vWand Hands-On: Bluetooth Pen Adds NFC to Any Device

NFC technology is really exploding as of late, as almost every new smartphone and tablet comes with it built in. But what if you want to read NFC tags and your phone doesn't support it? And what if you have to read NFC tags all day long for work and you don't want to whack the back of your expensive tablet against another hard surface thousands of times? The vWand, a wireless stylus that reads NFC tags and transmits the results back to your device over Bluetooth, solves both problems, allowing users to add external NFC to any device.

The product of Spanish company Sistelnetworks, the vWand is targeted at vertical markets where users need to read data over NFC many times a day. In the medical field, doctors and nurses could already be using NFC-enabled patient wristbands to keep medical charts up to date. Even if a hospital's tablets already have NFC chips in them, it's extremely awkward to tap a sick person's wrist with the back of your 10-inch slate. Though a bit wide, the vWand is definitely much more compact than your Nexus 10.

In manufacturing and sales, NFC can be used to keep track of inventory or send commands to machines. Imagine tapping the back of your phone against 200 boxes or 25 hard metal machines a day for years. Using an external NFC reader like the vWand can protect your device from damage.

We had a chance to go hands-on with a vWand at Sistelnetworks' Mobile World Congress booth, and we were impressed with how comfortable the thick plastic pen was to hold and how well it read a pair of tags we tapped it against. The front of the device is a capacitive pen that seemed to work really well with the iPad to which it was connected. To read NFC tags, you must turn the pen around and tap its backside against the NFC surface.

During our test, we were able to tap two tags: one launched a Web page on the iPad we were connected to and another opened an email client. In both cases, the response was instant and accurate; we didn't have to tap more than once for the reading to work.

Sistelnetworks is currently looking for partners to create software for and sell the vWand into different vertical markets. The company isn't selling the vWand to the public yet, but it's providing evaluation samples and developers kits through its sales team. A SistelNetworks rep said the pen alone costs around the equivalent of $100, while the SDK software costs quite a bit more.

Though the vWand isn't slated for the mass market just yet, the SitelNetworks rep said the device could eventually reach consumers or small businesses. Considering the emerging popularity of NFC and the fact that the iPad and iPhone don't support it, just about anyone could make great use of this pen.

Avram Piltch
Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master's degree in English from NYU.