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Review: Seam Lotus watched and recorded my every move, and I felt safer for it

The wearable device is the first for the tiny startup, that lets you send your location, images, and audio to guardians with a quick tap of the button.

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Whether you're traveling, or just taking an early evening run in the neighborhood: it's wonderful to feel that freedom of being by yourself. Sometimes we want people to know where we are, and there are apps that track your move. Devices that do this are less common. Seam is making a play for that space, a wearable that won one of our Editor's Choice Awards at CES 2018, that doesn't just keep tabs on your location, but lets you make a two-way call with a tap of a button when you need help. When Seam offered to send us its first device, the $129.95 Lotus, we were excited to give the tiny wearable a workout.

Lotus by Seam changes color, depending on the mode its in letting you know if its recording your location and details, or connecting to a contactGearBrain

Tracking your every move

Lotus is Seam's first device, a small, circle-shaped wearable, with buttons on both sides, that comes in black and also white with rose gold accents. Inside, it has a microphone and speaker that supports two-way calling. You can wear the Lotus anyway you want, clipped on to clothing, or as a piece of jewelry. Lotus also flashes colors, depending on its mode, which may make you lean towards it being seen or not. (It works either way.)

Seam's colors indicate its mode. There are eight, but the main ones are purple when it's standing by, green when the Lotus is on and recording you, and yellow when you're actually sharing your information with contacts which are called guardians.

Lotus also chirps when it changes mode — and you can change the volume of that to high, medium or low, or completely turn off the sound and just rely on the color. After charging, the device works for about 42 hours.

When the Lotus is in recording mode, and the app is open, your smartphone starts taking photos which are then saved in your profile. Audio is being recorded too, and your guardians can access these images, streaming audio and also your GPS location. Data is saved for 24 hours, but if you want keep a hold of that data for three months, you can pay for a premium service, SEAMPlus.

The entire device works on Bluetooth, connecting to your iOS and Android smartphone, which needs to be close. Wearing the Lotus, I either had my iPhone in my pocket, an armband, or in a bag. The wearable never dropped contact with my phone. And because of the smartphone connection, you can also access Siri and Google Assistant through the Lotus, and send text messages, set reminders or just access the Seam app by speaking aloud.

Lotus locates you through GPS and send that information to contacts that you chooseGearBrain

Getting help

Activating the Lotus? Not complicated, but not that simple. For example to get Seam to record you, you need to tap both buttons. To track your location, you tap both buttons twice. To call an emergency contacts, you hold both buttons at once.

Keeping track of what to push, and when, required a bit of learning. The Lotus comes with a small booklet and cheat sheet — but that wasn't something I could carry with me, for example, as I ran.Yet that's when I mostly wore Seam: during early dawn runs when the sun was not quite up, and I wanted someone to follow me.

I couldn't always tell when Seam was working. Sometimes it flashed, sometimes it didn't. That's primarily to conserve battery power. Looking at the smartphone you can tell the app is running: images flash on your screen that it's taking, and the microphone symbol is also in red, which means it's listening. That's crucial — and the entire idea behind Seam — a device that's listening, watching and tracking you, because you asked.

Contacts get notifications from the Seam app on their smartphone that you have started moving, and lets you know that you're calling themGearBrain

Privacy concerns

Whether it's Facebook picking up details of our life, or a smart speaker turning on when we say its name, there's a sense we're being heard and watched even when we want to be private.

Sometimes, however, we want to be found. If there's an emergency, for example, we'll call for help. That's the scenario where Seam fits: a device, small enough and light enough that you forget it's there, but can reach someone when you want to be found.

Location, location

Tracking your location, though, is crucial for a wearable that promotes itself as a safety device. Seam did pretty well in Manhattan, following me as I traveled in a taxi, on foot, on a bus and for most of a subway ride. You can watch your movement in the app, although it stopped at one point when I was underground.

Currently you can't zoom into the map and see where you are with much detail. But Seam's founder and CEO Drew Henson says that feature will be coming in an update in the next couple of months.

Lotus is just the first of several devices Seam plans to release, and other products, perhaps for those with disorders like dementia, "are in the pipeline," he says.

Additionally, Henson says Seam is working to make a wearable with a camera inside by 2020. Logging your GPS location — even if you're offline — is also being considered, as well as a way to record conversations, say if you find yourself pulled over by the police.


You push on the sides of the Lotus to activate different modesGearBrain

To wear, or not to wear

Is the Lotus a necessary device? Unfortunately I would say maybe yes. Wearables that we can opt into, and that connect to help immediately when we need it, sadly have a place in today's world. The Lotus brings peace of mind to wearers — and guardians — alike. And I suspect we'll see more devices like the Lotus going forward.

The hardest part was remembering to wear Lotus when I left home. Its low profile, and even with its occasional flashes, didn't seem to catch anyone's attention — to me, ideal. I still think it has some work to do, and I'm looking forward to a version that works without my smartphone, and has a camera in the wearable itself.

As a safety device, though, I found Lotus comforting. I didn't love that I needed my phone with me (Seam is considering a version that pairs with Apple Watch) but I did like that my audio and location was tracked, when I wanted. That's key — having the choice to opt-in. That's technology at its best, when it gives us control of its use, letting us decide when we want connect to people, to friends, to help when we decide.

Pros:

• Hands free way to send your details, location and audio

• Small profile

• Do not have to opt into service fee

Cons:

• Has to have smartphone nearby

• Doesn't have a camera on the device

• Semi-complicated user interface

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