Review – GateKeeper 1.0

The GateKeeper is a small Bluetooth device for your key ring by Untethered Labs, that when paired with the USB dongle (Win and OSX) or smartphone can measure proximity, enabling various functionality depending on the platform. This review will be more in-depth than most on offer, as I noticed many failed to account for all sorts of potential concerns. Check the conclusion at the bottom for my final thoughts.

Right as a publish this, GateKeeper is having a Black Friday sale where prices are notably reduced! The Silver 1.0 and soft-touch Black 2.0 models are available on Amazon at $30 and $35 shipped respectively, a more compelling price point.

GateKeeper - Packaging

Packaging and Physical Overview

The black packaging I received for review has been replaced by essentially the same design but white with a slightly improved aesthetic. It’s basic, but frustration-free with no tape or need for scissors. Included is a small quick-start guide, the glossy plastic Bluetooth fob, two CR2032 button cell batteries (expected 3-6 month life each), a flat Bluetooth USB dongle, and a metal hinging key ring. It would’ve been nice to see a tiny drawstring pouch to store the contents when not in use.

The fob comes in a small assortment of colors and is made of a glossy slick plastic. There’s an indent along the edge to pop off the back to insert the battery, and while I’ve seen others effortlessly remove theirs, mine seemed impossible without snapping the back in half. One side lifted easily but the other refused. Luckily the first side raised up enough for me to slide the battery in. There’s a small hole in the back for the internal speaker, though it looks a lot like a reset switch and I could imagine someone sticking a pen in there while troubleshooting.

GateKeeper - Insert

The USB dongle is a touch long for a dongle of this kind, and the shroud-less flat design means that it wobbles a bit while in a port. One customer I found noted that the dongle snapped in half while in his laptop inside his backback, and I can definitely see that being possible. They seem to have realized this as the GateKeeper 2.0 which is currently available for pre-order, includes a shorter dongle and the standard metal shroud. Looking through the device manager in windows, I found they are using a Texas Instruments CC2540 Bluetooth 4.1 SoC (system on a chip) for the dongle. I’m not entirely sure if this is possible with that chip, but it would be amazing if they included a basic Bluetooth stack (drivers), so that the dongle could be repurposed and used as a standard Bluetooth adapter. It would likely/hopefully be system dependent (simply the drivers installed without altering the dongle), meaning you could plug it in at the office and have it act as intended, and then plug it into your laptop or desktop at home or on commute to use it for things like Bluetooth headsets, speakers, controllers, keyboards, etc.

Desktop and Laptop Use (Windows + OSX)

I’ve only tested for Windows, so I am not fully aware of how much the OSX applications differ. They appear identical in screenshots outside of an “Allow GateKeeper to prevent sleep” toggle for OSX only. Available on their website are two components, a firmware updater, and the main application. As far as I can tell, neither the updater nor the main application will tell you any firmware version numbers at all, it just runs a check and decides on it’s on whether or not it needs to update.  Considering the main application runs an install, and the updater executable just runs, I’m unsure of why the updater isn’t just accessible via a button or context menu, and the same goes for the user manuals which could have been integrated instead of linking to the PDFs hosted on their website (meaning you’d need an active connection to read them). You’ll probably only update the firmware once or twice ever so it’s not an issue, though you will need to if you received the black-boxed version as I have, as they state on their site that an update is highly advised to fix a bug that rapidly drained battery. The updater requires that you have the main app installed and the USB dongle connected of course, and you just click next a few times with the GateKeeper nearby. I ran into no issues there.

GateKeeper - Desktop App

The main application consists of a single window, and an icon in the notification tray, neither of which have a right click context menu. There’s a signal strength meter, buttons to pair/un-pair your keys and set your login credentials (which will likely be your real Microsoft account password if you’re on Windows 8 or 10). You can toggle automatic locking and unlocking individually, and set the distance at which that happens. The unlock distance for some reason seems to trigger at about half the distance the locking does, and at a much faster rate as well. There’s a button below the slider that will open a pop-up noting what your PC state will be with based on the settings you have chosen and the key’s current distance. This would have been much easier to use if it was a button that opened a small testing window showed a colored icon in real time, and/or even bar where you could drag the distance slider based on the strength meter. I was only given one key, so I’m unsure of how the UI behaves with multiple registered, if they even allow that like the smartphone app. What I envisioned based on their marketing, is multiple PCs or laptops setup with the USB dongles in, and one key fob on your key ring to unlock all of them, possibly multiple keys, and the phone app to keep track of them and find them if lost. With the lacking documentation, and only one to review, I can’t vouch for all of that. I know the phone app can catalog and find multiple keys, and I’m pretty sure one key can be “registered” to unlock multiple separate PCs, though multiple keys unlocking the same computer is unlikely judging by the UI, with Unregister Key replacing the Register Key button once you have a single key connected. If that second bit is true, one key working for multiple dongles/systems, they don’t make getting multiple dongles easy as I see no way of buying just the dongle separately from the key, via their site or anywhere online.

In terms of security, there are two major flaws. This is only responsible for your windows password, and it will do almost nothing on its own to stop someone with an extended access to your system. The other, is that if someone is aware that you are using it, it is likely that they can find a way around it, especially if they are smart. I feel that once setup and while the GateKeeper settings menu is open, removing the USB dongle should instantly lock the PC. It does not do this by default nor is there an option to set it to. While returning the key near the dongle, unlocking occurs very quickly, though locking once the key leaves has a bit of delay to it. The delay seems semi-variable, but most of the time you can be a considerable distance away before it decides to lock, though standing still just past the lock point will work too. I’d definitely like to see customization of those delay timers. That delay combined with the behavior of the dongle, means that all someone has to do is unplug the dongle after you turn the corner and they are in. If you hide the dongle or make it inaccessible in some way, they can still click on the icon in the notifications bar and instantly prevent the PC from locking from then on. By default the hide option for notification icons simply doesn’t function as you’d expect, hiding meaning placing it within the up arrow menu, not making it completely inaccessible without going into a menu to re-enable it. It makes it two clicks instead of one, but there’s still plenty of time for that with the amount of delay there is to locking. This app would be much better as a fully background process, so that you had to click on a shortcut somewhere to open the settings window, rather than leaving it permanently in the taskbar. A solution if you’re in a case where someone might be overly nosey, could be to use Win + L to lock the PC, and then leave it to the auto unlocking when you walk back in. But because they didn’t account for this, if the key is in range and you press Win + L to lock, it instantly unlocks again in under a second. You’d have to throw the key down the hall, lock it with Win + L, or stand around just out of reach waiting for it to lock, just to prevent someone from casually walking over and clicking the taskbar or yanking out the USB dongle. They need to put in an ignore auto-unlock period when a manual lock is triggered. I’m unsure of how they’d go about that but I’m sure it’s possible in some manner. Either listening for Win + L or a new hotkey that triggers the lock and a possibly a 15-30 second period where auto-unlocking won’t trigger.

In the user manual, they claim two-factor authentication is enabled by disabling auto-unlock. The problem with that should be apparent if you recall the problems above. Locking suffers from a large delay, and that includes instances where the fob is completely absent. If you have only the password, you enter that and have I’d say between 6 and 15 seconds (multiplied infinitely if you know the password and can just enter it again) to find and click once on the GateKeeper settings icon in the taskbar, which again can’t be fully hidden easily. Alternatively, simply unplugging the USB dongle if it’s openly accessible completely removes the second factor and even that time element. True two-factor authentication would mean password entered and the key in range simultaneously, and this sadly comes nowhere close. A similar issue that isn’t necessarily their fault, is that their application cannot remain active through sleep nor a full shutdown, so if either happen, you must manually enter your password. It will remain active indefinitely while at the lock screen, even if you unplug and re-plug the USB dongle, but not if you have an auto-sleep time set in windows and it triggers. Finally, if you decide to stop using the device for whatever reason, they don’t include a toggle for start with windows within the app, which means it often puts a pop-up on the screen telling you to plug the USB dongle in. To rid of it coming back after every restart, you need to uninstall the application, or disable it via msconfig or something like CCCleaner. It uses a registry entry, so you can’t just drag it in/out of shell:startup.

Smartphone Use (Android + iOS)

Again here, I only was able to test the Android side, so I can’t speak on the iOS version of the app. I tested with a Galaxy S3 and S5, and the description claims “official” support for Galaxy S3/4/5, Nexus 4/5, and the HTC One, but that it may work with others. When you open the app, you simply hold the fob next to your phone and hit the Add Key button. It shows a list of nearby keys in the case that you have multiple, and selecting one will cause that specific fob to ring. You give it a name and it’s added to your library of keys. I couldn’t find a way to change the image that appears in the background as the app store pages partially show, nor could I fully test how it behaves with multiple keys as only one was given. The default background is oddly unappealing and of low quality, though it seems the iOS version has a smoother UI and fancier image. From the data on the app stores, the iOS version received its last update 6 months after the last on Google Play, Aug 2014 to Feb 2015.

GateKeeper - App Alpha

The app consists of a single screen with 3 options. The button along the bottom to switch between your registered keys. When pressed, the large Locate button in the center displays a meter that represents proximity to that key and then causes the key itself to ring once you get near enough, so that you can find your keys or bag. I had a friend hide the key, and I was able to find it relatively quickly under the couch via the meter and ringing noise. Lastly, at the top there’s a toggle switch labeled Alert. The site describes this as a mode to notify you when the key leaves the radius of your phone, which could be useful. Unfortunately, testing with two phones in multiple scenarios with the app closed/open, screen on/off, we couldn’t get anything to occur once the key left, outside of the range of it being detected at all by the phone. Maybe we didn’t go far enough, or maybe there’s a time limit to it, but we failed to get it working. And that’s about it for the apps functionality. Like the desktop app, its core primary function works as advertised, but customization options are nearly nonexistent, limiting its capabilities.

If you often misplace your keys, the functionality could save you some hassle, along the lines of calling your own phone with a friends to find it, but for your keys, though I feel more could be done on the software side to give it more use cases and flexibility. Why not phone to USB dongle functionality, to get an alert if you left behind your laptop? Why not allow your phone to act as an additional key for unlocking your PC? That kind of functionality has been around on PCs and Macs with any standard internal or USB Bluetooth adapter and smartphones for 3-5 years now. I get the point of the fob here, acting in place of a much larger and vastly more expensive device, but why not get the most out of the hardware and allow a smartphone to be integrated into the system optionally?

GateKeeper - Contents

Conclusion

The key ring and plastic fob have a cheap but still solid feel, and serve their purpose well enough outside of the back plate covering the battery being absurdly stiff on my sample (not too many others had this issue from the looks of it). The main concern is the relatively large card-style USB dongle which lacks the standard metal shroud and thus much of its rigidity while in a port. It wobbles considerably, and at least one user has reported the PCB snapping in half (they received a free replacement). The 2.0 model they’ve just put out for sale uses a shorter dongle with the metal shroud.

Its two primary functions, locking/unlocking a PC/Mac automatically and locating your key(s) via the smartphone app work as advertised. That said, their advertised functionality is really shallow once you think about it. The specs on the site and package don’t make many specific claims, and similarly, the desktop/laptop and smartphone applications don’t offer many configuration options, nor do they really account for factors that if done properly, could make this incredibly useful. I feel this product is let down considerably by the software, not because it’s particularly buggy or anything, but because there’s tons of things that it could do to make the hardware genuinely worth having, but it just doesn’t. In an office setting or a crowded household, its functionality has a place, but almost feels gimmicky, only a small convenience advantage, when I feel it has the potential to be further into the power-user category with better software backing it.

Pricing and Availability

[Temporarily inaccurate for the current Black Friday Sales, links at the top] At the time of review, this 1.0 model is on offer (silver only, blue for worldwide) from them temporarily for $34.99 shipped anywhere in the US, $44.99 shipped worldwide, and from Amazon for $42 – 48 shipped (4 colors, going in and out of stock). The 2.0 model just launched and is available for $54.99 US and $64.99 Worldwide from their site, touting a sturdier USB dongle, and a thinner soft-touch fob with more accurate ranging and an LED indicator.

I won’t usually speak on my thoughts on the pricing of a product, but I will here for a specific point. If you need something like this for windows, and/or can’t use a phone for some reason (more on that below), this is essentially your only option. If you need it, you need it… Otherwise I feel the pricing is off the mark, even during the current sale. Though to be fair, almost all of the other Bluetooth tagging/tracking devices are similarly expensive. However, two things could change that completely. If they worked on some of my suggestions regarding the software, accounting for factors they currently fail to, and come up with a solution to allow the dongle to function as it does now AND as a standard Bluetooth 4.0 USB adapter, simply based on the drivers installed for each system, I could totally see the $30-40 price point working brilliantly. Such adapters on their own usually range from $10-15, and can enable a lot of functionality on systems without Bluetooth adapters built-in, and having one included would be a massive value-add for this product. It may very well be the case that a working Bluetooth stack already exists for their dongle, and if so, they should definitely add it as a download to their site or at least mention it somewhere.

Alternatives

If you are specifically looking for the automated locking and unlocking functionality, and are in the Apple ecosystem, the best two options seem to be MacID and Near Lock. Both offer an app for OSX that pairs with an iPhone and/or Apple Watch for the automated proximity based unlocking and half a dozen other pretty impressive features. MacID has notably higher ratings but comes with an upfront cost of $4, and Near Lock is free with some features behind a $4 in-app paywall. MacIDs feature-set seems extremely impressive and reviewers seem to agree, but then again we are talking about a $1000-2000+ system paired with a mobile device ranging from $300-800, and platforms with nearly pure hardware standardization, so I guess that’s expected. I believe both use the Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) standard (as does GateKeeper), so battery drain should be minimal.

For Windows, It seems people used to recommend BTProximity, but because of an installer that sourced most of its files from a server during install that is now nonexistent, it’s impossible to find, to the point where people post fake download links knowing people are looking everywhere for it. It seemed solid enough for me to recommend, so it being dead is a real shame, and nothing of note has taken its place. And that brings me back to my point in the conclusion. If you are a Windows user who needs this kind of functionality, the GateKeeper is your only reasonable option, which is why I hope for those who need this kind of thing, the software continues to see updates. Lupo, a Bluetooth tagging product seemingly only available in the UK claims to offer PC locking/unlocking functionality, but there are no reviews or documentation covering this outside of one statement I found saying that each tag couldn’t be paired with both a PC and a phone at the same time.

For full disclosure, the GateKeeper 1.0 was sent out to me by Untethered Labs for review. This is my first non-game review, so I’d like to quickly explain my style. I may sound overly critical or harsh, but that is not at all my intent. I make an effort to analyze every factor, to look into specifics that others completely gloss over. In the same sense, I will not be awarding any product or game with a numerical score, as they are inherently flawed because of how people view numbers differently, and how scales from 1 to 10 tend to get squashed into 6-10, everything below being equally abysmal.

 

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