Flic Wireless Button Review

 Photograph Philippe Regnier

Photograph Philippe Regnier

 

Review summary

Highs

  • Cute and fun form factor
  • Easy to install and configure
  • Unbelievable amount of applications
  • Do things nothing else does
  • Long battery life
  • 3 triggers give enough options
  • Will get better and better overtime thanks to software upgrades (app and hardware firmware)

Lows

  • Keeping the app in the background on iOS is a constraint (not relevant for Android users)
  • Possible latency in operation
  • Reliability in controlling more than one Hue light
  • Philips Hue service could use a better configuration interface
  • Logitech Harmony Hub integration not working
  • Price is a bit steep

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Introduction

We live in a time of technology disruption where old hardware industries are struggling to keep up and new Internet startups are battling to offer innovative solutions. Initially limited to software and services, the revolution is now hitting the hardware world in a big way. In the “Internet of Everything” every device has to be connected and share data. Whether that's useful, only time will tell, but for now it’s creating a massive traction in the economy and some analysts are not shy of comparing it to the 18th and 19th century industrial revolution.

Shortcut Labs is one of those young startups, coming from Sweden and trying to emerge from this new technology landscape. With Flic, the Wireless Smart Button, they came up with a simple but creative idea, a solution that few years back would simply not be thinkable, at least not with the same range of functionalities.

You may wonder what is the purpose of such device or even think you will never need such thing but read further and you may find out that this clever piece of hardware might actually fix one or two problems of yours.

The product

When first discovering the Flic button, I was a bit puzzled and wondering what is it doing. Watching the introductory video from their website was both fun and really helpful to understand the purpose and potential but what was most impressive was the breadth of integration possibilities.

Features

To help you understand what Flic does, let me first recap the key features:

  • Taking a picture from your phone (selfie included)
  • Controlling your lights
  • Calling your favorites
  • Sharing your location and ETA
  • Playing music
  • Sending a distress signal
  • Finding your phone
  • … and many more
 Flic colour palette - Photograph courtesy of Shortcut Labs

Flic colour palette - Photograph courtesy of Shortcut Labs

How does Flic achieve this? Simply by connecting via Bluetooth to the many services your smartphone offers like its cameras, GPS, text and phone services. Shortcut Labs went however well beyond and established a long list of third party integration possibilities. Here is the list of services currently available:

  • Gmail
  • IFTTT
  • Logitech Harmony Hub (upcoming review)
  • LIFX connected lamps
  • Philips Hue
  • Sonos
  • Spotify
  • Belkin WeMo
  • Yo

All these services use your phone as a control point and can now be connected to Flic as an extended physical trigger.

Home automation scenarios - PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF SHORTCUT LABS

Quite a Few features are meaningful for seniors - PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF SHORTCUT LABS

The Hardware

This cute little rubber push button packs a built in coin battery that will last up to 5 years. That's quite a long time for a battery powered device and that's because it uses the frugal Bluetooth Low Energy technology (BLE). It also allows a simple and almost universal connection to smartphones and tablets.

Flic comes in different colours, each with a soft rubbery touch and a nice tactile feel.

Operations

To maximise the potential of the button, different trigger options are available: single click, double click and hold. The tactile feel is good enough to handle the different triggers with ease although a single click will always be easier than a double one so you may want to create a hierarchy based on usage frequency.

Let's Flic around

While watching the video, what triggered me the most were the home automation possibilities and quickly figured a good use case for my house. Indeed, I have been using the Philips Hue system for a while and recently added a few Dimmer Switches (read the review here) but although they can be used as a remote I prefer keeping them docked to the wall. To trigger light scenes in my bedroom (with 3 separate lights) and more precisely from my bed, I can either use the Hue app / widgets from my phone or use an old remote control from Philips that was available before Hue came to market. They are compatible with the Hue system as it uses the same Zigbee Light Link protocol (see picture below).

the simplicity of a physical control point and the flexibility to configure the action it should trigger

This remote offers the control I need and stays on my bedside table but I always found it too big and on the way when I need to drop a book or a cup of tea. Using a Flic button felt a much more elegant and compact way to trigger light directly from the bed while keeping my bedside table tidy. Although I tested more functionalities this has been the main purpose of my purchase and desire to review this product.

Flic replacing an old Philips remote to trigger light scenes in a bedroom - Photograph Philippe Regnier

Actions that connect to your phone services are very well executed

Mechanical breakdown - PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF SHORTCUT LABS

Installation

You can keep Flic in your pocket or clip it to your jacket thanks to the adapter included in the package. For many users that's how they will want to use this device. For home automation applications however, Flic will be better installed on a wall or on a table.

To make things easier, a double sided tape on the back is preinstalled and strong enough to hold the lightweight button in most situations. Shortcut Labs claims it is also reusable, meaning the button will stick second or third time again, and if dust covered the sticky area you can simply wash it. My 18 months old tested this feature particularly well, as he removed the button on several occasions but I was so far always able to stick it back.

Good to know, Flic is also water and dust resistant and should work both indoor and outdoor. I did not find any IP rating to backup that claim but the rugged design seem to indeed suggest a decent protection level.

To configure and use your buttons, you need to download the Flic app which is available both on the Apple iOS and Android app stores. Pairing your buttons to your phone via Bluetooth is straightforward and should only be done once.

User experience

For a lot of solutions, phones and tablets are becoming the main control interface but they are not the answer to every problem and in many cases they can’t offer the convenience of a physical control point. Flic is basically trying to replace your phone as a control interface whenever it is more convenient to just press a button. Creating smart switches offers the best of both world as it allows the simplicity of a physical control point (where and when it matters) and the flexibility to configure the action it should trigger.

Configuration and services

Each trigger can be associated to one or several actions which you will configure in the app. The experience configuring actions is really dependant on the service it connects to. My experience is positive as most integrations are very well done but some are a bit limited or not perfectly implemented.

Actions that connect to your phone services (in my case an iPhone 6) are very well executed. You want to snooze your alarm, trigger a picture, need a timer, all of those work very well. The integration with Spotify despite being in beta offered a very comprehensive array of possibilities like starting a playlist or a track, playing random songs or enabling playback control (play/pause, next and previous). In comparison the Sonos integration is limited to playback control which is a bit disappointing. Another great feature I would have loved to test is the integration with the Harmony Hub which is a product I am also currently testing and offers loads of audio video and smart home control possibilities. Unfortunately, I was never able to connect to the hub and thus I cannot comment on this interesting feature. I tried to connect with their team on this matter but they haven’t been able to follow up yet so I may update this article eventually if they fix the problem.

Flic offers a very nice integration of Spotify - PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF SHORTCUT LABS

Controlling Philips Hue lights

All of this is exciting but I don’t intend to use a Flic button on a regular basis to trigger these type of actions. As explained earlier, my main use case is to control lights in situations where I don’t want to use my phone and I don’t have access to a switch. I personally use Philips Hue and recommend this system for anyone interested in smart lighting but bear in mind Flic is also compatible with LIFX lamps which are also good smart lamps. WeMo, from Belkin, is also on the list so you can use their smart plugs to switch on and off your luminaires for instance.

The beauty of connected products is that they can mature over time

Using Flic and Hue together is mostly fine and the smart button does what you want it to do. You can toggle, turn on and off a lamp or a group of lamps. You can even do separate settings per lights to fine tune your light scene. Together with the 3 triggers it really offers a lot of control options for such a small device.

I did notice some points which could be improved though:

Configuration:

  • The 3 sliders to control the Hue light settings are not the most convenient to use. It is very hard to replicate from one action to another the exact same settings as there are no numerical data to set a reference. 
  • There is only a colour palette and no white palette which is a pity as most people use white as standard and colours only for decorative purposes. The only way to get some white is then to lower the saturation but you can’t really tune your white easily.
  • There are no presets for key colours or white tones like with Philips Light recipes (Concentrate, Energise, Relax and Reading) so you need to figure them out by yourself.

Performance:

  • There can be a latency for the lights to react to your trigger, not huge but noticeable. There can be two explanations for that. First, it may be due to the fact that your phone might not always be connected to the button. If you just entered your home for instance, it might take couple of seconds to connect and you may have pressed your button before that. This is obviously not happening often but still worth mentioning. The second case has simply have to do with the delay required for the information to travel from one device to another to eventually reach your lights. It has as much to do with the Hue system as the Flic and to me, it is acceptable but if you dislike slightly slower response time it's good to know before purchasing.
  • Controlling one light has proven to be flawless but adding more lights to a trigger does generate a slightly less reliable control. It may happen that one of the lights does not receive its command and remains in its previous state. Consequently, you have to press few more times to get the job done which can be a bit irritating. It may have to do with the quality of the Wifi network but mine isn't bad and does show these type of issues sometimes. It could also be that the integration of the Hue API is not optimised and therefore some performance improvements could be implemented later on.

Operation:

The major point of attention for me is that on iOS the Flic app has to be running in the background. If you accidentally closed it while cleaning up the running apps, your device will become useless unfortunately. This could be a deal breaker for some considering Home Automation applications while using Apple devices. Fortunately, this issue does not account for Android users (e.g. Flic website FAQ).

Price and availability

Flic buttons are currently sold on their website in two bundles including a clip to attach the button to your clothes:

  • 1 Flic + 1 Clip comes at 34 USD + 5 USD for delivery (US Dollar seems to be the only available currency)
  • 4 Flics + 1 Clip comes at 99 USD + 10 USD for delivery which represents a 27% discount vs the single button

Bear in mind that these prices are for early adopters and it may fluctuate once the company settles.

using Flic is fun and refreshing, and its potential is really exciting

Possible improvements?

As a lot of young startup products, Flic comes with some glitches and it is for you to judge whether they are deal breakers or not. The beauty of connected products is that they can mature over time and eventually work flawlessly if the company does a good job following up and listening to its customers.

Improving the performance and operation points listed above should probably be the priority but it is also where the biggest question marks are. Can all these issues be fixed or mitigated? Regarding the configuration, it is less concerning as these issues are easy to fix with a software upgrade.


Highs

  • Cute and fun form factor
  • Easy to install and configure
  • Unbelievable amount of applications
  • Do things nothing else does
  • Long battery life
  • 3 triggers give enough options
  • Will get better and better overtime thanks to software upgrades (app and hardware firmware)

Lows

  • Keeping the app in the background on iOS is a constraint (not relevant for Android users)
  • Possible latency in operation
  • Reliability in controlling more than one Hue light
  • Philips Hue service could use a better configuration interface
  • Logitech Harmony Hub integration not working
  • Price is a bit steep
 

Conclusion

My opinion and suggestions in this review are obviously biased and influenced by my own use cases. You may find other benefits or issues while using the device with different applications. This is inherent to propositions offering such a long feature list.

People may have very different ways to approach Flic and its purpose but as a Home Automation device, and more specifically a Hue light trigger point, it is still lacking a bit of reliability and the background running app is a heavy constraint on iOS systems. The fact is that this product is still young, as its company, and they will need a bit more time to polish the experience.

Still, using Flic is fun and refreshing, and its potential is really exciting. I imagine that for many people the product is already good enough. A selfish recommendation to the team could be that instead of trying to add more services (they have the most important ones already from my perspective), it may be a good idea to improve the existing ones and the overall experience to make it a more reliable control device that is worth its relatively steep asking price.

I would still like to conclude by giving Shortcut Labs a big up for their bold initiative and wish them a healthy future in order to turn their product into a killer one and come with new funky ideas which I’m sure they already have. As always, I would really like to read your opinions on this product. How would you use it and what kind of feature you would like to see. So don’t hesitate firing some comments below!



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philippe regnier

Founder and main editor of The Dandy Domain.

Audio-video freak for more than 20 years, Philippe worked for more than 10 years with the most advanced professional lighting solution. Ended his corporate career at Philips Hue in the booming Smart Home playground. Crazy of Danish design and beautiful products in general. Believes technology should enhance our life not spoil it.

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