Is this the age of the smart wallet, or are they more trouble than they're worth?

If your smart wallet is lost or stolen, you can locate or track it with a smartphone. That's a cool idea, and it has attracted several crowd-funded projects such as Cashew, Ekster, SmartWallet, Walli, Wallor and Woolet. However, small, standalone trackers like TrackR's may do the job cheaper, and they're less risky purchases.
Written by Jack Schofield, Contributor
Ekster smart wallet

Ekster's smart wallet. Photo: Ekster

Wallets and their contents - cash, cards, tickets, receipts etc - will eventually be replaced by smartphones that work with electronic payments system. But while those have been available for years in some countries, most men still carry traditional wallets. That being the case, there should be a market for "smart wallets" that connect to smartphones, so you can find your wallet if you lose it, and track it if it's stolen.

The latest example is Wallor, which is the first in the world with Bluetooth, GPS, and full RFID protection, according to company CEO, Viorel Cretu. It also has an anti-theft alarm. The Wallor wallet is currently on Kickstarter, and at $20,994, has already passed its modest $15,000 funding target.

Smart wallets usually use Bluetooth 4 to connect to an Apple or Android smartphone. You get an alarm if the wallet is more than a certain distance away, which may mean you've left it somewhere. If you've got the wallet but can't find your smartphone, you can use the wallet to make it ring, to help you find it.

When a smart wallet includes GPS - usually the crowd-sourced type - you can track its movements. This is useful if someone has stolen it.

Of course, Wallor isn't the first company to announce a smart wallet. Rivals include Cashew, Ekster, SmartWallet, Walli, and Woolet. It's also far from being the first to use Kickstarter. In fact, in 2014, Kickstarter published a long article that wondered Why are there so many wallets on Kickstarter? There were 17 at the time, though they weren't smart wallets.

Yancey Strickler, Kickstarter's co-founder, told Bloomberg: "As we started looking into it, we realized that this was kind of the training-wheels product for a product designer. It's basically a learning tool."

SmartWallet was one of the earliest smart wallets and was able to grab the most obvious name. SmartWallet included both Bluetooth and GPS tracking, and - unusually - a 1000mAh battery for charging a smartphone. The project raised $36,237 from 315 backers on Kickstarter and $11,964 on Indiegogo. Its estimated delivery date was February 2015.

The bad news is that, according to Entrepreneur: "Either through incompetence, poor planning or something more insidious, no one who ordered one of these wallets 16 months ago has ever received one. And what happened to the crowdfunding cash raised remains unclear."

The Walli smart wallet was far more successful in raising $217,363 on Kickstarter and $521,962 on Indiegogo. It even shipped some wallets, as you can tell by @mywalli's Twitter feed. However, many of its responses are "please email support@mywalli.com" to people who are asking about shipment dates or unable to get something to work.

The Walli's party trick is monitoring "the pocket you use the most. With our patent pending technology, Walli pockets are smart and send signal to your phone when your credit card/ID is missing for too long," the website says.

Revol Inc's Cashew is a smart wallet with Bluetooth and crowd-based GPS, and its party trick is fingerprint recognition. "In case someone tries to tamper with the latch, a notification is sent immediately to your phone," says its Kickstarter page. Cashew raised $47,054 from 382 backers, and $14,461 on Indiegogo, with estimated delivery dates of October 2016 and February 2017 respectively. The company also had a "Thanksgiving sale" on Twitter, offering wallets at $119.

The company's home site lists half a dozen staff and an office in San Jose, and its Cashew wallet featured on Android Authority. SF Gate, Trusted Reviews and half a dozen other sites. How Revol can afford to develop and manufacture a smart wallet, plus phone apps, is the (roughly) $64,000 question. I hope the staff have other sources of income.

Woolet is another smart wallet with Bluetooth and crowd-based GPS, and this one features "a self-charging battery". It raised $332,694 from 2,627 backers on Kickstarter, possibly because "Woolet is brought to you by the team behind the successful Sherlybox and Clime projects".

Woolet did actually ship its smart wallet, but some comments on Kickstarter describe it as a "seriously poor product," "far from what was promised" and "really bad quality for the price". One buyer commented: "My Woolet was stolen last on Sunday, in Paris. The Woolet app told me it was still in Ireland. What a piece of [expletive deleted] this really is. You had one job woolet, one job."

Another disgruntled backer said got an apologetic email from Woolet which said: "we've made huge improvements in both the product and the way we manage the business". It offered him a free second-generation model, adding: "if you like it, would you consider changing your review on our Facebook profile?"

Buyers' experiences with Ekster smart wallets - which raised €331,946 from 3,009 backers on Kickstarter and $965,000 on Indiegogo - are better. There are complaints but also some positive views, and at least it shipped in volume.

TrackR's Wallet module with keys

TrackR's Wallet module with keys

Photo: TrackR

By this point - sorry Mr Cretu - I'd lost interest in smart wallets, which don't seem as easy to pull off as their promoters think. Even if they work properly, they're expensive for what they do, and they're probably superfluous. At least, I've managed to survive several decades without losing a wallet, or having one stolen (touches wood).

There are also simpler solutions, like TrackR, which is a little widget you can attach to your key-ring or bag ... or pop in your current wallet. In fact, Ekster's smart wallet is based on TrackR and uses its smartphone apps, so this looks like the way to go.

TrackR says it has shipped more than 4.5 million devices, and you can get a TrackR Wallet for $29.95, or a promotional pack of eight for $99.95. This is cheaper than the average smart wallet, and you could tag your keys, suitcases and dogs as well.

If you've bought a smart wallet that's worth the money, please let me know in the comments below. If not, my next product hunt will be into trackers, so let me know if you've found something better than TrackR....

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