React Sidekick Hands-on Review

I first wrote about the React Sidekick last August right before the tragic murder of Beverly Carter. This event really hit home for me. There are many people whom I love that work in real estate and the murder of Beverly Carter was a drastic wake up call. There are safety precautions we can use when in potentially dangerous situations but what about products that can help us get the help we need when we need it?

A Little About the React Sidekick

From a product perspective there are safety apps but they require that you fumble around with your phone before being able to request help, there are panic buttons but they require that you’re near a home with a connected security system, and then there is the React Sidekick. The React Sidekick is seemingly the perfect solution for people on the go and I’ve been patiently awaiting a chance to test it. The Sidekick isn’t just for REALTORS. It’s for anyone that ventures out alone. You can wear it while running, walking to your car, walking to class, while meetings up for a Craigslist purchase, or any time that you feel uncomfortable being alone. Sidekick is a connected panic button that can call for help with a single click so long as you are within 100 feet of your Bluetooth enabled smartphone.

The React Sidekick includes access to a free mobile app. Through the app you can customize how your Sidekick behaves. You can pre-program React to call someone you’ve added as a contact or it can reach out to 911 on your behalf. Sidekick can also post messages directly to Twitter or Facebook potentially widening the net of people available to help you when you need it. There are three primary modes: I’m Fine, Follow Me, and Help Me. I’m Fine is pretty clear, right? Help Me is what you choose when you need immediate help. Follow Me is the most unusual mode of the three. When you choose Follow Me, you will be asking a designated contact to virtually “follow you” for added peace of mind. They will be sent a link to a map where they can see the path you are taking and they can track you for a limited amount of time that is pre-designated by you.

Alexandria Luschen – Pro Cyclist and competitor – Nemesis Racing, Seattle WA – “React Mobile is great for athlete’s. I love that my network can watch over me while I’m on rides or while running and now with the Sidekick, all I need to do is press a button to let a wide network know where I am and that I need help. As a cyclist accidents happen all the time, and many times your phone is not within reach. I’m recommending the Sidekick to my team and other cyclists.”

React Sidekick Features vs Performance

Pairing the Sidekick with my phone was an easy process. Simply download the iOS or Android app, make sure Bluetooth is turned on, turn on your Sidekick by pressing the power button on the side of the device, click setup Sidekick device and follow the in-app setup tutorial. The whole process takes about 5 minutes.

FeatureAs Promisedvs. Performance
ConnectionPair Device to App Using BluetoothIssues. I had to set up my Sidekick every time I turned Bluetooth off and back on. It does not automatically reconnect to your device.
Bluetooth Lost ConnectionNotification Sent if Bluetooth Connection is LostDid Not Work
SOS Alerts to Trusted ContactWill Send an SOS Alert to Your Contact With a Link to Your LocationWorks
Call to 911Add 911 As An Emergency ContactNot Tested
I'm SafeWill Send an "I'm Safe" Message to Your Contacts When You Are In the ClearWorks
Works When Phone LockedOne Click Assistance Works Even When Phone is LockedWorks
AppsAndroid, Kindle Fire, iOSTested iOS and Android, works
Wear It or Carry ItTwo Clips for Clothing or KeychainsWorks
Feature As Promised
Connection
Pair Device to App Using Bluetooth
Bluetooth Lost Connection
Notification Sent if Bluetooth Connection is Lost
SOS Alerts to Trusted Contact
Will Send an SOS Alert to Your Contact With a Link to Your Location
Call to 911
Add 911 As An Emergency Contact
I'm Safe
Will Send an "I'm Safe" Message to Your Contacts When You Are In the Clear
Works When Phone Locked
One Click Assistance Works Even When Phone is Locked
Apps
Android, Kindle Fire, iOS
Wear It or Carry It
Two Clips for Clothing or Keychains
Feature vs. Performance
Connection
Issues. I had to set up my Sidekick every time I turned Bluetooth off and back on. It does not automatically reconnect to your device.
Bluetooth Lost Connection
Did Not Work
SOS Alerts to Trusted Contact
Works
Call to 911
Not Tested
I'm Safe
Works
Works When Phone Locked
Works
Apps
Tested iOS and Android, works
Wear It or Carry It
Works

From an accuracy perspective it is more accurate than Life360 which I ran simultaneously during one of the tests. My test partner knew the exact moment I was home thanks to the Sidekick. Life360 alerted him that I was home 15 minutes after I actually arrived. Both apps show the exact route that was traveled. The benefit of using Life360? It pulls less battery power. The benefit of using the Sidekick? Accuracy, speed, and additional features like the ability to call for help if needed without messing around with your phone.

Calling 9-1-1 via React Sidekick

As I didn’t test a call to 911, I decided to do a little research. Through a call with Todd Piett, Chief Product Officer at Rave Mobile Safety / Smart911.com, an expert on 9-1-1 processes, I was able to better understand how a call to 9-1-1 would work. I was concerned about accuracy. After all, how will they know who is calling? How will they know where you are at?

Piett was not familiar with the React Sidekick device but spoke in generalities surrounding the 9-1-1 process and similar devices. According to Piett, calling 9-1-1 from your mobile device (which is essentially what React does) will provide location information to 9-1-1. If your phone is calling 9-1-1, they will look at what tower you are talking to and the sector and route that information to the correct 9-1-1 center. The center will query your phone and determine your location using GPS. How accurate is that? It depends. Calling from outside is more accurate than calling from a mobile device while inside a building but accuracy can still vary.

Piett says that he would suggest yelling or speaking loudly so that the 9-1-1 operator can hear you. For example, you push the Sidekick button, it will call 9-1-1, and you communicate your need for help including your location. Piett says that communication will change the status of a 9-1-1 call. If you call 9-1-1 using React Sidekick and don’t say anything the call will be treated differently depending upon your center’s policy. They might treat it as an open call, they might treat it as a hangup, and they might treat it as a low priority call. It seems like your best bet is to communicate loud enough that the 9-1-1 operator will hear you. This is totally plausible as you must have your phone near you in order for React to work.

In addition to yelling out for help I suggest using multiple forms of communication with the Sidekick. Don’t just rely on 9-1-1. Have your Help Me alerts set to push to social media and to your personal safety contacts to help widen the reach of your call for help.

What I Would Change About the Sidekick

The biggest hindrance to performance wasn’t me and it wasn’t the device, it was my testing partner. I asked him to download the app and then assumed that everything else would just fall into place. In actuality, he needed a little bit of guidance. My advice is to spend some time with your safety contacts. Teach them what a Help Me alert is versus a Follow Me request. Teach them how to accept a Follow Me request and test different features with them so they know what to do in the event of an actual emergency.

From a device perspective there is one kink that needs to be worked out. I would say the biggest issue is that losing or turning off Bluetooth completely disconnects the pairing between the device and your phone and it does so without warning. For example, let’s say you’ve disconnected Bluetooth to save battery, moved onto something else, and forgot about Sidekick. Later that day you go for a walk and need to use your Sidekick. Too bad. Your phone and your Sidekick are no longer on speaking terms unless you open up your app and help them get back together. This is not how the team intended the device to work and I’m hopeful that there will be a resolution to this issue.

There are also a couple gotchas to be aware of. For example, you must have your phone on you in order for Sidekick to work as it uses your phone for GPS and communication. The maximum range is 100 feet. The second thing to be aware of is that running GPS and Bluetooth will drain your battery. The first day of testing my battery dropped 10% in one hour. Finally, if I can be picky for a moment, I really wish the device looked cooler. Maybe in black? Maybe a little less like a medical alert device? Would a college kid actually wear this? I intend to find out the answer to that last question in a couple weeks.

All in all I think the React Sidekick is a cool device with the potential to enhance personal safety. You can order a React Sidekick for $79.99 on ReactMobile.com.

Disclaimer: I was given the React Sidekick for testing though this did not influence my opinion.