gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Lovebox – wireless display for thoughtful messages – reviewed

Both my reviewer and maker sense tingles when I come across something like Lovebox.

Starting in a French makerspace in 2015 and released in its final form in November 2021, Lovebox was the brainchild of Jean Gregoire who was keen to build a simple way to connect people across distances. Before iMessage started to gain a landslide of new cutesy features, and the same year Twitter changed their star to a heart, Lovebox brought the idea of sending animations and personal messages to a WiFi connected screen with an adorable heart notification/response mechanism. Even – or perhaps especially – in today’s always connected, screen-addicted world this housing of modern communications into an elegant, ambient device has its place.

The original was crafted from dovetailed, laser cut MDF fashioned into a chunky box with a basic character LCD peering through the front. The spinning heart also traces its origins back to the very first concept, also cut from MDF and appearing to be pushed over the D-shaft of a small motor.

Three generations of #lovebox enjoying the sun of Marseille #startup #love #sun #spreadLove

— Jean Gregoire (@jmmgreg) May 2, 2016

The final product, the culmination of 5 years of work refining this elegant concept, keeps the wooden heritage, housing the Lovebox’s internals in a beautiful and seamless bamboo enclosure and adds the choice of either a classic black & white screen or a colour one for sending photos along with your messages.

Every detail is so carefully considered as to feel almost magical in its implementation. Even to a maker (that was the job title on my business cards at one point) and tinkerer like myself, the hardware is inscrutable. There are no visible screws, fixings, entry points, reset buttons or LEDs. The only interaction is through the spinny heart, driven by a motor or continuous servo? I don’t know.

If you spin the heart, a magnet built into the heart piece itself will whizz past a reed switch or hall effect sensor inside the box and trigger a flood of hearts back to the message sender. The lid is similarly magnetically actuated, a small magnet in the middle lets the box know when the lid is closed, turning off the screen and saving power, and when the lid is opened- so it knows to display the message and clear it afterwards.

The hearts are interchangeable with a variety of different styles to choose from. These include kid-friendly heart alternatives such as a Cat or Dog, a rounded heart design, a sunshine and – probably my personal favourite – a rainbow pride spinny. The Spinny’s are a little steep at £9.99 each, it’s clear they don’t necessarily want to be selling them on their own (though they’re used as a carrot on a stick for referrals). No matter, you can find a box packaged with basically any of the available choices.

First set up is a breeze. The Lovebox comes with a USB to Micro USB cable and a neat little folding wall adapter. Plug it in and the screen prompts you to connect to its WiFi hotspot. Connect to the hotspot and your phone will pop up a captive portal (the funky way WiFi login works in hotels and bars) prompting you for your WiFi network info. Fill in your WiFi network and Lovebox will shut down its hotspot, connect to your home WiFi, update itself and display its Super Sekret Code which you can use to start sending it messages of love.

There’s no reset button, but unplugging the Lovebox resets it back to its out of the box state, throwing up the WiFi hotspot again. Interestingly there must be *some* persistence happening somewhere since the WiFi network and password were prefilled the second time around. You can factory reset the Lovebox by power cycling it and using a computer to navigate to a special URL on its WiFi hotspot.

It strikes me that the Lovebox could easily have included an internal battery and been a touch more ambient. As it stands a power cut, or moving it around will bump it off your WiFi network and require setup again… not a huge deal, but something to consider.

Internally I suspect the Lovebox houses an ESP32, a couple of hall-effect sensors and a motor to drive the heart. The ESP32 is a tiny and very basic WiFi-enabled computer (or micro-controller if you will) that’s perfectly suited to this kind of usage. It’s also the reason why animations – sent to Lovebox from the app – are gloriously retro, low-fi, black-and-white and pixelated. Ho boy there are a lot of animations to choose from, and they bring back that Tamogotchi nostalgia and remind me of Arduboy.

Sending messages is done via the Lovebox app and the Super Sekret Code. You can send anything from text over a background colour to photos with borders and text, animations, animations over photos, text over silly pixel art, custom hand drawings, emoji, stickers and more. Think of it like Meme Generator for little messages.

This is silly and adorable and I love it ????

— Phil Howard (@Gadgetoid) February 7, 2022

When a message arrives there’s no loud beeping, no flashing light, no obnoxious musical interlude, nope, the Lovebox just enthusiastically spins its little heart and waits for you to open the lid. This physical method of notification is wonderfully endearing, unobtrusive and – insofar as I’m aware – singularly unique.

The app includes the ability to track birthdays and special dates, sending you reminders, and also remind you to send love on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. This is great for those of us who are… uh… completely incapable of remembering a date. Controversially Love is also gamified- sending love rewards you coins that you can spend on stickers within the app. This is rather harmless, though, since you can’t buy coins with money.

Overall the Lovebox is a fantastic little ambient message box. It’s a simple, to the point, impossible to muck up appliance that looks attractive around the home and does one thing very, very well. Every detail is carefully considered, and its clean, virtually unassailable design leaves little room for wear and tear, damage or misuse. While myself and my love prefer to send each other iMessages, I could totally see this being a boon to keeping a sense of closeness over long distances- especially when kids are involve, the toddler absolutely *loves* it. This also extends to situations where a mobile phone or tablet are too complicated or difficult for someone to use. Whatever the situation and whoever your loved ones, setting up a Lovebox for them will give you an easy way to send messages, updates from your day or little pictures to let them know you’re thinking of them.

Okay he’s clearly a fan of @lovebox_love and totally not a fan of my terrible art… ?

— Phil Howard (@Gadgetoid) February 7, 2022

There are downsides, however. Access to the Lovebox is gated only by the secret code. Think of this like an unchangeable username with no associated password. Anyone who gets you Lovebox code for whatever reason can send you messages. Factory reset does not change this code and the “How to use the Lovebox after a break up?” article has some… suggestions… but none of them address potential vectors for harassment. The “Manage your Lovebox’s senders” article finally sheds some light: you can delete a sender through the app, but they can easily re-add themselves if they still have the code. In many cases this might be sufficient, but otherwise Lovebox say: “Do not hesitate to contact us if you need to change the secret code.” I emailed them and they suggested the reset procedure which does not seem to reset my code.

I’d love to share my code on Twitter for some fun and games, but without an in-app method to easily cycle it to a new one it sort-of puts the breaks on that idea. Lovebox, if you’re listening you can do better here!

Lovebox is available in classic colour for £107.99 and Black & White for £89.99. They both feature the beautiful bamboo case. You can snag 15% off – and give me the opportunity to grab that sweet rainbow heart – by using the code: LOVE-AA08ZYQMHPZO

The model tested (and pictured) is the Lovebox Original Color & Photo. Shipping might be a bit of a squeeze for valentines day, so if you’ve got a special someone you want to avalanche with digital love- go go go!

As someone working for a company that started with laser cut acrylic and matured to selling all the toys and trinkets makers need to create something just like the Lovebox (even literally) I appreciate the journey as much as the destination. Who knows, maybe the next idea you cobble together in your local makerspace, or your home tinkering cave, could be the seed of another startup.

Monday, February 7th, 2022, Hobby Electronics, Home Appliances.