Innovation

Do you need a smart suitcase? 5 things to know before you buy

Tech-savvy travelers are packing smart suitcases with built-in battery packs and USB charging, location tracking, and more. Read our hands-on review of four popular models.

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The Bluesmart Black smart suitcase pairs with an app.
Image: Bluesmart

Stylish smart suitcases are a new way to solve some long-standing travel hassles such as running out of power on your mobile devices, losing your luggage, and going over the baggage weight limit. But are they just a gimmick, or here to stay?

A smart suitcase does everything a dumb suitcase does, but it includes tech features such as USB charging, location tracking with an app, and the ability to weigh it through an app. A typical smart suitcase costs more than a regular suitcase, but it is generally well-made and looks sleek and appealing in addition to the tech benefits.

Be forewarned that there's a small light on the outside of some of these suitcases that alert people to the fact that there's something unique about this luggage. Before you wonder if you can make it smoothly through a TSA checkpoint with a suitcase with a strange blinking blue light, the answer is yes. At least, I had no problem navigating security during my trip through airports in Louisville, Ky. and Las Vegas as I tested four different models from three manufacturers: Raden, Bluesmart and Away.

SEE: Bluesmart Carry-on is a smart suitcase that knows its location and weighs itself (CNET)

What smart suitcases do

The features of each smart suitcase varies a bit depending on the manufacturer. In general, most of the

suitcases include an interior battery pack and exterior USB ports that allow you to recharge your devices while traveling; these features come in handy if you're stuck at the airport on a long layover and even your smartphone's backup battery pack has run out of juice. Each bag I tested came with a TSA accepted lock.

Some manufacturers include an app with various features, including tracking your luggage, checking on wait times at the airport, weighing your bag, and assessing the battery level of your suitcase. Of the bags I tested, only the Away brand didn't offer an app. The Raden and Bluesmart suitcases provided apps.

The suitcases also include standard features you'd expect for a premium piece of luggage, such as interior zipped pockets, interior straps, smoothly gliding wheels, and a telescoping handle.

Features on each smart suitcase

I tested four bags for this article:

Other smart suitcase manufacturers include Delsey, Cowa and PlanetTraveler.

SEE: The Cowa robot suitcase follows you to your destination

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The Away smart suitcases come in three different sizes.
Image: Away/Fabian Ohrn

The 22" Away suitcase I tested was the most basic of the bunch; it was also the least expensive at $225. The only true tech features with this suitcase are the 10,000 mAh interior battery and two USB ports on the suitcase's exterior. It features a hard shell case, and comes in four colors: forest green, black, navy, or sand. I tested it in forest green, and was pleased with the overall design. It's not a suitcase you want to hide from the valet when he picks up your bags. Away also makes a medium-sized suitcase for $275 and a large suitcase for $295.

The 22" Bluesmart Black Edition was the most stylish of the bags I tested. And pricey at $599. The black hard shell exterior included an inset nylon gray fabric front piece with a zippered pocket for those things you need handy while traveling. The pocket was very shallow, however, and only had room for a USB cord and a couple of protein bars. I loved the app and the location tracking feature so that I could pinpoint my bag when it was away from me. Each bag includes a SIM card and a 3G radio that uses cellular triangulation, as well as a 10,400 mAh battery and an external USB port. The original Bluesmart One retails for $449, and it's not quite as sleek as the Black Edition, but it offers all the same features.

The Raden A22 Carry, at 22", featured a glossy black plastic hard shell. It reminded me of the black patent

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Raden smart suitcases come in two sizes and a range of colors.
Image: Raden
shoes I used to wear for tap dancing in elementary school. And while those shoes weren't stylish at all, the Raden manages to pull it off. It features an interior 7,800 mAh battery and retails for $295. It comes in a range of gorgeous colors from pink and lavender to navy and dark green. The app's locating service only works if you are in Bluetooth range of your suitcase, which is about 150 feet. So if your suitcase is missing, you won't find it through the app unless someone has it nearby.

The Raden A-28 Check was the only large suitcase that I tested. At 28", it's for checked baggage. The app offers the ability to weigh your bag as well as locate your bag if it's nearby, just as with the A22 model. The suitcase includes an interior 7,800 mAh battery and exterior USB ports for charging. It comes in the same array of colors as the A22 model. It retails for $395.

What's great about smart suitcases

It's incredibly convenient to be able to pack your bag and then immediately weigh it, without depending on an alternative method, such as your own bathroom scale or a hand-held luggage travel scale. Although I'm unlikely to go over the weight limit with a carry-on, I frequently end up with an over-the-limit bag with my checked luggage.

One of the biggest benefits of a smart suitcase is the interior battery and the ability to charge a mobile device from the exterior USB port on the luggage.

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The Bluesmart app relays information on the suitcase's battery charge and more.
Image: Teena Maddox/TechRepublic

The apps from Raden and Bluesmart are particularly handy because if you enter your flight schedule, the apps alert you if there are delays in your travel. The Raden app also gives the estimated TSA wait time at your designated airport. If you've entered your trip information, Raden will alert you the day before your trip that the battery is low on your suitcase so that you can recharge it.

Bluesmart has a remote locking feature so that you can lock or unlock your bag from the app. You can even set the app to always leave your bag unlocked when you're nearby, and to automatically lock it when you're separated.

What's not great about smart suitcases

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It's important to hold the handle steady while weighing a smart suitcase, as seen here on the Bluesmart app.
Image: Teena Maddox/TechRepublic

While the idea of weighing a 50-lb suitcase through an app sounds like a great feature, it was difficult for me to hold the Raden A28 Check suitcase steady while extending my arms, in order to get an accurate reading. You also have to swipe the arrows on the app to signal that you're ready for it to take a weight reading. It was more weight than I was used to holding at that awkward angle while swiping the app. I received four different readings, so I wasn't confident of my bag's weight until I reached the airport and it was weighed by the airline.

The battery on all of the suitcases lost its charge fairly quickly, even if you don't use the USB ports. It takes approximately eight hours to fully charge any of the bags I tested, and after five days, each bag was already down to under 10% battery life and needed to be recharged the night before my return flight home.

SEE: Photos of 25 geeked-out hotels for tech pros

Are smart suitcases worth buying?

Whether they're worth the bother is really dependent on the person using them. I'm that person who is middle of the road and likes to buy nice things, but has to feel like they're worth the extra expense. I think the carry-on size suitcases are worth the expense, since you have the benefits of the extra backup charging capability with you while you're sitting at the airport between flights or while stuck on an endless delay. The larger suitcases are nice because of the ability to check the weight and avoid going over the limit, but the benefit of having extra power on hand is lost because you don't have your checked luggage with you while sitting at the gate.

As for pricing, they're not cheap. I think smart suitcases are a reasonable splurge for someone who likes high-tech things, and wants to be seen with the latest gear.

Three takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Smart suitcases have tech features, which may include bag locating and USB charging.
  2. Prices range from $225 to $599 for the four models TechRepublic tested.
  3. It can be difficult to weigh a larger suitcase using the smart suitcase manufacturer's app, since you have to hold the suitcase out and maneuver the app at the same time.

Also see

About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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