Lately I’ve become obsessed with smart wallets. With the increasing presence if the internet of things in our daily lives, even or wallets are getting smarter. At their core these accessories tend to feature basic options like a built in power bank. Many offer additional features such as Bluetooth tethering, RFID blocking, and even built in Wi-Fi hotspots.
I love the concept and many are priced similarity to a “dumb” wallet that you might find in high end retailers like Coach. Even with the reasonable prices, I’m sure that many have a wallet or two lying around that they don’t use anymore. So I asked the question “Could you build your own smart wallet with generally available parts?” So I went to the internet to see if I could turn an existing wallet to a smart wallet.
The Battery Pack
I began this experiment by picking up a 2600 mAh battery pack from my local Five Below. The size seemed to be adequate for tucking into my wallet. The problem would be what to do with the cord. No one wants a bulky wallet and the addition of the cord presented an issue since it did not retract into the unit like those I’d found online. In testing the battery in my spare wallet, I found that it fit perfectly and did not make it as uncomfortable as I had thought. The cord still presented a problem, but I was able to snake it from inside of the bill fold and through the wallet with the end tucked in to an interior fold of the wallet. Overall it is a useable solution and seems as slim as some of the fully assembled smart wallets. The only downside is that I couldn’t find any slim battery packs that offered wireless charging to mimic the abilities of established smart wallets like Chaargo and Volterman.
The Bluetooth Tracker
Most of the smart wallets that have stuck my fancy also offer Bluetooth tethering with your phone to create a digital leash with companying map finder feature with an associated phone application. As I have access to iOS, Android, and Windows 10 devices, I attempted to find an inexpensive Bluetooth tag that could fit into a wallet and would be universal to all devices. After doing some research, I decided on first edition of the Nokia Treasure Tag as it could tether via Bluetooth or NFC and was supposedly universal in device compatibility.
I was able to purchase a new in box unit for five bucks on eBay, so the cost was very minimal. Once received, the device presented problems as there is no longer an official application on any store to work with the treasure tag. This led me on a hunt for generic Bluetooth LE connector apps in the various app stores. In my search I only found one that worked, and it was in the Microsoft store on windows of all places. This was quite surprising as the App store and Google Play offer quite a larger number of app compared to the Microsoft store, but none of them fit the bill. They did offer quite a number of paid apps, but I wasn’t about to pay for something if I wasn’t sure that it worked first. The Microsoft store app offered a free trial and ended up offering all the features that I was looking for including real time mapping and loss alert. The trial did end after two weeks and then only cost $3.79with the app working on both Windows 10 mobile and pc devices. As I was not able to find an app that worked on the other platforms, I would look to getting something with a dedicated app like Tile in any future iterations of this project to ensure that it works with iOS and Android.
The Finished Product
The finished product was not as bulky or as uncomfortable as I would have imagined it to be. The only real inconvenience in the hold set up is the cord and how it feels as you sit. Its position (and shifting of said position) can greatly impact how the wallet feels in my pocket. That said carrying it is an overall favorable experience. Also the utility of the wallet was evident as I frequently topped off during a recent business trip where long days of using my phone for taking notes and for capturing media during the conference taxed my normally lengthy battery life.
Is this DIY smart wallet a good substitute for any already fabricated one? I don’t have the answer to that question as a lot really depended on one’s personal preference. However this DIY solution can work for those interested carrying something similar to a smart wallet but for a tenth of the price. I am disappointed that the Nokia Treasure Tag was not as universal as I thought it was going to be, but with a plethora of cheap Bluetooth tag that are compatible with iOS and android, this issue is something that can be easily rectified. The next step is to actually embed these items in the wallet for a more comfortable feel (in theory) and to bring it closer in line to what is on the market today.