Short tech takes

Review: Ditto gives your phone good vibrations

This tiny gadget offers an unobtrusive way to be notified of calls, texts and emails.

Sometimes it's the little things that count.

At least, that's the case with the Ditto ($40), a very small, inexpensive and useful gadget that does one thing and does it very well: Gently vibrates to notify you when you're getting a call, a text message or an email.

First, I have to make an admission: I miss a lot of calls. When I'm in a store, or on a city street, I'm likely to be concentrating on what's going on around me rather than the faint sound coming from my bag. If I keep the phone in my pocket, I'm somewhat more likely to hear it but if, as I suspect, my next phone is going to be 5 in. or larger, a pocket will no longer be an option.

So when I first saw the Ditto in a press event a few months ago, I suspected that it was something I could use. And I was right.

What it does

The Ditto, which comes from a company called Simple Matters, is a smooth oblong object about the size of a large checker piece; it comes in black, white or clear plastic. It is actually made up of two parts: a base and a clip that also contains a small watch battery. When you get the Ditto, you have to insert the battery into the clip and then attach the clip to the base; it's an easy process that takes maybe five minutes.

You then pair the unit to your phone via Bluetooth using the Ditto app (available for iOS or Android). And that's it -- clip it to a piece of clothing and the Ditto will gently vibrate in a series of short bursts to alert you to an incoming message.

The default patterns are one short vibration for an email, two for a text and three for a phone call. You can also get a vibration alert for a scheduled event; a "tether" feature will alert you if your phone and the Ditto are separated. (According to the company, the range is up to 390 feet, but can vary widely depending on where you are; for example, I got the signal if my phone was on the first floor of my house and I was on the second.)

There are a few other vibration patterns as well; you can reassign any of the patterns or turn any of them off using the app.

The app also allows you to set the Ditto to only notify you of phone calls and SMS messages from specific contacts; set an alarm or a timer; and choose a "Do Not Disturb" time (for, say, nighttime hours). A "Vibrate Now" button lets you check to make sure the Ditto is still working.

How well it worked

I carried the Ditto around with me for several days, and found it quite useful. I tried it clipped to my waistline, clipped to my belt, and in my pocket; I felt the vibrations even through denim jeans.

And it worked -- in more ways that I had expected. I usually don't use audio notifications for my emails because they can be too intrusive for anyone else in the room, especially if it's a busy day. That means, though, I'm constantly checking my phone for email. But the Ditto allowed me to leave my phone alone because I knew that I'd get a discreet buzz in my pocket when an email arrived.

In fact, the main problem I had with the Ditto was its size and the possibility that it would get misplaced. While the clip is fairly sturdy, the unit occasionally worked its way loose from my waistband; and (perhaps because I was using the black one), it could be difficult to find. (Twice, I had to tap the "Vibrate Now" feature on the app and listen very carefully.) The Ditto does come with a strap so you can attach it to your wrist like a watch, but I found that rather uncomfortable (and unattractive).

My other issue was that, while the Ditto notified me of my Android phone's native Gmail email and SMS messages, it doesn't handle third-party apps -- such as Google Hang, which I route most of my text messages through.

Bottom line

All in all, the Ditto is a useful gadget for those of us who often miss calls and other messages because we don't hear them. For $40, it's a no-brainer -- especially if you don't have any immediate plans to buy a $400 smartwatch.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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