09
Mar
t

Nearly every Android device available has NFC these days, but how often do you have a tag around to take advantage of it? Maybe this realization is what drove last year's NFC Ring Kickstarter campaign into multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars. Well, the rings have been making their way out to backers and pre-orders are going live for everyone on March 11th. Let's take a look at how this unusual accessory works.


How It Works

The version of the NFC Ring I have to test is the standard version, but there is a so-called "Alpha" ring also available. The main difference is the width of the band. A regular NFC Ring looks like any standard metal band, with the exception of the NFC tags. The Alpha ring is much wider to accommodate a larger NFC tag. We'll get to the reason for that shortly. The ring comes in a variety of colors and styles – mine is the basic titanium band with transparent tag inserts. I actually kind of like the look of having the tag circuitry exposed, but you can customize your ring to look less like a nerd-accessory. The regular ring is $49 and the Alpha is $59.

wm_r2

All the rings use NXP Semiconductors NTAG203 NFC tags. Just like the tags you'd get in other forms online, they do not need their own power source. The signal from your phone does all the work. The capacity of the tags is only 144 bytes, so don't confuse this with a data storage medium. It's ideal for keeping web addresses, blocks of text, encryption keys, NFC tasks, and contact information. There is also a lock screen app specifically for the NFC Ring in Google Play. You can write whatever you want to the two tags, perhaps using one for private information and one for public.

nfcring-a-x4 nfcring-stealthbomber-alpha-x2

The other styles of NFC Ring

The NFC Ring will work with any sufficiently powerful NFC reader, so you can use it with NFC door locks and security systems, assuming you have one of those. It's also completely sealed and water proof, so you don't have to worry about damaging it and locking yourself out of something.

Video

But Does It Work?

It takes a balancing act to make something like the NFC Ring work – you don't want it to be too sensitive or you'd be triggering the tag constantly while using your phone. However, you want it to be sensitive enough that you can read the tag easily when you want. The tags in the NFC Ring aren't as strong as some of those you might find elsewhere, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

To read the NFC Ring, you need to find the "sweet spot" for your phone where the signal is strongest. There's a handy setup app in Google Play that shows a heat map on the screen to help you zero in on the right location. The ring comes with stickers to put on your phone as a reminder until you get used to the location. On the Nexus 5, the sweet spot is up next to the 'S' on the back. For the Moto X it's in the middle about a third of the way up from the bottom. You'll have to do a little research to figure out if the sweet spot for your phone is in a convenient place or not.

The standard ring with its smaller tag is more finicky with finding the right spot, so the Alpha might make more sense (if you have the hand size to pull it off). I also found that the standard ring needs to be kept pretty level in order to read. The result is a slightly more awkward experience than I would prefer. You can see in the demo video above I have to tilt the phone a bit so my finger lines up correctly. It's not usually that much of a bother, but looks more odd here because my arm is resting on a table.

wm_r1 wm_r3

This is where the NFC Ring started feeling a little less magical to me, but the longer I used it, the less it bothered me. You essentially practice with the ring until you can tap the right spot almost every time. I've gotten pretty good at it, but if I were buying one now I'd probably get the Alpha ring to make things easier. Because it's a little hard to know where to tap on a phone other than your own, it's not yet ideal for sharing information with others.

I like the NFC Ring overall. It's not what I was expecting, but maybe my expectations were a bit unrealistic. It's just a sort of troublesome to get the reading figured out, and the tags look the same, making it hard to know which one is which. This is a cool product and I can't wait to see how it improves over time. If you're interested in the concept, you should consider picking one up. Just be aware what the NFC Ring is and isn't capable of before you order.

[NFC Ring]

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play. http://goo.gl/WQIXBM

  • Senad

    Android takes 83.5% of LatAm mobile OS market

    Google's Android operating system Android was installed on 83.5 percent of smartphones sold in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico at the end of December, up 21.9 percentage points from the year before at 61.6 percent, according to eMarketer. Windows Phone had a 4.9 percent market share, iOS was at 4.3 percent and BlackBerry at 2.8 percent. Brazil had 30.3 million smartphones at the end of last year, with the figure expected to rise to 41.2 million this year and 70.5 million in 2017. At end-December, Mexico had 27.2 million smartphones, with the number expected to reach 33.3 million for this year and 54.4 million for 2017. Meanwhile, Argentina had 10.4 million at the end of last year, with the figure seen rising to 12.7 million this year and to 18.4 million in 2017. The overall total for Latin America was 113.5 million smartphones at the end of 2013, advancing to 145.6 million this year and 243 million in 2017..

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/77537273@N03/ Herman

    Have you experienced any accidental webpage launches during your usage?
    I could easily see that happen...

    Nevertheless, it sounds like a pretty handy ring.
    If I saw one of these in a store, I'd definitely get it.

  • jamaall

    It would be a nice lock screen alternative. Just put it on your finger where you would normally put your phone and when you hold it like normal it unlocks it. Would be pretty nice but idk about dropping $50 on it.

    • frafri

      $50??
      Not at all.. 25 maybe!

    • Ezzy

      Think about how often you have to type or slide the code on your phone...well worth $50 imo. But that's just me.

      • andy_o

        You can use an app like Delayed Lock, which uses the inbuilt lockscreen (so you don't lose features like widgets and other stuff your rom/xposed module may offer, and maybe security). This will dramatically reduce the times you'll have to unlock your phone with a code. Root is not required for PIN/password.

        • Ezzy

          I want my device locked instantly. But I also want it opened instantly, this gives me that feature.
          Face unlock has worked mostly well for me, it just lags too much when I want to bypass it (in the dark etc.)

  • andy_o

    Are lockscreen apps as secure as the built in lockscreen though?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

      How secure are you looking for? There are quite a few Lockscreen replacements out there that tend not to have any real issues with security, but there are some minor weaknesses that can be exploited in the right circumstances.

      If anything, I'm disappointed that the app is a full lockscreen replacement instead of just a background service. It could easily leave you with your existing lockscreen and also unlock with the ring.

      • hans

        Yes, by default NFC only works when the phone is unlocked. But there is an xPosed module against that and i think some roms have it, too

    • http://kennydude.me/ Joe Simpson

      Technically no because they have to dismiss the internal lockscreen and show their own. This causes a small delay. After that delay, it should be as secure as any other lockscreen.

      If Google added a proper lockscreen replacement api, this wouldn't happen.

      • r2DoesInc

        Their NFC lock app is a whitelabeled version of my NFCSecure app, which does NOT have any lag, and can be used with, or instead of, the standard lockscreen.

        Cody, thats impossible without root.

  • Ivan Myring

    I think the title should have been:
    NFC Ring hands on: Pretty Handy

    • silver_arrow

      "Fingers on"

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

        "Fingers in."

        FTFY

        • ProductFRED

          I activated my girlfriend, if you know what I mean.

          • frafri

            pshh.. I activated her from a longer range with my IDickon

  • Sean Lumly

    I love the idea of having a device automatically turn-on and log-in without having to press any buttons. As with the moto-skip, this enables a behaviour very close to that vision, but both are lacking two things: first, the proximity "trigger" zone is too small and second, you still have to push a button to turn on the device.

    A neat solution may be having capacitive sensors on the phone/tablet side (Atmel makes some great ultra-low power sensors), and a short-range (eg. 3 feet) wearable radio. When you touch the phone on the sides, it automatically sends an encrypted request to the wearable that then radios back an authentication. The device screen comes on in an unlocked state! From the user's perspective, s/he simply picks up the tablet/phone and it automatically comes on in an unlocked state without any other interaction!

    Best of all, the authentication wearable can be a watch, a necklace, something that you have in your pocket, or something that you have pinned to the inside of your clothing. Not only would this be secure (tied to something physical you have), but also extremely convenient.

    • Daniel Goodwin

      I have my phone set up to always be searching for NFC (lock screen on or off) I have found this remedies the problem you are mentioning above with no new technology. I have not found a significant impact to my battery either.

      • Sean Lumly

        Pretty cool. If the trigger-zone was significantly larger for NFC, it would make a very handy for having a watch/ring turn on and authenticate login for the phone/tablet.

  • me

    What widgets do you use on the moto X?

  • Jose Marie Maquinay

    I wanted one before, but the cost prevented me from getting one...

    For the moment, I use my Fitbit Flex (which has a built in NFC tag) + Xposed Framework + NFC LockScreenOff to unlock my phone. Not as handy as the ring, but still works.

    • peter

      The Fitbit flex has an NFC Tag in it? I have one but didn't know that.
      It surprises me, because it doesn't seem like made with android in mind (App officially only works with select phones) and the iPhone doesn't have NFC

  • archercc

    Don't really want this for the phone but replace things I use physical keys for and I'm sooo down. Front door, locker, motorcycle, etc.

  • Deeco

    Pretty lame tbf.

  • Barrie McNaught

    Can't wait for my ring too arrive I'll give a full review myself when it gets here. As an early kickstarter funder for this I am so excited. (Which to some of you is probably pretty lame.) I can see why unlocking your phone or your door seems lame. I'm more interested in the public side of things. Data sharing, who needs a business card when I can just tap my ring to your sweet spot and you have my details. Can't wait to see the ideas people come up with as more and more rings are sent out.

    This was an early innovation for wearable tech and it can only get better with time.

  • Jesus Christ

    GTFO just another way for Americans to get even lazier

    • Nathaniel Webb

      lol troll bait.

  • Josh

    What about Tap & Pay?

    • http://the-jade-domain.com Jaime J. Denizard

      What about it? i doubt you can load the Wallet app on your ring if that's what you're wanting.

  • Daniel Goodwin

    Something to think about for anyone rooted, instead of using a lock screen app you can use the stock lock screen and the NFC Lockscreen enabler app in Xposed Framework.

  • Brendan Dillon

    I'm curious, how does this integrate with something like active notifications on the MotoX? Meaning if I use the ring for unlocking my phone, does the lockscreen app supersede or block the active notifications?

  • AGWednesday

    Now I just need pricing on the Google smartwatch before I decide to buy.

  • Daniel

    Does the Moto X see the NFC Ring as identical to a Skip tag, or is there an extra step to set it up that way?

  • Andrew

    Now to think of something I can to my app NFC Tagin' that can work with this device. pretty neat device.

  • Dmitri Smirnov

    Wake me up, when they implement a secure element on these rings, then we'll have something to talk about. As of right now - way too simple to copy.

    • Logan_Five

      About the only way to copy it is to take it off of your finger, find it laying somewhere, or steal it.

  • Logan_Five

    people are successfully using the rings for door/vehicle locks and starter. Imagination is running wild with the uses.

  • Keg Man

    I like it for "NFC front door to your house unlock." Now thats sweet!

  • billykent1972

    hope I get mine soon.

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