AirBolt

An electronic lock, assuming its security is up to scratch, is always a good thing to have since it removes problem of forgetting your keys. 1 Combination padlocks always had a weakness of having a finite number of permutations which, if given enough time, can be figured out. Electronic locks can even enhance security making it exponentially more difficult – as you could set a combination without giving thieves any idea of what kind of permutation they’ll be dealing with.

While you can set your physical combination to something complex (which you should), a lock that can pair with your phone affords you the same level of security while making the task of unlocking your… er… lock much simpler for practical use.

So take the case of the AirBolt; an electronic travel lock which pairs with your phone via Bluetooth (BT). It’s very similar to the Master BT Lock but more for travel (where you need thinner shackles to fit those zipper lock holes) and it’s body incidentally looks to be more rugged/durable – which is a bonus.

It’s got a very slim profile lock that has got metal cable for a shackle, and two buttons for manual input (more on this later). It’s designed in such a way that you can slip the two zippers of your luggage into the slots and feed the shackle through it. This is the ideal way to use it as it offers little purchase for anyone who would want to mess with it.

But alas, not all luggage locks/zippers are configured that way – so you have the option of rotating the wire freely and just use it for more general purposes. On the bright side, the shackle being a wire-type makes this lock extremely versatile.

Unlocking

The back has got a TSA keyhole and a rubber cover for the USB charging port. As mentioned earlier, this seems to be really solidly built. When covered up, it really does feel weather proof (as they claim it to be)

You have three ways of disengaging the lock:

  1. Unlock it through the phone.
  2. If it’s in range of your phone, you simply press the left button. Your phone acts as the authentication to approve the unlock
  3. You can input your nominated key combination – In case your phone is out of range or turned off.

The manual combination you can set is a series of L/R key presses. You initiate this through the app, but you can set it physically or through the virtual buttons shown in the app. Personally I prefer the latter if only keep the buttons from wearing out.

The lock physically allows 9 to 10 key presses for combination input. Anything past 10, if it doesn’t unlock the AirBolt – it will lock you out for a few minutes before you can try again.

It’s worth mentioning that the software has certain caveats as far as setting the combination goes. First, is that there’s a maximum of 9 repeated presses on either side. So assuming you intend to use the entire 10 keypresses for your combination, you technically can have a RRRRRRRRRL, LRRRRRRRRR, RLLLLLLLLL, or LLLLLLLLLR.

It also seems that you’re allowed to switch from either side only 6 times. So if you do an alternate left and right press, you’ll only get seven maximum presses (LRLRLRL or RLRLRLR). So to maximize the combination you should try repeating some of the keys (e.g. LLRRLRLRLR) Of course you could opt to have fewer presses – it should be just as safe because as I mentioned before, anybody trying to access your lock wouldn’t know what range of permutations to expect. So as long as you don’t use common combinations (like the examples I’ve given), you should be okay.

Lastly, with the exception of pressing one side more tha 9 times, it doesn’t provide any feedback if you’re over the combination limit – it will simply record the valid strokes (based on the physical limit of 10 presses) and disregard the excess.

Location Tracking

They say the AirBolt has Crowdsourced Location Tracking which leads me to believe something similar to if not the system TrackR uses. Unfortunately I don’t have a TrackR so I never really researched how it’s able to report its location without an internet connection (do they have an internal GPS chip to begin with) – the same goes with the AirBolt.

To be perfectly honest I’m pretty sure this just uses your phone’s GPS data. Because I took this with me to Japan and didn’t connect it to my phone (BT was disabled the whole time) while I was there – upon coming home, all the [manual] unlocks/locks were logged in the history, but with no location. So either their “crowdsourced tracking system” is only available in certain countries, or it’s just marketing talk for “you’ll know when and where it was unlocked for as long as it was paired with your phone” sort of thing.

Or maybe it at the very least can “communicate” with another AirBolt enabled phone in the background (I’m assuming the other passer by should have the app installed as well) just enough to get/send location data – in that case it’s only practical if many people use the AirBolt – otherwise it can’t communicate with anything else meaningfully apart from its owner.

Needless to say, it’s a less useful feature than one would hope it would be. But a cute gimmick nonetheless.

Sharing

Now this is a useful feature that works! You can basically authenticate other people’s phones to unlock your AirBolt. This is useful if you want to lend your AirBolt to someone else – or simply allow someone else to access your AirBolt without you having to be there (like a travel companion)

You can even set how they’re allowed to unlock the AirBolt. Whether they need to be connected to the internet before they can unlock, or setting an expiration date on their access – very practical stuff.

Battery Life

Unfortunately as much as I want to give them high marks, the battery life seems to be dismal. The claim(ed) that it can last a YEAR on a single charge. But I noticed that it drains as much as 20-30% each WEEK. So that means on normal use this probably needs to be recharged every month.

Normally this wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for the fact that it runs on Li-ions. In case you didn’t know, when a Li-ion battery goes below minimum charge – it literally damages the battery on a chemical level – which means you’ll never get the same charge performance out of it. 2 Assuming you’re able to revive it to begin with Having to account for that risk can be an annoying caveat to live with. It’s manageable if you use the lock a lot – as you can always keep track of the battery and charge when needed. But if you seldom use it and would like to store it – all it takes is one full drain forgotten to be charged for you to likely end up with a underperforming unit or worse – a paperweight.

There is an “Airplane Mode” which basically disables the BT broadcasting (which is likely the cause of the drain). I have yet to check how much of a difference it will make… but I’ll be honest, 1 year is a very bold claim, and unless they allow a way to totally shut down the unit (which they don’t) I seriously doubt it would make it that long even when on Airplane mode.

Final Thoughts

Despite its flaws, it’s a very well designed and functional unit. And one that is extremely practical to use – so I still wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it to anyone who would like a more practical “lock” to carry with them. I know I may have some use for it when riding my bicycle or motorcycle.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Combination padlocks always had a weakness of having a finite number of permutations which, if given enough time, can be figured out.
2. Assuming you’re able to revive it to begin with

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