Nov 17 2008

Review Of Zoombak Finds Performance Less Than Average

 

 

Upon purchasing the Zoombak GPS tracking device, you will first notice the convenient compact size of the unit which comes complete with an AC wall charger, pouch, car charger and user-guide. What might also catch your eye is the innovative packaging which illustrates Zoombak’s efforts to target specific market segments.  Their message, “We offer products designed to meet everyone’s needs”, leaves an overall aesthetically pleasing first impression on the consumer.

Start-Up and Activation:

Upon bringing the unit home, you will need to activate the Zoombak GPS tracking unit before it will be ready to record GPS locations. The initial set-up process requires the user to visit the Zoombak website and click on the “activate” tab to create and activate an account. Activating an account requires an e-mail address for a username, a password for secure login, a four digit pin for SMS based communication with the Zoombak, and the answer to a  general security question such as a mother’s maiden name or family pet name. You will also need to provide an alphanumeric name such as Ryan25, Spot04, etc. Once the account is created, the user will then need to disclose credit card information to keep on file for the monthly fee ($14.99) that will be drawn from the user’s credit card every 30 days. Because the unit incorporates cellular technology provided by T-Mobile, a service plan, along with a one year commitment is required under the T-Mobile terms and conditions. If you were to cancel the plan prematurely, a $100.00 termination fee would be applied to your card on file. Activating the unit is a simple, user-friendly procedure.  Should you, however, experience difficulty getting an account set-up, Zoombak provides customer service support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as well as a “live-chat” option that is available from 11:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m., EST.

Activation
Activation

Activation Complete!

Once an account as been set-up and the data plan has been activated, the Zoombak GPS tracking unit must be charged for 24 hours before it can be placed on the vehicle to begin tracking. (PLEASE NOTE:  As timing is often essential, customers needing to track immediately out of the box should be wary of this requirement, as initial use of this product will necessitate a certain amount of planning) There is one LED light on the unit that will flash amber when the battery is getting low and will retain a steady amber color when charging. When the unit is charged at capacity, the LED light will illuminate a steady green color which will indicate that the unit is ready for placement. The LED light will then flash green to signify that the unit is on and functioning. If battery life is a concern, Zoombak customers can sign up to receive e-mail or text alerts when the unit’s battery is at 25% capacity and/or when the unit is powered off due to a drained battery. After being charged for 24 hours, the Zoombak was positioned outside with a clear line of sight to acquire its first signal. Unfortunately, the unit failed to communicate with the server, meaning that it was unable to track positions or record data. Since Zoombak provides 24 hour customer care, a phone call was placed into the call center to address the technical issue. Although 24 hour technical support initially sounded wonderful, once dialogue began with the Costa Rican support team, a surprising discovery was made:  The Zoombak customer support team was not a technical based support team, meaning it appeared they had pre-scripted dialogue for certain FAQs. The support team sounded as if they read their answers straight from a computer rather than listened to the various questions, making these people seem less than professional. Once it was determined that the Zoombak was defective, the unit had to be exchanged at the local electronics store where it was purchased and the whole process needed to be started over from scratch.

How is the Tracking Data Accessed?

Once the Zoombak is activated and it is determined that the unit is not defective, the first question you may ask is “how is the tracking data accessed?” The Zoombak is not only a web-based application that allows you to access the location of a vehicle from any computer with internet capabilities, but also allows you to receive SMS based notifications (text messages) via cell phone. By texting 96225 and typing “find” in the message area, you can receive the location of the vehicle equipped with the Zoombak in under a minute. This application also allows you to create virtual boundaries or “safety zones”, such as around your house. Whenever the locator enters or leaves that safety zone, you will be alerted via email or SMS text message. The message will say “Your locator has left the safety zone ‘home’ at 3:15 p.m.” Although it is convenient to access the location of a vehicle from any personal computer, via text message, or through the “safety zones”, the Zoombak seems to require a great deal of human maintenance to gather the daily tracking activities. This is due to the Zoombak’s inability to track continuously for more than one hour with 5 minute updates and without human correspondence. Unfortunately, even when the device was being monitored so the continuous tracking feature could be activated after every hour, problems occurred. The two main problems with clicking continuous tracking are 1.) That there may be “an error communicating with device” or, 2.) After a little over 12 straight hours of receiving updates in five minute intervals, the battery will die. The Zoombak can only record approximately 150 times with five minute updates before the battery dies, or five days when not updating at all. Because the unit is so compact in size, there is little room for a sufficient battery supply, thereby creating another inconvenience: having to recharge the unit on a frequent basis. So, if you are an employer whose business calls for five minute updates of daily tracking activities, you will need to charge the unit’s battery approximately every night!

For viewing the tracking data online, the Zoombak uses Microsoft’s Virtual Earth as its mapping engine. The user can view the tracking history over a plain street map, aerial view (satellite image), or the bird’s eye view. (satellite image) The bird’s eye view feature especially affords a great comprehensive view of the area where the Zoombak is located, and while the satellite picture is not “real-time” it does give the viewer a more intimate feel of the surroundings of the Zoombak’s location. The bird’s eye view, however, only projects a 45 degree angle of a satellite image of a location and does not permit the viewer to zoom in and zoom out for different viewing perspectives.  For some consumers, this is not a high priority, though others may find it limiting. And although the aesthetic bird’s eye viewing feature is detailed, the mapping software does not allow you to access an informative daily or weekly activity report in a text version. Basically, if you’re looking for a detailed written tracking history for tracking mileage or business trips, this mapping software will not suffice.

Beginning to Track

After carefully following the set-up instructions for the second time, the unit was again activated and ready to begin tracking. The unit’s petite design, 2.87” x 1.69” x 0.82” (L x W x H), led us to believe that there would be flexibility in its placement; however, the owners’ manual suggested that the optimum placement would be either on the front dashboard or in the glove box, offering no other alternatives for positioning. The owner’s manual recommended these locations because the GPS unit must have a direct line of sight to the sky in order for it to acquire a signal.  But because the Zoombak has no mounting capabilities, the unit can only be placed in the cab of the vehicle. The Zoombak may therefore be a helpful tool for parents who want to monitor their teen’s driving activities, but it would have no application for law enforcement agencies that relied on GPS tracking units for criminal investigations. The unit’s GPS acquisition and accuracy were then tested in both recommended positions along with an additional location: under the passenger seat.

 

On The Front Dashboard:

The front or rear dashboard is the most recommended option for placement, as the Zoombak is provided a clear and direct line of sight to the sky, resulting in the lowest GPS acquisition time and increased accuracy. The Zoombak was able to accurately acquire a GPS signal within 10 seconds of its placement, locating the exact parking space where the vehicle was situated. The accuracy with this placement was great; however, if an individual wanted to be covert about the placement, this would notbe a viable option. Anyone behind the wheel or in the passenger seat would easily notice a foreign device with a blinking green light on the front dashboard!

 

In the Glove Box

The glove box is the second location Zoombak’s owner’s manual suggested for placement. From inside the glove box, the Zoombak acquired a signal within 15 seconds, and was accurate within ten to twenty feet. This is because GPS signals can penetrate matter composed of plastic, glass, rubber, fiber-glass, cloth material, and just about anything else with the exception of concrete and metal. It should be noted, however, that although recommended by Zoombak, placement in this location of the vehicle raises some customer concerns, mainly about concealment and the desire to be covert.  Since many customers use devices of this type for tracking teenage drivers, it makes sense that they would want to mount the unit in an area that is not visible and not accessible.  Positioning the Zoombak directly in the glove box makes it easy for a sixteen year-old to remove it, thereby eliminating all evidence of his or her whereabouts.  And since Zoombak offers few other placement options, we must ask the question:  is this an effective tracking tool, especially for concerned parents of teenage drivers, employers with company vehicles, etc.?

 

Under the Passenger Seat

Note: Zoombak recommends placing its device on either the front dashboard or in the glove box.  When the unit is purchased at the Zoombak website, you will receive an InstallCard that entitles you to have the Zoombak hardwired to your car’s battery by a local professional at the negotiated price of $59.99 if you wanted to have the unit securely positioned in a different location other than the recommended. Although, the Zoombak owner’s manual does not specify placement under the front or passenger seat as an effective location, the test was performed there as well. Surprisingly, the unit acquired a GPS signal within a reasonable timeframe (25 + seconds), and the accuracy was relatively good (+/- 22 ft).

 

Under the Vehicle

The Zoombak does not have any mounting capabilities in this location.  Therefore, the unit cannot be installed or mounted to the frame of the vehicle.

Special Features:

In a highly competitive marketplace flooded with GPS tracking devices, the Zoombak falls short in some crucial areas when it comes to special features. First of all, the unit does not have the ability to track the speed of the vehicle.  For example, if you are a parent who is concerned about the reckless driving habits of your teen, this device would not have the appropriate application for you. Yes, the unit would allow you to know your son or daughter’s whereabouts when the unit is “pinged”, but if he or she is driving 94mph on the interstate, you would have no way of accessing this potentially life-threatening information.

The continuous tracking feature allows you to obtain updates every five minutes for one hour. A clock icon counts down the seconds until the hour has passed, recording every position of the unit for the allotted time. However, once the countdown has ended and the data is transferred to the historical tracking section, it can take up to four hours before the data can be viewed!  In a business or even personal situation, this could prove counterproductive.   Say you needed to immediately confront your employee or teen about his driving history. Count on approximately four hours before being able to access this data again!. In addition, the Zoombak does not record GPS coordinates such as longitude and latitude positions; moreover, only a range of addresses can be accurately pinpointed from the exact location to up to 110 yards. For a current GPS tracking device, this falls surprisingly short of competing tracking devices providing 6 to 8 ft. accuracy.

Conclusion:

When the testing process began, we were very excited about putting the Zoombak GPS tracking device into action. The packaging was appealing, the unit was compact, and the cost was very reasonable at $ 199.00.  Activating the Zoombak online, setting up an account, and providing billing information for the monthly fees  seemed to be a simple and straightforward procedure. Then, when the first unit was found to be defective, the customer service representatives failed to answer basic questions, and the battery life did not allow the unit to stay in the field for more than a couple of days before needing recharging–our excitement quickly turned to frustration and disappointment.

The continuous tracking feature was helpful and accurate; it was a constant struggle, however, for the device to maintain a sufficient battery life. With the continuous tracking feature running consistently, the device would only operate for approximately 12 hours before it lost power. Also, after the continuous tracking feature ended, the data could take up to four hours before it was saved in the historical tracking section.

The Microsoft Virtual Earth mapping system was easy to operate. While the road mapping was a very basic and rather colorless form of mapping, the aerial and bird’s eye view mapping were incredible!  Microsoft did an excellent job of putting the mapping application together. Yet although, the bird’s eye view showed a detailed satellite image that is more than impressive, Zoombak failed to provide additional mapping tools such as activity or text reports to give the user a written account of the vehicle tracking history for important applications such as mileage tracking.

Pros vs. Cons:  Summary of Zoombak Review:

PROS:

  • Compact size for easy mounting
  • Attractive packaging
  • User-friendly start-up and activation features
  • Tracking data easily accessed
  • Continuous tracking feature
  • Water-resistant exterior
  • Microsoft virtual earth satellite mapping
  • Reasonable monthly fee (only $14.99)
  • Customer Service Support Center operates 24/7
  • “Live Chat” option available daily 11AM – 8PM EST

 

CONS:

  • Initial 24 hour battery charge prior to activation
  • Inadequate customer support team
  • Inability to track continuously for more than one hour w/5 minute updates
  • Requires re-charging on a frequent basis due to little room for a sufficient battery supply
  • Restricted placement options make it difficult to conceal the unit
  • Lacks vehicle speed tracking capabilities
  • Does not record GPS coordinates such as latitude and longitude positions
  • Mapping capabilities do not include additional tools such as activity and text reports

 

The Bottom Line:

From shelf appeal to activation, the Zoombak gives a great first impression. However, once the device is set up and ready to begin tracking, the inadequate engineering quickly diminishes the initial expectations. The bottom line is, when you purchase one of the least expensive GPS tracking systems on the market, you ultimately get what you pay for.

Rating

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Review Of Zoombak Finds Performance Less Than Average”

  1. [...] Review Of Zoombak Finds Performance Less Than AverageBecause the unit incorporates cellular technology provided by T-Mobile, a service plan, along with a one year commitment is required under the T-Mobile terms and conditions. If you were to cancel the plan prematurely, … [...]

  2. steve smithon 10 Apr 2009 at 10:41 am

    looking for a tracking device that I can put on my 9.9hp out board motor so I can find it if stolen thanks Steve

  3. Mikeon 03 Jun 2009 at 7:16 pm

    When I first purchased and activated Zoombak it worked great – for about a month. Since then I have had 4 new Zoombaks sent to me to replace the original one that broke. Three were DOA and 1 worked about 10% of the time. A month later I am still trying to get it to work. It was supposedly ‘escalated’, whatever that means, and I was told that the “Experts” would work on it and would have an answer in 24 hours. I called back 40 hours later and was told that there was not a single update to the trouble ticket and that it could take 24-48 hours for a resolution. My last call was nearly 1-week later and the problem was not resolved, and I doubt it was even worked on. Guess what, they’re sending me a fifth replacement.

    My advice is to NOT waste your time and money on Zoombak. A product that only works 10% of the time (at best) or not at is worthless, not to mention it takes 5 or more replacements to even get your 10% utilization. Troubleshooting the Zoombak is a joke. They always want you to place your device in a wide open area on top of your car to test it, and if it works, they consider it good. They seem to completely ignore the realitiy that the device is inside a car. They apparently expect us to secure it to the front window or dashboard in plain site of your kids that you are tracking; completely negating its purpose. We all have better things to do with our time rather than spend 5-6 hours on the phone with their “technical” people. Just use the GPS function on your kid’s cell phone and save yourself a ton of headaches.

  4. Kevin Richardson 18 Jun 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Wish I found this web site before I purchased Zoombak. Three versions later and still not working. Ended up getting a refund which was hard. I switched to Blackberry tracking in the end with WatchOverMe.co.uk. I only had to install their Watchberry software on my phone and I’m now set and reliably tracking – phew.

    My advise, agreeing with the above, ditch bespoke trackers and use well manufactured GPS enabled phones, like Blackberry’s with someones tracking software like I did.

    Kevin.

  5. Karenon 11 Aug 2009 at 4:59 pm

    I hope my TrackingKey works. Just got it in the mail today and the rubber seals are already falling off. For $200 I’m really hoping!

  6. Webnicianon 25 Aug 2009 at 9:29 am

    ZoomBak has an amazing device and service, but their marketing is over-blown and capitalizes on the public’s appetite for science fiction.

    I don’t understand how a company could promote a “GPS tracking device” intended to be enclosed or hidden nor do I understand how the average person could believe it. To date, every GPS on the market either requires a line-of-sight to the satellites or an outside antenna with the same. Yes, cell-tower triangulation can be used to estimate location, but only within 1/4 mile or so.

    Why doesn’t the company promote the actual capabilities of their service? ZoomBak, the service, WILL help find your kid or possessions, but with certain limitations. With typical cellular coverage, it can report at any time where it last got a GPS fix, which might be just outside of a building. If the device is in a car trunk, however, it would be unlikely that it would EVER get a GPS fix, so it could only use cellular triangulation.

    Simply put, you WILL NOT use the GPS features to combat vehicle theft unless you take some rather difficult measures to mount it. No thief will be so stupid as to not notice the device on the dash or an antenna on the roof. Kidnappers might not notice the device hidden in a bag, so GPS might help in that case. For fleet vehicles, there’s no reason it couldn’t be mounted for excellent GPS tracking.

  7. Ryanon 27 Nov 2009 at 4:59 pm

    I too used this piece of junk for a month before I sent it back for a return. What I hate most about it, other than the update interval of 5 minutes!, was the service agreement. Most people only need to use a GPS tracking system for a few months not 2 years zoombak. I found a great system that does real-time updates every 10 seconds and has no contracts at tracking system direct ..its a little more expensive but you get what you pay for :)

  8. Paul Frankson 15 Dec 2009 at 11:20 am

    Just a note:

    According to Zoombak, once activated account must be active and billed for one year, regardless of plan chossen.

    I just closed my account, and now I am informed that it can never be re-activiated. That does not make much sense, they stated it was a “SIM” issue, but I would think that like a cell phone, that transponder could be tied to a provider in the future. You would think it would be like setting a “New Account”.

    Basically this policy makes Zoombak a “one time use” product

  9. Windy Welchon 11 Jan 2010 at 5:49 pm

    BEWARE: Zoombak is run by nothing but selfish, insensitive, thieves. I have been waiting since AUGUST 09 for a refund on charges that they ILLEGALLY removed from my account AFTER I had closed my zoombak account. They have been promising me a refund since AUGUST, still have no refund, and on top of that they continued to charge me monthly, overdrawing my back account, to the sum of $763.97 in over draft charges, and bank fees. I have given them ALL the information and spoken to their manager, Darren Carson, over 20 times, and still they do not care. I am a mother of 3 kids, who because of this, did not get a christmas, I am disabled and make enough money to pay my rent, and still, they have not helped fix THEIR mistake. I have contacted the BBB and am in the process of filing a lawsuit for unauthorized charges and fraud against my account. This company should be ashamed of the way they have treated me, and my kids. If there is anyone higher than Mr. Darren Carson, i highly recommend you reassess your companys morals and check out the information I have sent to him over the past 6 months…Hey darren, still waiting on the “refund” you promised me back in august, september, october, november, december and january! Hows that coming along?

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