Posts Tagged ‘password manager’

Review – CallPod’s Keeper

February 16th, 2010 9 comments

The folks at CallPod gave me a license key to their Keeper product and asked me to do a review.  This is a first for me, because I typically only review stuff I would have bought anyway.  I did my best to remain objective in my review – the fact that it was free was tempered by the fact that it wasn’t a product I typically would have bought.  But I did want to make sure I was up front about how I got the product.  OK so on to the review!


There are a  number of utilities that have sprung up of late that are designed to help folks keep track of their various passwords.  We are constantly being given opportunities to create user IDs and their attendant security information, and unless you use the same stable of passwords, keeping track of all of them become difficult.  For sites you visit often, it’s not a problem.  But for occasional use sites (like credit cards, affinity programs, retirement accounts and the like), I always have a devil of a time trying to remember my security phrase or password or whatever.  The tool I use, however, does not sync with the iPhone, so I can’t access my information when I’m away from my PC.  Keeper resolves that disconnect.

Keeper has both a desktop and a mobile component.  The desktop component is compatible with Mac, PC, and Linux, while the mobile component will run on the iPhone/iTouch, Android, and Vodaphone.  I ran Keeper on a Windows 7 laptop with the iPhone mobile component.  The mobile component is free; the desktop component is $19.95 regardless of platform.  I took a quick look at other similar applications available through iTunes to do a price comparison.  mSecure runs $2.99 for its mobile component but the desktop component is $14.99.  And SplashID is $9.99 but doesn’t have a desktop component as far as I can tell.  eWallet runs $9.99 for the desktop component and $9.99 for the iPhone component – you get the idea.  About $20 seems to be the sweet spot for these types of programs.


When you install and launch Keeper, you’re greeted with the above screen.  You pick a master password (preferably a complex one) and enter it twice.  It is critical to not forget this password.  You only get five attempts to log in after setting the master password; after that, Keeper wipes your data.  I couldn’t find a way to change the login attempts allowed to be more than five – if it’s not a feature, I’d suggest making it a future enhancement.  This is very important because the password you set in Keeper desktop has to match the password you set in Keeper mobile to allow syncing to occur.  Complex desktop phrases suddenly become a lot harder to enter when tapping on the iPhone’s virtual keypad.


The data entry interface is pretty straightforward.  The Folder field allows you to group sets of accounts by type.  The Title field allows you to name the specific entry.  The Login and Password fields are self-explanatory and the Notes field is pretty much your catchall for anything else.  A few more fields would have been nice, specifically things like URL and PIN.  I ended up using the Notes field to store those, plus things like answers to security questions.


The Settings allow some level of customization of the data entry fields, as well as timeout settings and data storage.  There is also a way to import and export your password database.  Exports can be for backup purposes, or you can print your database to PDF, text, or Excel.  Only the export to text file option allows for encrypting of the output.


The mobile component is very similar to the desktop component.  Options are limited, but how many options do programs like this really need?  You do have the option of turning off the self-destruct of the database if you fail to enter the correct password.  I thought this was an interesting option – on the one hand, you kind of want the database gone if someone tries to access your info.  On the other hand, I ended deleting my database three times either because I couldn’t remember my master password or because I mis-typed my complex (but easily typed on the desktop) password.  Again, balancing act – complex enough to make it difficult to guess but simple enough to enter easily on the virtual keyboard.  It’s a tough choice.


IMG_0207The login page shown is a bit deceptive because it defaults to numeric entry.  This particular page is only shown when you launch the app for the first time and need to set a master password.  I’d originally set a numeric password when I launched the mobile component, but then later had to reset the master password for the mobile app when I wanted to sync (more on that later).  Once the master password is set, however, you get a more standard login screen with a single password field and the alpha keyboard, rather than the numeric one.

I would suggest that Keeper look at using two different passwords on the mobile app.  The first password should allow access to the mobile app, while the second password should be the one used for syncing, and be forced to match the password on the desktop component.  This way, you can set a simpler password to allow quick entry to the application when you need it but you still retain a complex password for keeping the desktop and mobile versions coordinated.

Callpod will allow a one-time backup of your password database.  You pick a security question and provide an email address.  The mobile app then backs up your database to the Callpod servers.  When you want to restore from that backup, you provide the email address you used when you created the backup.  Callpod emails an access code to that email address, which you then enter into the mobile app.  Once entered, you must provide the answer to the security question you chose when you backed up the file.

But what most interested me about Keeper was the mobile/desktop syncing.  It works over Wi-Fi and it’s pretty slick.  You activate syncing on both the mobile app and the desktop app.


On the mobile app, you get an IP address plus a numeric key.  You enter this information on the desktop component, decide how you want the syncing to be done, and hit the Sync button.  The process is pretty quick and fairly bulletproof.  I tried syncing five or six different times and had only one failure.  I just re-tried the sync immediately however, and was able to sync just fine, so it’s not like failure means hours of troubleshooting.

Overall, I was pleased with Keeper and thought it was a solid product.  If you’re hesitant about buying it outright, the mobile component is a free iTunes download, so you can try it before you buy the desktop companion.  Callpod’s willingness to host a backup instance for free gives you a way to store your passwords securely, so if you don’t add tons of accounts on a regular basis, it’s possible for you to set up all your important passwords on the mobile version, have Callpod store a backup, and be about your merry way.  (Not sure that the Callpod folks are going to be happy about this suggestion!)

The biggest problem with Keeper (and other apps like it) is something they will not be able to solve on their own.  I am referring to the lack of multitasking on the iPhone, which makes products like this totally annoying to use.  I can’t just flip back and forth between Safari and Keeper on the iPhone – instead, I have to log into Keeper every time I want to access a different secure site.  It significantly deteriorates the usability of the application through no fault of Callpod’s.  I think an app like this would be great for the iPad, which is much more intended to provide a complete web experience.  However, the lack of multitasking on THAT platform will also make things annoyingly frustrating.  For a company that talks all about the user experience, Apple is having a harder and harder time justifying the lack of multitasking on its portable products.

Would I buy Keeper based on my experience with it?  Honestly, I’m not sure.  For a long time after I got my iPhone, I was looking for some way to view my passwords for American Express and Ameritrade and the like.  But since I couldn’t find anything that I was willing to pay for, I actually ended up learning the passwords.  If there were an easy way for me to switch between Keeper and Safari, or have Keeper pass URL, user ID, and password information to a Safari session, I think this software would be totally worth it.  But given the frustrations of flipping back and forth between Safari and Keeper, I just couldn’t see myself using it on a regular enough basis to justify its cost.  Your mileage may vary.