With the rise of smartphones and contactless cards, the need to carry cash or loyalty cards has waned and traditional wallet sales are declining as a result. By adding features like location tracking and RFID blocking, the purveyors of smart wallets are trying to persuade us that the wallet still deserves a place in our pocket. I tried out the Ekster Parliament smart wallet, which comes with a solar-powered tracker card, to find out whether it’s worth using.
We used to be satisfied with a folded piece of leather to stuff our cards and cash into, but the modern smart wallet is a different beast. Some of the best smart wallets have gone with a traditional design — and leather still dominates — but they also offer a host of new features. Some of this smart functionality, like location tracking, I definitely found useful, while others like RFID blocking are very dubious.
The design of the Ekster Parliament smart wallet is immediately enticing. It’s finished in beautifully soft, European, top-grain leather with neat stitching that matches the color. My wallet is green, but you can also pick it up in brown, black, blue, or tan. The first thing you’ll notice is the wallet’s compact nature. It’s a bit taller and a hair wider than a credit card, but obviously a lot thicker.
The main pocket is where you stow your bank cards; it will hold between four and six cards depending on whether they’re embossed. It’s a shielded container that blocks RFID and NFC, which are used for wireless payments — more on that later. The black trigger at the bottom can be used to quickly draw your cards; when you pull it your cards pop out of the top of the pocket, neatly arrayed so you can grab the right one in a hurry. This is one of those mechanisms that’s fun to play with, and it’s actually practical, too. I was surprised how much I liked it at the checkout or bar because it eliminates fumbling time, pinging your card out swiftly and smoothly.
Open the cover and you’ll find two traditional, un-shielded pockets on the left for a card, ID, or travel pass. If you still want to carry a backup bill, then the elastic band around the center is perfect for slipping a note under, though there isn’t a ton of room if you want the cover to close. On the back there’s an external pocket for your tracker card.
The headline feature that puts the smart in this smart wallet is location tracking. My Ekster Parliament wallet came with a solar-powered tracker card. It’s thicker than a credit card and textured all over with a solar panel array at the top, with a button in the middle. There’s also a QR code on the back, so anyone who finds it can scan it and find out it belongs to you (and hopefully return it).
There’s a bit of set up to get your new smart wallet working, starting with the Chipolo app for Android or iPhone. Install the app and follow the simple instructions to add the Ekster tracker card. Now you can tap on Ekster in the Chipolo app and see where your wallet is on a map. You can also ask it to ring, which it does with a high pitched electrical tone that’s not very loud, but is actually quite good at cutting through background noise.
Before you move on, it’s a good idea to change the name of your device via the three dot menu at the top right — the default is Ekster. You’ll also find the option to change the ringtone in here. Now that it’s set up, you can always check where your wallet is on your phone, but it works in the opposite direction too. That button I mentioned on the tracker card — press it twice and your phone will ring.
It connects via Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy and the range is 100 feet. If it’s out of range, then you’ll see the last known location in the Chipolo app. However, if your wallet should come into range of another person running the Chipolo app, then it will send an anonymous update of your wallet’s location to the Chipolo system. That’s probably going to work well if you live in a city.
If you have an Echo or a Google Home, then you can also use them to locate your wallet, but you need to activate the Chipolo skill or link the app first. Once done, you can say, “Alexa, ask Chipolo to ring my wallet,” and the tracker card will begin to ring. You can also ask something like, “Alexa, ask Chipolo where I left my wallet,” and Alexa will give you the address of where your wallet was last tracked. It’s a shame that you have to say “ask Chipolo” and can’t just say “where’s my wallet,” but as long as you remember the right questions, it works well.
The tracker card is solar-powered, and that means you never have to change batteries, but you do have to remember to leave it out in the sun sometimes. That’s not really ideal, since wallets tend to live in dark places. I also couldn’t help wondering why Ekster didn’t include a window or a transparent cut out on the back so the tracker card could charge without you having to actually remove it from the wallet. Luckily, Ekster claims that just two hours outside your wallet will charge it for approximately a month, so it’s not something you’ll have to do often.
The battery life will depend on how often you use it to find your wallet or ask it to ring. I’ve been using it a lot for just over a week now and the battery still is going strong.
The RFID- and NFC-blocking feature is less useful. As I discovered recently, RFID skimming crime doesn’t exist, at least not in a form that an RFID-blocking wallet would prevent. If you’re worried about the wrong card being scanned at a checkout because your wallet is close, or maybe you want to put a travel pass to scan from your outside wallet pocket and not have to worry about interference from the other cards, then this feature could still be useful. But most RFID- and NFC-related crime happens when you’ve taken your card out of your wallet to pay anyway, so don’t buy a smart wallet specifically for this feature.
Is it worth buying?
The Ekster Parliament with Tracker costs $109. You could also just buy the or the Tracker card for $49. That’s quite expensive considering that you could get a typical bi-fold leather wallet for $30 or less, though you could also pay a lot more for a stylish wallet. If you already have a wallet you love, then you could also just snag a for $33 and slip it in there, because it will give you the same location tracking features.
I have enjoyed using the Ekster Parliament and I think it would make a nice gift for anyone needing a new wallet, but I’m not sure I would buy it. Then again, I think we’re getting close to the point where you only really need your phone for payments and we won’t need wallets at all.
Still, the Ekster Parliament with Tracker is thoughtfully designed and stylish, so I would recommend it if you fancy trying a smart wallet.
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