Smartway2 review: BYOD put to use for room-booking and hot-desking

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  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent

Pros

  • Uses ordinary tablets as meeting room panels
  • Book hot-desks and meeting rooms
  • Custom smartphone app for user authentication and mobile resource booking
  • Leverages location services and Google Maps to 'find' resources
  • Minimal management overheads

Cons

  • Physical mounting of room panel tablets required
  • Variable support for contactless technologies across smartphone vendors
  • Lack of integration with email and other applications

It doesn't matter what size or kind of business you're in, a common problem is finding a meeting room that's not already 'bagged' by someone else. Hence the availability of room-booking applications, many of which can also handle hot-desking and the allocation of other shared resources. Most of these, however, are calendar-based, often using proprietary wall panels to show when rooms are free. However, today's users generally prefer mobile apps, which is where Smartway2, which costs from £299 (ex. VAT) comes into the picture.

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Smartway2 office panel in situ. Image: Smartway

Any tablet will do

A cloud-based service hosted by secure Amazon Web Services (AWS), Smartway2 is one of those products that you really have to try for yourself to appreciate. And that's relatively easy to do, as one of the advantages is that you don't need much in the way of hardware: just the ordinary tablets and smartphones that most of us have already.

Rather than custom room panels, for example, you can opt to use either Apple iPads or Android tablets, with a Smartway2 room panel app available for both platforms from the respective app stores. We downloaded and installed the app on a Google Nexus tablet which, using the built-in GPS capability, automatically worked out where it was before taking us through a short setup routine to connect and use our cloud-based Smartway2 account.

The idea here is to mount the tablet outside the room to let users know first if and when it might be free and second, to enable them to make bookings directly via the touchscreen interface. The physical installation is left to the customer or a reseller and, given the variety of tablets available, there are no mountings included in the package. That said, a quick internet search showed lots of very affordable options, including fixed and swinging wall mounts, even free-standing pedestals, for all of the popular tablet brands and models.

Similarly, you may want to add separate lock-down software to prevent the tablets being used for other purposes as this isn't included as part of the package. Plus you'll need to arrange for the tablets to be installed and connected to a suitable power supply rather than have to charge them up every night.

Easy to book

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Once in place, the room panels look very professional, displaying a green background when the associated room is available, changing to yellow during the check-in period for an upcoming meeting and red when in use.

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The room panel app shows when a room is available and can also be used to make immediate or scheduled bookings. Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet

Brief details such as the start and end times of the next scheduled meeting are also displayed, along with icons showing room capacity and the availability of resources such as digital projectors, video conferencing systems and refreshments (at present, these can't be itemised and reserved as part of the booking).

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Room bookings need to be confirmed during the specified check-in period to avoid no-show. Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet

We found the panel very easy to use. To book a room, for example, we simply had to tap the 'Use Now' button and provide a few details such as the duration of the meeting and who we were (anonymous booking is also an option). Alternatively, we could schedule a meeting in the future by scrolling a timeline at the bottom. Bookings can also be extended via the display (assuming there are no others planned) or the room released should a meeting end earlier than anticipated.

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Red is used to show when a meeting is in progress -- a larger tablet than the 7-inch Nexus we used might be a good idea when it comes to long meeting labels. Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet

The software keeping track of all this is hosted on Smartway2 servers in the cloud, with the room panels connected either via wi-fi or mobile broadband, so there's no need for fixed Ethernet ports. There's no need for much oversight either, as the room panels more or less look after themselves, although a separate web-based interface is available to manage bookable resources via either a calendar or timeline interface. This also uses Google maps to show where resources are located and can be run from any device with a browser and internet access to, for example, allow bookings to be centrally managed or made in advance without having to be at the location.

However, that's not the only way of interacting with Smartway2: you can also use your smartphone.

A room in the hand

As well as the room panels there's separate Smartway2 app for users of iOS, Android and Windows smartphones. This can also be used to make and manage bookings but, unlike the room panel app, lets you choose from a list of all available rooms and invite other attendees. It can even show you where the nearest meeting rooms are -- again, using the phone's location services and Google Maps.

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Bookings can also be made and managed using a smartphone app. Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet

Notifications are also received by the app, plus you can use it to interact with the room panel -- for example, by scanning the large QR Code on the screen to make an immediate booking or check into a scheduled meeting without having to type in a username and password.

The same app can also be used to book a hot desk session, although for this option you need small plastic ID panels rather than tablets, one per desk, and additional hot-desk licensing. The desk panels physically identify each location, and also have a QR Code on them for use with the smartphone app. They can also be fitted with an NFC tag and Bluetooth iBeacon for interaction with smartphones that have support for those technologies.

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A small fixed panel identifies each hot desk both physically and electronically using a QR code, NFC tag and iBeacon technologies. Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet

So, having booked a desk in advance, when you arrive you simply locate the desk (Google Maps can, again, help here) and then check in by scanning the QR Code, or by putting the phone against the desk panel to communicate using NFC or Bluetooth -- just like using a contactless payment card.

Meeting rooms and desks anywhere in the organisation can be booked from the smartphone app. Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet

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Depending on the smartphone being used, Smartway2 can use NFC or iBeacon contactless technologies as well as QR code scanning. Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet

The same contactless technologies can be used to communicate with the room panel, given suitable hardware. Also, the camera in the tablet can be used for user authentication using face recognition technology, which is built into the Smartway2 software.

A growing concern

Deceptively easy to setup and use, Smartway2 takes puts a whole new slant on booking meeting rooms and hot desk allocation, enabling users to do it all for themselves, literally, using the technology to hand -- tablets and smartphones. The fact that it does this using custom apps rather than a generic web interface is another bonus, as is the use of contactless technology, although support for NFC and iBeacon is patchy to say the least (Apple, for example, limits iPhone owners to using NFC with its Apple Pay contactless payments system).

Wider integration with Active Directory, Exchange and other applications is also lacking in the initial release, which is very much aimed at small businesses where this isn't a major issue. Still, like most cloud service providers, Smartway2 is continually updating its software and has committed to addressing the needs of larger enterprises over the coming months. Future updates will see this kind of functionality added along with plans for integration with catering, video conferencing and building management systems (to turn on the lights and air conditioning only when a meeting is in progress, for example) plus usage reporting and an API for use by third-party developers.

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