Ryobi has always struck me as a company that is as much about tech as it is about tools. Unsurprisingly, Ryobi is a subsidiary of TTI, a Hong Kong-based technology firm that produces industrial electronics as well as power tools. Now, Ryobi has merged smartphone tech with building science to produce a nifty line of measuring and monitoring tools that utilizes your iOS or Android phone as a platform for doing “real” work!! Step aside, Candy Crush and Angry Birds…We have a job to do!!
Christened “Phone Works” these gizmos include an inspection scope, a laser level, moisture meter, stud finder, infrared thermometer, laser distance measurer, laser pointer and even noise canceling earphones! Very cool tech! In the wake of the plug-in credit card readers like Square and add-on cameras like the Cyber-shot, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see this kind of accessorizing going on, but I have to admit, my inner geek was all… “Like, OMG! Squee!”
My techie fanboy excitement was quickly tempered by my old curmudgeonly hatred of the impervious, hermetically sealed clamshell packaging, which is absurdly hard to open. In my excitement to get them unpacked, I could have easily maimed myself with a utility knife. I actually opted to use shears to cut the double layer of double thick plastic. My heart sunk farther when I ran into glitch after glitch with the Android App initializing the tools. GRRRRR! DAMMIT JIM! I’m a carpenter, not a programmer!
I persevered, and got everything running on my Galaxy S3. Once working, they are pretty slick little devices! All of the information collected using the individual accessories can be saved in project files that can then be transferred to your computer and used for estimates, project planning, or home inspections.
Each accessory comes with a little spring-clamp holder to easily attach it to your phone. They feature a threaded brass female fitting to mount the whole assembly on a tripod. The phone interface for each device is really nice and easy to use, and being able to screen cap your findings could really be a lifesaver when trying to dig through site visit notes and remember everything.
The performance of some of these tools is pretty impressive. The laser distance measure claims to measure distances within 1/16” accuracy at 90’, and using a 100′ tape, I was able to confirm its accuracy. The moisture meter measures moisture content between 6%-44% in wood, drywall, cement and “other building materials.” The flashiest of the tools, the inspection scope, connects wirelessly and can be used up to 10’ away from your smartphone. It features 3’ submersible, flexible cable and ultra-bright LED work light, and the resolution is very good compared to other scopes in its price range.
It’s hard not to like these tools, and Ryobi may really be on to something here. Or, they may have just invented a Segway. Will pros adopt this technology? It’s impossible to say. I can see a lot of pros being reluctant to whip out their smart phone and start using it as a stud finder on a dusty jobsite. I could imagine these being great for a home inspector, but again, there are advantages to having stand-alone meters that you can grab out of your bag without having to plug them in to your phone. And what if you have it set up on a tripod and suddenly you have to take a call?
I don’t have answers to these questions, and I guess only time will tell. I can see them really catching on with technophile DIYers, though. Ryobi is exclusively sold at Home Depot, which caters to the homeowner and cost-conscious pro grade tool market. They should find their audience there. I predict that a lot of them will be under the Christmas tree this year as the gift for the “person who has everything,” and they probably won’t be disappointed. They really are a lot of fun to use!!
NOTE: As of this writing, there are still major issues with the Android app. Check the Google playstore reviews and make sure they are resolved before buying…