and locks – after a six second grace period. Come back into the room and you can unlock the phone with your password, and carry on.

The whole thing costs £99.99, which might sound a bit steep, but Kensington has packed a few good features in this, and is relying on the business market, where sooner or later this kind of protection may become essential. So far, it’s only for the iPhone 4, but other phones might follow. Frankly, the company is following the money.

The case feels more robust than many normal iPhone cases, and somewhat heavier due to the battery, and the extra connectors at the bottom. However, the phone still felt comfortable in the hand. Kensington makes no claims about the case’s ability to absorb shocks, or to improve the wireless performance of the iPhone 4.

Wireless tether

The wireless link  can be set on long or short range – theoretically the short range is 15m, but this depends on the radio properties of the building. In our quick test, it went off within about five metres, when the fob-carrier went up a staircase. the longer range (23m in theory) is designed for open plan offices.

The radio link uses 2.4GHz – the same frequency as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi – but it’s a different, low-power protocol. The watch-batteries in the fob should last six months.

To use the link, there is an app. Once this is installed, the fob is quickly paired, and then the tether can be set to register when the devices are separated.

Case contains a battery

The case contains a 1,500 mAh battery, which Hoare says will power your phone for up to four and half hours, depending on whether you are actually using it. Four LEDs on the back show how much charge is in the battery, and you charge the phone by pressing a button on the back.

The case has a standard 30-pin Apple connector inside, and a micro-USB connector on the outside. The kit comes with a USB cable for this micro-USB port, which carries charge and data.

We like it that the kit brings the iPhone into line with the rest of the world, which was standardised on micro-USB some while ago, but Hoare says this wasn’t a design goal: it is just that Apple doesn’t allow “pass through” connectors.

The fob alerts you when you leave your phone – or someone takes it away – and also if anyone tries to take the case off. It is held by a latch, but when someone undoes it, the phone is shut down, and the fob alerted.

The alert also works to locate the phone if it is simply mislaid, causing it to produce an audible sound. It also works in the opposite direction – so if you lose your keys, the phone can page them.

One tiny extra feature is a slot in the back, to insert a prop for the iPhone. Kensington provides a plastic card to do the job, but had the sense to make it a standard credit card size – so you can prop your iPhone up with anything you have to hand, such as a Tesco Club Card (pictured above).

iPad tether

At the same time, Kensington has launched SecureBack, a case for the iPad 2, but has gone for a traditional physical tether here, and it strikes us as less successful.

A three part solid plastic (1.2mm poycarbonate) case includes a standard Kensington slot, as well as the new Kensington ClickSafe knob (shown here, in a poor quality photo for which we apologise).

The whole thing is light (about 5oz), and cheaper than BungeeAir at £44.99, but I can’t imagine many people tethering their iPad to their desk, and think most people would prefer to use it in a more mobile way. Hoare confirmed that Kensington is considering a wireless tether for the iPad like the iPhone’s BungeeAir solution.

Conclusions

Physical security is a tricky problem with smartphones, and BungeeAir’s wireless tether is a good idea.  This kind of solution might have been awkward to use, but it looks as if Kensington has done its homework, made sensible choices, and added good features.

Including an extra battery is a good trade-off which will sweeten the idea of an iPhone case, and  converting the iPhone’s connector to a standard micro-USB will please cable nerds like us.

It finds your phone if it’s lost, and finds your keys (as long as you haven’t lost your phone as well). These facts, and the 4hr extra battery life, make the £100 price tag seem quite reasonable, particularly for companies wanting to avoid censure for data loss.

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