Bluetooth trackers like Tile devices or Apple AirTags help you easily locate your prized possessions. Designed to be thin and unobtrusive, they can slide into a bag, stick to the surface of an object and attach to the things you care about. Using your phone and Bluetooth connectivity, bluetooth trackers show you on your phone’s screen how close you are to the tagged item and play a sound to guide you in the right direction. If you happen to accidentally drop an item while out and about, there’s a high chance that you’ll be able to recover whatever you’ve lost.
Both Tile and AirTag run processes in the background of owners’ phones to create a crowdsourced network. When another Bluetooth tracker user is in the vicinity of your lost wallet, keys, or whatever, you’ll receive a private ping with the item’s last registered location. With over 35 million Tiles in the wild and Apple’s Find My network approaching one billion devices, bluetooth trackers don’t rely on GPS and therefore are relatively affordable, thanks to lower production costs and no cellular service plan requirements. This affordability democratizes tracking for items of any value, whether it’s a $500 cordless drill or the $10 stuffy your child can’t live without.
What Is a Bluetooth Tracker anyway?
Instead of relying on a cell signal and providing real-time tracking updates like GPS, these types of trackers connect to your phone through Bluetooth. Once paired you can interact with them via dedicated app. If you lose an item in your house or an immediate area you can trigger a sound to guide you towards your tracker with a basic visual indication of how close or far you are from the device displayed on your screen. Each bluetooth tracker has its own software and feature set. Running in the background of each smart tracker user’s phone, whenever a device passes through another tracker’s signal it privately pings the location for the owner. Tile and Apple’s larger networks blanket much more areas than competitors like Chipolo, Cube and Samsung SmartThings with install bases that are too small for reliable coverage outside of the home..
Launching in 2014, Tile’s Bluetooth tracker put a spotlight on the potential of bluetooth item finders. Years on the market have helped Tile create its current lineup of refined devices for every occasion. With slim products that attach in a variety of ways from key rings to adhesives, an app that is hardware-agnostic, and millions of users in its stable network, there’s been little for this cube to fear. Tile’s smart UI, growing user base and major partnerships with Tile integrations into popular electronics like headphones and laptops have helped the company blanket a large portion of the globe.
Coming straight for Tile’s throne as the king of smart trackers, Apple’s AirTag is equipped with smarter features, innovative design, and a much larger network. Launching in late April, Apple has already shaken up the market and brought the general public’s attention to the concept of item finders. AirTag comes in a singular rounded design and features Precision Finding, which provides spot-on visual directions using an arrow, haptic feedback, and audio to guide you to within an inch of your AirTag for minimal searching. It outpaces the Tile searching experience but is limited to use with an iPhone 11 or 12. A single AirTag costs $29, but you can get free engraving if you order directly from Apple, which is a nice customization option that Tile lacks.
While Tile’s versatility may have the upper hand, its security features don’t come close to what Apple bakes in. Apple’s location tracking is encrypted from end-to-end while using rotating identifiers to keep your information scrambled. Not even the company itself can track your activity. AirTags will notify users if someone has placed a tracker on them by playing a beep after three days separated from their owner. Whether you use Apple or Android, a tap of the AirTag with a NFC device shows serial information in addition to disable instructions. Chipolo’s One Spot is one of the first third-party devices to use the FindMy network, but Apple mandates the same safety features from its partners.
Tile and Cube simply promises not to sell your data. The Tile team is working with experts to implement a similar feature to AirTag’s unwanted tracking beep, but there’s no implementation just yet.
Features To Consider
Smart trackers rely on Bluetooth signals to reach your phone or communicate with passing trackers. You’ll want to know how far each tracker’s signal reaches before failing. The farther the range extends, the larger your space for tracking and better the chance of pinging items from user networks. While smaller trackers’ lower ranges sacrifice power for size, they’re great for items around the house but aren’t as reliable outside of it. More powerful trackers tend to cost more, but the improved range makes it easier to find your items over a larger area. Keep in mind that manufacturers use “up to” when disclosing ranges, as our testing revealed they can exaggerate these estimates greatly.
Alarm Sound Production
Unless you’re using Precision Finding with AirTags, relying solely on visuals to hunt down a tracker is rough. Rings from your smart tracker provide an additional directional point to lead you towards your device. Louder decibel readings are easier to hear and thus easier to find.
While Tile is compatible with both major mobile operating systems, Android and iOS, AirTags are locked to Apple’s iOS ecosystem. This means non-iPhone users don’t get to use precision finding, appreciate the instantaneous setup, or benefit from the nearly billion strong Find My network.
Tile devices, on the other hand, work with Windows, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa. AirTags will show up on Find My using a Mac, but the smart home integration is lackluster outside of Siri.
Lastly, you’ll want to see what kind of battery your potential smart tracker uses. The Tile Pro and AirTag use replaceable CR2032 coin batteries that expire after one year. The smaller Mate uses a CR1632. Tile’s Sticker and Slim will last for for two and three years without needing a battery change, but both devices get thrown out after this life cycle.
How We Tested and Selected
Using two-weeks of testing experience as a baseline, I created a lifelike test to get hard data. Centering each bluetooth tracker on the same marked point to simulate my wallet, I walked as far as I could until I lost bluetooth connection. Once out of range of the tracker, I dropped another marker down to signify the end of coverage. Using Plott’s Carta smart measuring wheel, I calculated the length between both points three times to find the average operating distance. The center of the tracker and range barrier marker were the start and end points for measurements. While our testing setting was a wide-open 500 foot straightway with no interference, indoor range can vary with concrete walls and signals inside of your home.
To capture sound readings, we mounted a digital sound level meter ten feet away from each tracker centered inside of a “junk basket” of random objects. I settled on ten feet because, in my experience using Bluetooth trackers, that’s how close I would get relying on the signal before telling the tracker to chime so I could home in on its exact location. We made sure there were no ambient noises that could interfere with our readings, then recorded five seconds of each tracker’s alarm and calculated average decibel levels from those. Like range, sound is hampered by obstructions, so you may not hear your Tracker as clearly if it’s in a drawer or underneath a pile of clothes. This is especially true for a Tile Slim sitting in a wallet and the Tile Sticker if the speakers are blocked. We assigned each reading a comparable noise so that you can get a rough idea of the volume level.
For trackers we didn’t get a chance to test, check out our “Other Great Options” section below our hands-on reviews. These popular alternatives either launched after our testing period such as the new Chipolo One Spot, or couldn’t be tested without certain hardware like the Galaxy Smart Tags, which require a Galaxy phone.
—BEST FOR MOST PEOPLE—
Range: 140 ft average | Sound production: 66 decibels at 10 ft | Compatibility: Android and iOS | Battery: Replaceable | Sounds like: Alarm clock
Tile’s Pro tracker is hardware-agnostic and loud and—most importantly—has a long range. Its visual tracking capabilities aren’t as precise as the AirTags but exceeds its rival’s basic functionality with the largest operating range and loudest sound production on a Bluetooth tracker. Downloading the Tile app and setting up an account takes around two minutes. Once you’re set up the experience of finding a lost object is incredibly simple on both Android and iOS.
The Tile Pro’s build is sturdy, with a thick 1.7 x 1.7 x 0.3-inch frame. It’s 12-gram body is deceptively light and easy to hold, not adding much weight to your gear. While one side features a lone button, flipping the Pro around exposes a removable CR2032 battery cover and three holes for the speaker. A built-in corner keyring means you can attach this to your keys or simply slide the tile into something like a backpack.
To pair the Tile Pro with your phone, you simply need to open up the app and hit the add Tile button. Pressing down the logo button on your Tile puts it into pairing mode. A tune plays as a signal to go ahead and hit next, connecting your phone to the Tile within seconds. A quick walkthrough explains the basics. Click the play sound button on your phone to find your Tile and double click the pairing button on the Tile itself twice to ring your phone, even on silent.
Tile’s built-in two-way finding feature has a leg up on AirTags, which don’t offer a similar ability. Tile runs its app in your phone’s background processes, similar to Apple’s Find My operation. Opening the app provides a somewhat cluttered UI that shows each device in a gallery with clip art-like images for visual identification of your items. Hitting the device you need pulls up a map, large find button, location history and sharing menu. Like AirTag, you can use Siri to help you find your objects. Where that is naturally integrated into AirTag, Tile users need to manually create a shortcut to trigger Siri assistance. You can also connect Tile to both Alexa and Google Assistant for smart home integration, which AirTags cannot. This proved helpful in mornings where I rushed out of my apartment for work and asked Alexa to find my keys and wallet.
Finding your objects is simple. You’ll see a five-ring circle on your phone’s screen, with each ring filling in the closer you get to your device. But it’s a guessing game of hot or cold with vague wording telling you if you’re moderately or very close. It works best in a house, as the walls help the Tile’s tone to resonate. However, in an open field or out in public, this can be frustrating and where the AirTag’s more precise location tracking wipes the floor with Tile.
The improved performance over other models in the Tile lineup make this great for important everyday carry items such as a set of keys because it’s versatile and hard to lose. In our test, the Tile Pro had a superior range of 141 feet. The 66 decibel amplified sound was the loudest of all the devices we tested and put the 53 decibel reading from the AirTags to shame. That’s almost as loud as an alarm clock. To top it all off, you can customize the ringtone with over ten options.
Range: 93 ft average | Sound production: 53 decibels at 10 ft | Compatibility: iOS Exclusive | Battery: Replaceable 1-year CR2032 with warning | Sounds like: Moderate rainfall
Within just six months on the market, Apple’s AirTags have accomplished more than Tile has done in almost a decade. These sleek 11-gram trackers pair to your phone within seconds, have a larger tracking network for losses outside of your home, and offer an advanced location system called precision finding that leads you to within an inch of your tracker using GPS-like navigation and feedback. If you own the latest Apple devices, you should consider AirTags because they’re smarter overall. If you’re on Android, you don’t have the choice to use AirTags as they’re exclusive to Apple’s ecosystem.
At roughly the size of a dollar coin, the 1.3-inch AirTag is just a hair wider than Tile’s smallest offering, the Sticker, by 0.2 inches. You won’t notice any exposed speaker holes or buttons on an AirTag, which allows for their IP67 rating and ability to hold up under one meter of water for over an hour. Light and sturdy, these tags can help you track down your objects even in adverse conditions.
iPhone owners are likely familiar with the magic of pairing Apple accessories in seconds. From Apple Watch to AirPods, a quick scan or press is all it takes. AirTags are no different; you simply pull a plastic tab and your phone immediately recognizes and connects to your AirTag, integrating the tracker into your AppleID, Find My, and Maps apps within seconds. It’s fast, painless, and easy. There’s no extra app required or pairing to go through. Like with Tile, you can name your AirTag from a list of helpful predetermined options. You can also use emojis to create a custom label.
Launching the Find My app shows your tracked possessions under the aptly name Items category. Navigating this app is much cleaner than Tile’s interface, with three clearly spaced buttons: play sound, precision find, and toggle button for lost mode. Plus you can say “Hey Siri, where are my keys?” without having to set up a Siri shortcut automation like with Tile. There’s no location history, smart alert, or ringtone button, however. In classic Apple fashion, you’ll have to spend more money on a superfluous loop accessory to attach your AirTag to a keyring or dog collar. This is frustrating when Tile’s devices adhere to your items instantly.
With your AirTags up and running, an iPhone 11 or newer model uses onboard sensors and ARkit for the AirTag’s signature precision finding feature. Combining augmented reality, spatial scanning, and ultra-wide band technology, precision finding triangulates your phone’s location in a space to directly guide you to your AirTag with an on-screen arrow. In our tests the accuracy consistently came within an inch. Where Tile’s circle fills up when you get closer to the tracker, there’s no guessing games with Precision Find. You simply get GPS directional accuracy accompanied by haptic feedback to the item you’re searching for without having to replay sounds for guidance.
AirTags have the superior finding network, with nearly one billion Find My users to date. This means, if you lose your AirTags in public, there’s a better chance of your device being pinged by other phones at a more frequent rate for more accurate status updates to help you locate your missing items. Tile’s network is only about 10 percent of the Find My community and consists of 35 million Tiles and partnered products like HP laptops, Fitbit watches, and Skullcandy headphones, in addition to Amazon Sidewalk.
So why aren’t AirTags our first recommendation? While smarter, their core functionality lags behind the Tile Pro. We clocked the local Bluetooth range at 93 feet compared to the 140 feet of the Tile Pro. On both a straightway and through the walls of a home, we were able to get a 99-foot average with precision finding active. Where each Tile produced a minimum sound of 60 decibels from ten feet away the AirTags could only produce an average of 53 decibels. That’s about equal to the sound of moderate rainfall. Speaking of rain, AirTag’s IP67 water and dust resistance comes at a cost as the ringtone has to fight through the white plastic body.
Lastly, precision finding, the biggest draw to the AirTags, is limited to iPhone 11 and up. Unless you have the latest iPhone, the Tile Pro’s two-way finding offers a feature AirTags lack and is just as helpful. And if you want the larger Find My network, the Chipolo One below offers a better value for older iPhones. There’s no doubt that AirTags are good now, but we’d like to see a similar two-way finding feature, louder sound production, and a range improvement in the next generation. It would also be nice to have a keyring included so you can attach your AirTags to your items without having to buy one separately.
Range: 140 ft average | Sound production: 60 decibels at 10 ft | Compatibility: Android and iOS | Battery: 2-year non-replaceable | Sounds like: Normal Conversation
Tile’s Sticker is the smallest bluetooth tracker we tested. Instead of attaching to your items or slipping into a bag, it uses a capable 3M adhesive to stay in place on nearly anything. This opens up possibilities for things it would be hard to attach a tracker to, like a daily pair of sunglasses. Plus you can stick it to your usual everyday carry items like a wallet or keys for a smaller footprint.
Other than the different body, the Tile app works the same as the Pro above from the pairing process to the user interface. The tradeoff is weaker sound and a shortened range. We got a 60-decibel average and a less-than-stellar 57-foot range in our tests. That’s about the sound of a normal conversation. Unlike the Tile Pro or AirTags above, the battery is stuck at a two-year life span, then the entire Tile is meant to be discarded.
Ultimately the Tile Sticker is for those who want a bluetooth tracker that won’t add bulk to their items. This slick alternative has the most versatility out of the box. Its small size packs the same smart features as the Tile Pro, retaining a button that can activate two-way finding to help you track down your phone.
—FOR YOUR WALLET—
Range: 77 ft average | Sound production: 66 decibels at 10 ft | Compatibility: Android and iOS | Battery: 3-year non-replaceable | Sounds like: Busy restaurant
From pocketbooks to slimline men’s wallets, the Tile Slim’s credit card shape and thickness slid into any case we tested without friction. Not only did the Slim impress with design, but functionally it has an impressive range and retains the button necessary for two-way finding. We measured the Slim’s Bluetooth reach at an impressive 77 feet, nearly 20 more than the Tile Mate, which is supposedly supposed to have the same range.
But that’s just one part of the formula. Producing a 63-decibel sound, the Slim beats out AirTags and the Tile Sticker, sitting just below our top pick. This sound is as loud as a busy restaurant.
You can slide the Slim into your wallet or in between pages of your passport, but it’s a huge contrast to the Sticker’s ability to stick on to absolutely anything. Plus you also have to throw the entire Slim out after three years despite its larger size. Its purpose for wallets is great, but it has the narrowest use in the entire lineup.
Range: Up to 200 ft | Sound production: 100 decibels (claimed) | Compatibility: Android and iOS | Battery: Rechargeable | Sounds like: Power tool
The Cube Shadow is a small and thin item finder, like the Tile Slim, that also adheres to an object’s surface, like the Sticker. With an IP67 rating that rivals AirTags, the Shadow can withstand being submerged in up to one meter of water for 30 minutes. Cube successfully brought together most of the best features of each item tracker above but is held back by a significantly smaller tracking network.
Ditching the key ring and sticking the Shadow to an item keeps the device at just 0.1-inch thick, about as thin as a coin, and 1.9 inches both long and wide for an unobtrusive shape. Unlike Tile’s smaller options like the Slim or Sticker, you don’t have to throw away the device after the battery dies. You can recharge it with ease without having to remove it from the item it’s tracking. This cuts down on landfill waste but requires charging almost every two months.
A built-in button can be used for two-way finding like Tile devices and expands the functionality a step further by serving as a remote control while taking selfies. Notifications alert you when you’ve disconnected from your tracker’s range to let you know if you’ve left something behind and there’s Alexa integration. Whether you’re dealing with rain or snow, the Shadow’s durability make this a tough Tile alternative. But an app that looks like it’s fresh out of the late 2000s and a smaller user network limits these to use around the house. While the notification that you’ve been disconnected from your tracker is helpful on the move, you won’t be able to see a pinged location if an item is stolen or you see the notification too late.
Other Great Options
Samsung Galaxy Smart Tag Plus
Range: Up to 393 ft | Sound production: 100 decibels (claimed) | Compatibility: Android | Battery: Replaceable
Samsung Galaxy owners can use Smart Tag Plus, a feature-packed AirTags alternative for Android. It only works for the latest Galaxy Samsung phones, is limited to the SmartThings network, and packs just a six-month battery life, but excels in customizability. That’s due to a programmable function button, actual AR view of your tag in a space, and smart home integration for use as a IoT remote.
While Precision Find on iPhone pulls up GPS-like navigation to your tracker, AR Finder on the Smart Tag Plus shows a directional arrow overlay in the real world guiding you toward your tracker. When you’re close, a shimmering green light forms around your tracker to make grabbing it even easier. If you think that’s cool, Samsung’s SmartThings app allows you to program button functions for when you press or hold down the tag. You can use a press to control integrated lights in a room or hold the button to activate a find my phone feature.
The rubber body is resistant to scratch and scuffs for durability. Not only can you pick your Smart Tag in a variety of colors, there are eight different ringtones to choose from as well. If you’re a Galaxy owner and feel like you’re missing out on AirTag, these offer even more advanced smarts than Apple and the rest of the lot.
—FOR OLDER IPHONES—
Chipolo One Spot (2021)
Range: Up to 200 ft | Sound production: 120 decibels (claimed) | Compatibility: iOS | Battery: Replaceable
Chipolo’s One Spot taps into Apple’s expansive Find My network to offer a slick AirTag alternative for iOS devices. You won’t get NFC or Ultra-wideband tech for Precision Finding, but there are functional improvements like a built-in keyring, louder alarm, and long Bluetooth range. If you don’t have an iPhone 11 or newer, this is worth checking out.
You’re locked to the single black option for this round plastic disc that could benefit from a wider color selection. The tracker’s plastic body is light and fits like a glove on your keyring. Unlike with other Chipolo trackers, you don’t need to use the separate Chipolo app to pair or use this model. Launching your iPhone’s built-in Find My software allows you to add the device and control it from the Items tab. When you use the play sound function, the Chipolo One Spot doesn’t stop playing a sound after a few seconds like AirTags—the alarm rings until you turn it off.
For all intents and purposes, this budget AirTag surpasses Apple’s tracker if you don’t have an iPhone 11 or newer to make use of Precision Finding. Unfortunately, the lack of NFC makes it difficult to identify the device.
Range: 55 ft average | Sound production: 64 decibels at 10 ft | Compatibility: Android and iOS | Battery: Replaceable
The Tile Mate is a thinner and cheaper alternative to the Pro. It’s lightweight and sleek, but the $10 price difference between the Mate and the Pro is apparent given the Mate’s severely shorter range, its lower sound, and the stiffer button.
We got the Mate to an average 55 feet before losing the signal. This is the shortest distance in the entire bluetooth tracker pool. To give you a visual comparison, that would be about ten feet longer than a standard city bus. What the Mate lacks in range, it makes up for in sound, just 2 decibels behind the Pro at 64, or about the sound of traffic.
If you want an affordable alternative to the Tile Pro, the mate is thinner and sounds great when you’re searching for things around the house. I’ll even die on the hill that it’s the best-looking tracker out of the entire group. But looks aren’t everything, and I don’t recommend this as strongly as the other models on our list if you’ll be using it with the hopes of finding an item outside of your home.