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Don't Ever Lose Your Keys Again

Gadgets, apps help you find things you routinely misplace

En Español | I lost my glasses. No biggie. Only this time I misplaced them for an entire week. I started to think about the amount of time I spend looking for misplaced objects. My cellphone, keys, the remote for the TV, the glasses and sometimes even my car. With all of the technology around, there has to be better methods to find these things. The good news is that many of them work. The bad news is that many don't work all that well.

Finding the cellphone

For many of us our cellphones and smartphones have become an essential lifeline to stay in touch with the world and often to store critical data such as contacts and calendars. Unfortunately they are easy to lose, forget or misplace. There are several technologies to help. Zomm is a described as a wireless leash. It's the size of a key fob and works with your cellphone's Bluetooth transmitter. If you walk out of your house or your office and leave the phone more than thirty feet behind, the Zomm starts vibrating, then flashes and sounds an alarm. We've seen it sold anywhere from $56 to $90. The Zomm also serves as a speakerphone and has a panic button to make an emergency call. Finally, if you lose the Zomm, you can reverse the process and use your phone to find it.

Next: Apps for finding your smartphone. >>

There are a host of apps to help you find your lost phone with names like "Where's My Droid" , "Lost Phone", "Find My Android" and many more. Some require you to call your phone from a computer. Some want you to text your phone from another cellphone. Some will send back the location of your phone. Others will let you remotely reset the ringer from silent to ring. And still others will let you remotely disable the phone and even wipe out its data. Apple's iPhone4 includes one of my favorites for free, "FindMyPhone." It will let you go to a website, track your phone's location using its built-in GPS sensor, and allow you to disable the phone remotely or wipe out all of its data. And yes, I've had to use it myself. Phone Locator Pro does much the same for Android phones at a price of $2.86. Of course, if you lose it in the house, you call always just pick up another phone and call the missing cell.

Hand using key FOB for Find One Find All device

Courtesy Melbourne Designs/Find One Find All

The Find One Find All, or FOFA, key fob can help you find up to six devices.

Finding the keys

It's easy to attach a small electronic key fob to your keys. Push the transmitter and an alarm sounds on the key fob. Sometimes there's a flashing light as well. There are a number of key finder sets on the market, many of which come with multiple receivers so you can tag other important items like your wallet, or remote controls. Among the brands we found available on EZ-Find, Smart Finder, Click 'n Dig and Orliv Smart Finder. Prices generally run from about $25 to $45 for a transmitter and a set of six receivers. But there is one big problem with most of these systems. They use a single transmitter. Misplace that and you're out of luck in finding any of the six things electronically attached to it. There is one product I've found that may have the best solution. Find One Find All, or FOFA, can manage six devices as well. It has a variety of receivers including flat ones for your wallet, key fob style, and the only one I've found for retrieving eyeglasses. That uses a small receiver as part of a glasses lanyard. The difference is that all of FOFA's receivers are also transmitters. So as long as you can find just one of your FOFA activated items you can theoretically locate the rest.

Next: Help finding your car. >>

Augmented reality view of car tracking application from FOFA

Car tracking apps can help you navigate your way into a crowded parking lot.

Finding the Car

Most of us have experienced walking out of a big shopping mall and not remembering where the car is parked, especially if it's a place with which you are unfamiliar. It also happens with rental cars when you forget what the car looks like. Well, there's an app for that; actually several. They have names like, "Where's My Car", "Take Me To My Car", and "Find My Car". They are available for all the smartphone platforms and most of them work pretty much the same way. When you park your car you open the app, and hit the button that says something like "remember this location." It uses the GPS feature to pinpoint your location. Then you go do your business, and when you want to find your car you go back to the app and hit the button that says "find my car", and it points you in the right direction. An app called "Car Finder" uses a visual technology known as "augmented reality". With this app, you use your smartphone camera. It shows you a picture of where you are and there's a big red arrow to point you toward your car. Finally, there's a gadget called Auto Finder that uses a transmitter left in your car and a receiver attached to your keys. Activate it and it works a little like a Geiger counter – beeping more strongly as you get closer to the direction of the car. It's a little like playing an adult version of "You're Getting Warmer". But at $80, why bother?