First Looks: PrivacQ 180 Fingerprint Sensor

Launch SRP: S$79

First Looks: PrivacQ Fingerprint Sensor

You’re a secret agent that needs to keep the information (or sexts) on your mobile phone safe from prying eyes. Who do you turn to? For users without an iPhone 5S or HTC One Max, there’s always the PrivacQ biometric encryption device. However, unlike the fingerprint sensors on the mentioned phones, PrivacQ’s biometric sensors don’t lock or unlock your phone.

Instead, the PrivacQ fingerprint sensors work with a companion app (Q-Manager) that locks other apps on your phone. To use the locked apps, users are required to run their finger through the sensor in order to unlock them. The app itself works fairly well without any problems, but its aesthetics could definitely use some work.

Other than locking sensitive apps securely, there’s also the FingerQ chat application that runs over a secure network. It also allows you to use your fingerprint to encrypt and lock down texts and images sent over the chat app -- and is a viable alternative to Snapchat, which deletes images seconds after you receive them.

Activating biometric encryption is pretty simple; all you have to do is register a couple of your fingers (maximum of 5) by running them over the sensor. This method is similar to the fingerprint sensors found in most enterprise notebooks today. 

Even with its simplicity of use, we feel the sensor on the iPhone 5S is much more convenient; the PrivacQ sensors require you to slide your finger across the sensor at a much slower pace. Sliding across too quickly will result in the sensor being unable to register your fingerprint. 

It doesn’t take up too much of your time, but we’d prefer it if it senses the fingerprint without having us drag it across the sensor. Unfortunately, this slight delay is something you have to put up with on the PrivacQ fingerprint sensors. On another note, we'd also prefer it if the sensor was front facing, so we can unlock apps using our thumbs instead. Otherwise, the PrivacQ attachment works fine, but is more a of a hassle because it can be easily misplaced due to its small size. If you do lose it, you can still unlock the apps with a security pin, or a replacement PrivacQ device.

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The PrivacQ sensor comes in two distinct form factors: The S$119 PrivacQ Q-case with built-in sensor or the S$79 PrivacQ 180 attachment (micro-USB or the Apple 30-pin interface options available. Lightning interface isn't available currently). If PrivacQ manufactures a case for your device (Samsung Galaxy Note 2, S3, S4 and HTC One variants), get that instead as it’s much more convenient.

Businessmen who need to protect sensitive information from thieves and spies should consider getting one for themselves or their executives who hold important information on their mobile devices. We don’t recommend that you cheat on your partners, but those who do would greatly benefit from a PrivacQ device too.

But before you head out to buy one, take note that the PrivacQ devices only prevent unauthorized use of apps on your device. What they don't do is encrypt messages when they leave your phone and get into the telecoms network. So if you're worried about network eavesdropping, you might want to look elsewhere for other options.

On top of that, they're also pretty pricey for a device that only locks down your software. If you find that you do need a phone with biometric security, you're better off forking out for an iPhone 5S or HTC One Max, which have the appropriate sensors built in to the device and work much faster and conveniently. But if you've already invested in another recent device and you do need a certain level of access control to lock down apps that contain sensitive information, then perhaps these PrivacQ devices might be an alternative for consideration.