Editors' note: Securus informs us that it has since updated its online software and mobile apps, fixing some of the concerns stated in this review. CNET has not tested these updates.
The Securus eZoom is a portable GPS device, but it's no navigator. This pocket sized module is designed not to get you from point A to B, but to help you to remotely find whatever (or whomever) to which the eZoom module is attached.
What is it? (Design)
The eZoom isn't designed to be stealthy -- it's primary function is to help you to find something valuable, not to spy on your significant other; though, it could be used for either purpose. The unit measures a mere 2.6 by 1.8 by 0.8 inches and weighs a scant 2.7 ounces. At that size, the eZoom should easily disappear into an open pocket in a backpack or purse. I tossed the device into a front pocket of my backpack at the beginning of the weekend and outright forgot that that it was there until I went looking for it much later.
There's not much in the way of controls, displays, or inputs. The eZoom is designed to be a set-it-and-forget-it sort of affair.
The glossy top surface is home to three indicator lights for battery status, cellular connection status, and GPS connection status. These lights are usually powered off and flash only if there's something to report (such as a low battery) or an active connection is being made (for instance, when the eZoom is transmitting its status to the cloud).
Beneath the indicator lights but still on the top surface is the SOS button. Pressing and holding this button for 2 to 3 seconds instantly transmits the location of the device and notifies any e-mail addresses or phone numbers that are set to receive notifications. This can be useful in an emergency, but Securus' instructional materials also indicate that the SOS feature can be used as a sort of check-in feature for simply sending location data to others sharing an account.
Back to the physical features: one of the eZoom's sides is home to a small power button that is noteworthy only in its difficulty in being pressed. Considering this tracker is supposed to be "always on," this does help in preventing accidental shut-off. Yet another edge is home to a mini-USB port, which is hidden beneath a rubber flap and used for charging the device; and a SIM card slot, which is tucked under its own rubber flap that's held shut with screws.
There are no other noteworthy physical features of the water-resistant eZoom module, aside from four rubber feet on its bottom side that keep the device from sliding around on a smooth surface such as a table or desk when charging.
Speaking of charging, the eZoom takes about four to six hours to charge once it's been removed from its box for the first time, but that should last anywhere from three days to three weeks depending on how much its internal accelerometer is triggered by moving the device. Users can also receive notifications when the eZoom's battery gets low. We'll come back to the power management option more in a bit.
You've got more mounting options available for the eZoom than just a pocket. The device ships with a small fabric pouch that can be used to hook the tracker onto whatever you're inspired to attach it to. Users who want to keep tabs on a vehicle can also permanently mount the eZoom if they desire and power the device with the car's own electrical system with an optional vehicle mounting kit, which is sold separately.
What does it do? (Features)
The Securus eZoom features two internal wireless connections that work together to help the unit to communicate its location to the owner. The first is its cellular antenna that connects the device to the Web as well as to the cloud.
The second connection is the GPS receiver that eZoom uses to triangulate its position on the planet using signals beamed down from the GPS satellite network. More specifically, the eZoom uses an A-GPS receiver (Assisted Global Positioning System) which also makes use of positioning data gleaned from the cellular data network to help it to more quickly locate itself and to maintain a degree of positioning accuracy when a clear view of the sky isn't available.
This A-GPS connection gives the eZoom the ability to locate itself amid tall buildings, under heavy tree coverage, and indoors -- albeit with diminished accuracy. With a clear view of the sky, Securus tells us that it can pinpoint and report its location within five yards. When indoors, I saw the accuracy drop to within a few blocks. Still, that's better than nothing. Sometimes "within a few blocks" is all the accuracy you need to know whether lost your backpack on the train or simply left it at the office.
Left to its own devices, the powered-up eZoom will transmit its location to the cloud every few minutes when it detects that it is in motion with its internal accelerometer. If the accelerometer doesn't detect motion, the eZoom sends updates less frequently, conserving battery power to keep the device operating longer.
Securus apps and alerts
Upon purchasing an eZoom and charging the device, users will need to log in on the Securus Web site to set up an account and activate the hardware.
For most users, this Web interface will also be where the majority of their interactions with the device and its various settings will take place.
The Web site features a map (provided by Nokia, according to the copyright information) upon which the current position of the eZoom can be seen. In a column to the left of the map, users can view an icon that they assign to the device (I chose the CNET logo), the nearest current street address to the device, the time of the last positioning check-in, and the battery-charge percentage along with the last time it was reported.
Here users can also find four small text links: Find, Track, History, and Settings.
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.