We don’t usually review Kickstarter projects but when we heard that the NFC ring people were going back to Kickstarter to finance a new improved ring we had to have a look. We were backers of the original ring and were very interested to hear about the new ring. If you were already know about the NFC ring concept here’s the very short version – bigger aerial, more storage and new designs – new Kickstarter today.
If you have never heard of NFC rings the easiest way to describe them is wearable rings that never need charging, are waterproof and can store data in two chips, unlock things and generally be cool. We were backers of the first generation which launched on Kickstarter in 2013 and they had a few problems. To unlock a phone the ring had to touch exactly the right space on the back of the phone – without a case and it could only hold a small amount of information. The new 2016 version of the ring combats these issues with a larger areal and more storage space.
The company was good enough to send us one of their new models – the Horizon – and we’ve had a week or so to play with it. We still had the original ring from the first Kickstarter and there is an immediate difference. I tested with a Samsung Galaxy S6 and found that the area which would register the ring went up from a couple of centimetres squared to most of the back. With a basic case it went from only registering very sporadically to working reliably and it actually registered through a battery case if I was careful about positioning.
I used the ring for a week as my main phone unlocking mechanism and found it significantly more straightforward and reliable than the previous generation. This is not to say that it worked perfectly every time – about 1 time in 10 it refused to read it. That’s on par with fingerprint readers and good enough to be practical. As well as phone’s its possible to set up the ring to unlock doors, log into PCs or computers, as a car ignition system, or as a general authentication mechanism. There’s a great video on the NFC ring site showing a Nerf Gun with a built in NFC reader – if you have a ring on the gun fires if not it doesn’t.
The ring also has a second storage section – the so called private storage chip that faces in to your hand. This can store up to 1K of data which is not any use for mass storage but I found that it was perfect to hold my contact details – name, address, twitter and so on. It could also be used for something like a bitcoin wallet address or encryption keys in general.
Price: $43 for Early birds or $49 regular price
In the box is the ring, a quick start guide and four NFC tag stickers.
The inventor of the NFC ring John McLear wanted a metal subtle ring that could be used to unlock his house. After a year of development he came up with the first NFC Ring which was hugely successful on Kickstarter. Since the first Kickstarter the new company also consults with Matt Mullenweg who is better known as the co-founder of Automattic which makes WordPress – the software that hosts the page you are currently reading.
Both men have a background and appreciation for open-source and hackable projects and the NFC ring’s design is available as a 3D printable design for free.
The Ergohacks Evaluation
The NFC ring is versatile and leans itself to a variety of uses, users, situations and changing circumstances. Most people will use it for unlocking phones or computers but its ability to work to unlock doors and be used to personalise things is intriguing.
It is accessible to people with diverse abilities – if you can wear a ring you can use it. It will be available in US ring sizes 4.5 to 16. It is also waterproof to 50m and can handle temperatures from around 0 to 40 degrees celsius.
The NFC ring has an ergonomic design and is hardy enough that it would not need to be taken off under most circumstances. The fact that it does not need charging is a bonus as unlike most wearables it could literally stay on your body 24/7. The apps that are available to read and write to it and to unlock your phone are basic but reasonably designed. They use a predomininantly grey background with black text and grey icons.
The ring’s biggest selling point is its ability to unlock phones. With fingerprint readers becoming more prevalent this might seem like an area that it is being replaced by onboard hardware but the ring does have a number of advantages – lose the ring and you can change the password on the phone. Get your fingerprints stolen and you can’t change them. The ring can carry extra data. The unlock function can also work on a number of other devices such as door locks which do not have biometric readers easily built in.
I’ve been using my ring from the 2013 Kickstarter since that time over multiple phones and the hardware has held up well – if the 2016 model holds up for three years that’s a cost of around $15 (£10) a year – for the extra security and convince which I’d call cost effective.
If you want to add the ability to unlock your PC with NFC a stand alone reader can be bought for between £20 and £40 and NFC door locks start at around £140.
Chip Type: NTAG216
Sizes: 4.5 to 16 US
Ring diameter: 8mm
Storage: 888 bytes per inlay (2)
The NFC ring’s chips are passive so need an active reader such as is in every NFC enabled powered device. It should be noted that the NFC ring will not be compatible with Apples iOS on iPhone or iPad as Apple have locked down access to it.
The new NFC ring is an impressively designed and iterated product. If you have a first generation ring it’s worth looking at seriously for the better aerial and increased storage space and if you are on a phone that has NFC but no fingerprint reader its a potentially great idea. The equation is a little more difficult if you have a fingerprint reader but if you are a tech or security enthusiast we’d highly recommend going to have a look and considering it. If you want a secure way to unlock your device, carry round your contact details and just generally hack with this is a great option.
In the longer run the best security is enforced by a combination of something you know (password), something you are (biometrics such as a fingerprint) and something you have. The NFC ring has the potential to be the something you have.
The Kickstarter will be here starting at 3 in the UK today. There are a number of early bird specials starting from £18, shipping in December and we’d recommend going and having a look quickly.
The review is based on the pre-release version of the Horizon NFC ring kindly provided by NFCRING.com This post contains affiliate links. First published on the 1st October 2015