Before there was Foursquare or Gowalla, Loopt was the original smart phone service for sharing your whereabouts with friends. The point is to let buddies know where you are so that they can join you, and to find listings of all the cool stuff going on in your neck of the woods. However, while you can check in to locations, rewards are limited to coupons from nearby retailers. Loopt is intriguing, but only for customers who don't have to pay for the service.
You can access Loopt from a browser, as well as from Android, BlackBerry, and iPhone apps (we tested Loopt on an iPhone). Before you try out Loopt, be warned that it's not free for all users; people using certain handsets or carriers must pay a monthly fee. For instance, the service is free to all Sprint and Boost Mobile customers. With AT&T, only iPhone and BlackBerry owners get it for free; on Verizon Wireless all users, with the exception of BlackBerry owners, pay $3.99 per month for the service. On T-Mobile, meanwhile, only G1 owners get it for free. That means, for instance, that if you own another Android phone on T-Mobile, you still have to pay. However, BlackBerry users on any supported carrier can use Loopt free of charge. Considering that Foursquare and Gowalla are both free to all users, this selective fee model is likely to deter some users from trying it out.
The setup process, which can be completed online or from a mobile app, is also more tedious than Foursquare or Gowalla's. To register your account, you'll have to provide your first and last name, as well as your birthday and mobile number. Given that the pricing depends on your phone and carrier, it's not surprising that Loopt would want to know your phone number (as soon as you enter it, the name of your wireless network appears). Once you register, Loopt will send a text to your phone with a 10-digit verification code, which you'll have to enter into your desktop browser. We were also asked to match an image we saw on our desktop screen with one of four that appeared on our phone.
By default, anyone can see your location, which we consider a privacy infringement. Fortunately, you can change your settings so that no one sees your status or, uniquely, so that certain people can't. Loopt is the only location-based social network we know of that gives users this kind of detailed privacy option.
How it Works
Like Foursquare and Gowalla, Loopt can broadcast your location to friends, including those on Twitter and Facebook, as well as suggest nearby points of interest. Those similarities aside, Loopt takes a different tact. There are no rewards, such as badges, points, mayorships, or passport stamps for trying new places or visiting favorite ones. You can't add a new location to the map, as you can with Foursquare and Gowalla, although you can add notes and check in without a location. That meant that when we checked in from our office, no one would have known that we were there; they would just see our location on the map, which isn't as informative. You also can't leave or read reviews of places you've visited.
So what can you do with Loopt? Find friends, for one, as well as let them find you. Also, like Foursquare, Loopt offers real-world rewards to people who frequent local businesses. In Loopt's case this means coupons, such as a free roll at a local Sushi joint, for iPhone and BlackBerry users. However, such amenities are only available in certain markets, such as San Francisco.
Loopt is also unique in that you can see a list of venues in your area, as well as events, such as a conversation with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis taking place at the TimesCenter Stage in New York City (this events feature is called Pulse). Even more conveniently, these events are listed by the hour. So, knowing that we get off work at 6 p.m., we could skip straight to the events starting at 7 o'clock. You can also share these events with others, check in (of course), call the venue if a number is available, view more information in your browser, and get driving directions. In effect, Loopt is more social than other networks that emphasize checking in. If Loopt is free for you, these event listings are a nice thing to have at your disposal.
Unfortunately, Loopt doesn't integrate with as many social networks as its competitors, such as Foursquare. For instance, we couldn't search our Gmail contact list for friends using the service; just Twitter and Facebook.
Whether or not we recommend Loopt all depends on whether you have to pay for it. For users who can get it for free (all Sprint customers and anyone who owns an iPhone, BlackBerry, or T-Mobile G1), being able to see local goings-on and invite friends is a neat little feature to have on your phone. If playing the checking-in game is what you're after, or if Loopt is going to make you pay a monthly fee, we suggest Foursquare instead.