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Ringly review: Handy little messenger that passes as a ring

Luxury Bluetooth wearable Ringly demonstrates the challenges of making a practical wearable adapt to the varied needs of everyday users in an arena choked by proprietary name brands.

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I come neither to praise Ringly, or to bury it. But I think the little crowdfunded darling demonstrates why innovation has stalled -- and will continue to, as long as it continues to be choked and controlled by proprietary name brands.

Ringly is a Bluetooth-equipped gemstone ring that alerts wearers to smartphone notifications like text messages, Twitter DMs, or specific address book contacts if one so chooses.

The ring connects to a wearer's phone through its dead-simple app, where users can make each notification channel unique by customizing vibration patterns and/or flashing LED colors.

Ringly is just the messenger. And it's a handy little messenger that passes as a ring.

Opinions on Ringly range widely. Some think Ringly is epic because you can prioritize silent notifications while in a meeting. One reviewer decided they want more functionality from their wearable. Others simply thought Ringly was valid because people threw a lot of money at it.

People into jewelry are quite meh about the ring itself, and some gemstone lovers have sent it back.

I found out through using my Ringly (I pre-ordered during its crowdfunding) that it's is a really useful gadget. This usefulness sometimes lets me forgive the fact that I can't quite nail down how long the battery lasts; despite Ringly saying it "should last 24-48 hours before needing to be recharged" there have been many times I've just discovered that the damn thing was dead on my hand.

Still, while driving to meet friends for dinner, I knew one of them was texting me, indicating a probable change of plans. With my phone on silent in my coat during a movie (and the ring's LED flashing turned off), I knew I should check my Twitter DMs as soon as I was able.

Despite how Ringly is marketed -- annoyingly, to a rigid binary subset of feminine women, at the exclusion of men -- the usefulness of this little thing crosses any divides, no matter if you keep your vibrator in your purse or your pants. Showing one of my more masculine friends (a Fitbit wearer) how Ringly works prompted him to say how cool it was, because he'd love to not have to pull his phone out of his pocket every damn time just to see if it was important or not.

(In our part of the Wild West, wearing an Apple Watch is equivalent to hanging a sign around one's neck that reads "douchebag" and is to be avoided at all costs.)

And in case you're wondering, the Ringly is sort of a glorified little Fitbit. Take a look at Ringly's public FCC filing and click through to its poorly-shot, blurry photos of the little beast's chipsets, and you'll see it has lots of room to grow.

Speaking of Fitbit, I'll guess that some readers what to know if it's vulnerable to the 'Fitbit hack' recently [mis]reported in the news. On a quick read of the Fitbit hacking slides, the attack doesn't appear to attack Fitbit's Bluetooth chipset before reaching the subsystem actually running the Fitbit. This indicates that the attack is Fitbit-specific, and not transferrable to a Ringly. Ultimately, new research will have to be done to determine if Ringly is vulnerable in the same way (which is a low-risk attack anyway).

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It's still unfortunate that this is all we get on Ringly's security, as seen on its FAQ:

Is using the Ringly secure?

Absolutely. Ringly uses industry standard encryption to keep your data safe and secure and Ringly does not collect any user-specific information. The Ringly app will receive the notifications, but no data or content is stored or sent to a third party.

So Ringly comes with all the usual risks that include whether or not Ringly is keeping your purchase and device data on unmaintained servers, or has sold you down the river on information sharing with its name-brand partners. Ringly explains in only the briefest terms what data is being collected about us, and other than Facebook we don't know with whom it is being shared.

Although, to be fair, to use Ringly's app for, say, Facebook notifications, it also means you have to let high-risk privacy apps like Facebook rummage through your phone and track you anyway.

Ringly is actually just the messenger.

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And it's a handy little messenger that passes as a ring; I like knowing my Lyft is outside, even if my phone is vibrating in my bag where I can't hear or feel it. Unfortunately, I can also tell that when my phone vibrated in my purse and the Ringly didn't go off, that I was getting an important notification from one of the many apps I use that Ringly doesn't support. Important notifications, like ones from Signal, Tripit, FlyWheel, Tweetbot, even crappy old ad-riddled Swarm, or any number of apps I use that aren't in Ringly's lineup of partnered apps.

Whoever those partnered apps are, that is. There isn't a complete list on Ringly's website openly disclosing which apps work with the product; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Uber, eBay, and Tinder are the only ones listed on Ringly's FAQ (with an annoying "etc." tacked on the end), leaving it to users to find out the hard way whether apps important to us are supported or not.

Despite Ringly's pluses, this is a pretty big minus. Perhaps it's an iOS security issue; Ringly only supports iOS (iPhone 5 and up; iOS 8 and up) and Android (4.3 or above), so anyone with a phone that isn't 'Coke or Pepsi' doesn't get a Ringly.

Or maybe these app-app partnerships come with exclusivity clauses; maybe partnering with one McApp meant Ringly can't partner product with any of that McApp's indie competitors.

All I know is that it's not my problem, unless I want something sold outside of the Idiocracy tech store, which is getting harder and harder to find these days.

Hey, I got kicked off of Facebook because I'm unwilling to give my government ID to a corporation with dubious and potentially criminal data sharing and privacy practices, but I do get it. Some people are really happy with Coke, McDonald's, Wal-Mart, and Domino's, and anything that can bring those corporations and their products into these people's lives is seen by them as all for the better. The products are familiar, cheap, reliable, it's what they like, and they don't care about choice or finding something different. It's even OK with this kind of consumer that these brands make deals which prevent variety in order to maintain market dominance, because when there's all these weird colas on store shelves but no Coke, these people are very unhappy, indeed.

This kind of consumer is also only really happy with name-brand apps, to go with their name-brand life. If a wearable only works with official access to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Yahoo's Flickr, Uber, Gilt, or only connects to Apple-approved anything, this is pretty peachy. They don't need anything different because they don't actually care about discovering new things. The name-branded consumer doesn't experiment, and they don't want to include people who aren't already included. They also definitely don't want their tech to do anything other than what it's already doing.

And they might also be the people who shipped Ringly, and called it done.

Since we live in a techno-future where half-measures comprise the whole, and everything's beautiful but nothing works all that well, I'll be keeping my Ringly.

Maybe someday it will decide to innovate outside the ring-box. Or, maybe I just might be able to hack this really good, regrettably half-baked idea into something better.