Okay, let me be entirely forthcoming: I'm a frugal kind of guy. I'm one of those guys that shops for a deal on anything from a car loan to my deodorant and all things in between. So with that said, I'll admit I was intrigued by the hype that seems to be surrounding what is currently the #2 app on the App Store Top 25 Paid Apps list: Occipital's barcode scanner, RedLaser.
RedLaser's concept is simple. You scan a barcode and RedLaser gives you several places online to find that item, hopefully at a lower price. Imagine RedLaser as one of those little scanner guns they give you for making a wedding registry or a baby registry, but better. Now I'll admit, the concept sounds great, but there are tons of apps on the App Store with poorly executed "great concepts", and this concept is complicated. So how did Occipital do? Let's find out!
Before we dive headfirst into execution, let's take a look at RedLaser's features:
• Scans UPC, EAN and UPC-E barcodes
• Finds prices using Google and Amazon
• Offers the ability to email a list of scanned items
• Emailed item lists automatically include a plain text file of the raw barcode numbers (the developers advertise this as being useful for inventory purposes)
• Item prices automatically appear in the appropriate currency, based on your location
• Built-in browser to view websites from the price results list
I went to a local big box store with the trusty iPhone in hand, fired up RedLaser and skipped from department to department, scanning various items. Items were extremely easy to scan and RedLaser took only a moment to recognize a barcode, even when the barcode was upside down or in moderately low light. I found that RedLaser recognized around 75-80% of the barcodes I scanned and it seemed to only have trouble with less common and generic brand items. In those cases, RedLaser can't display Google or Amazon price results when it encounters unrecognized barcodes.
I found RedLaser to be incredibly helpful as a shopping companion for instantly comparing prices. For example, I encountered a prominently featured large flat-screen TV on sale for $1248. I scanned the item and RedLaser found the same TV online for $100 less. Ironically, RedLaser discovered the cheaper price on the store's own website, which could have been very helpful information had the need to negotiate price arisen. In another example, I scanned a $30 baby safety gate and RedLaser found the same gate on a competing big box store's website for half the price. Generally speaking, not every item was cheaper elsewhere, but RedLaser quickly proved it was capable of saving price savvy users some big bucks.
The scanning feature was easy to use and took only a second or two to recognize most barcodes. The resulting Google and Amazon price results loaded quickly (even over EDGE) and seemed to provide a good number of competing online retailers. Perhaps most importantly, they were helpful in deciding whether the in-store price was the best deal or not.
My favorite feature is the ability to email a list of the scanned items. I think this feature is perfect for people (like me) who prefer to be more specific when making a wish list or registry. After all, when making a wish list, you can't be more specific than providing someone the actual barcode of the item you want and a Google and Amazon link to it.
As far as cool and useful iPhone apps go, I think this one is really up there with the best of them. That said, I think there is some room for improvement. For example, all scanned items go into one master list. It would be great if RedLaser offered the ability to scan items to different lists or different categories rather than have them all go into one. Once an item is scanned and RedLaser displays the list of competing online prices, the prices seem to be in random order. The ability to sort prices starting with the lowest or highest would make price comparisons much easier.
Speaking of price comparisons, Amazon and Google have a lot of products, but they don't have everything, so when using RedLaser, price results do occasionally come up empty. Adding more online search engines like Yahoo! Shopping or even EBay would only increase search results and make RedLaser better. Lastly, even though RedLaser recognized most products I scanned, there were enough products it did not recognize to keep RedLaser from being a 5-star app.
Occasionally, an iPhone app comes along that has the potential to pay for itself. Even more rarely, an iPhone app comes along that has the potential to pay for itself many times over. RedLaser clearly falls into the latter category, and at a mere $1.99, it's worth the price of admission. Regardless of whether you are a die-hard comparison shopper or if you have just recently become one, RedLaser can help you save money. Period. Add in it's handy ability to create and share a list of scanned items and you have an app that is wonderfully useful and very deserving of some space on your iPhone.