Best Bluetooth Tracker: Tile vs TrackR (Slim, Style, Mate, Bravo, Pixel)
Bluetooth trackers are pocket-sized devices you can attach to items you don’t want to lose, such as your wallet, keys, phone, tablet, purse, luggage, or backpack.
After seeing Tile ads for years, I finally caved and bought Tile Slim last year.
Here’s what I wrote in my review: “Tile definitely isn’t for me. Tile couldn’t pick a worse customer if they tried. I don’t carry much in my wallet, and this may not be the norm. But we’re moving toward a wallet-less and keyless society. It’s likely we’ll have fully digital wallets available in the not-too-distant future. If you like the idea of Tile for finding a tech device (i.e., phone or laptop), there are easier ways to do that too.”
In retrospect, my thinking was flawed:
- Technology isn’t moving as fast I want it to.
- If digital wallets and keyless cars are universal in five years (which is highly unlikely), what are people going to do in the interim? What about things that will never be trackable? How about finding something that’s buried at the bottom of your bag?
- I touted Apple’s device tracking, assuming everyone uses Apple products.
- Bluetooth trackers are improving in range and volume.
- I assumed Tile wouldn’t gain enough traction for Community Find to be useful. But it has over 10 million users, was granted an additional $25 million in funding, and anecdotally, there are more Tile users in my town now.
While Bluetooth trackers have their flaws, there is a need for them.
I’ve had Tile for a year.
I liked it! It saved me in a situation where my wallet was jammed between the wall and dresser. I’m still not sure how it got there, but there’s no way I would’ve found it without Tile.
Last week, the app warned me it was time to replace my Tile.
I decided to take this opportunity to find the best Bluetooth tracker.
What are we comparing?
Chipolo CARD isn’t ready for primetime because of its small network. It doesn’t have a competitive advantage compared to the big names.
Pixie is the only tracker that uses visual navigation through Augmented Reality to help find your items. Rather than guessing where your item is or trying to get close enough for it to beep, you can to track it on a map.
However, Pixie’s visual navigation comes with one HUGE caveat (a deal-breaker): you need the tracker on your phone and the item you’re tracking. Pixie is interesting, but with its 200ft Bluetooth range and the loudest volume of the newest trackers on the market, it’s more gimmick than substance.
Where does that leave us?
It’s a two-horse race: Tile vs. TrackR.
Here’s what these trackers do and don’t do:
- They aren’t magic. They use low-powered Bluetooth, rather than GPS, meaning you can only locate something within 100ft (advertised) or 40ft (my real life tests).
- You can ring your tracker if it’s within Bluetooth range. Otherwise, it’ll show the last known location.
- Your phone’s Bluetooth has to be on, and the app has to be open. If you close the app, it stops tracking (it needs to be working in the background). Closing apps is a bad habit of mine because there’s no need to close apps on iOS devices.
- The apps use a significant amount of background data and battery. Also, they use your location data for marketing and other reasons. Collecting location data isn’t unique; most apps do it. The difference is Bluetooth tracking apps don’t work if your location data is disabled, so you don’t have the option to disable it.
- You get discounts when you purchase multiple trackers at once.
- If you press the button on the trackers, your phone will make a noise (if it’s within Bluetooth range) to help you locate it.
- If you lose your keys or wallet, you can let the community know your item is lost, and when people with the app come across your item, you’ll be notified.
- You can use Alexa or Google Home to find your devices.
- You can’t put them on your cars or pets, despite what the Internet might tell you.
Now that we know what all the trackers can do, let’s find the perfect Bluetooth tracker for you!
#2 – Not great.
- There are two TrackRs with two minor differences:
- TrackR’s most significant advantage over Tile is that it has replaceable batteries. TrackR sends them to you for free when you’re running low.
- TrackR Pixel has flashing LED lights. This seems useless but might help in some unusual circumstances.
- There are separation alerts with geofencing. You’ll be notified when your phone gets too far away from the tracker. There are “WiFi Safe Zones” so you won’t get a warning when you’re connected to your home’s WiFi. The geofencing and safe zones don’t work well and substantially decrease the battery life, but it’s a smart concept. It’ll be a massive breakthrough for the company that can perfect letting me know I’ve left a product behind before I think of it.
- You can change the sound your phone makes when you’re finding it to one of the songs in your Apple Music library.
- If you’re looking for something small and unobtrusive, these are your best best.
- There are five significant problems with TrackR’s battery:
- Getting the battery out of TrackR Pixel is not easy. I still can’t do it after following their tutorial, and I’m not the only one who struggled based on the number of downvotes on their YouTube videos. Also, you’ll set off the phone locator button when you use their method. (Battery replacement on TrackR Bravo is easy.)
- TrackR devices feel cheesy and aren’t well-built. There’s no point to a replaceable battery if it can’t outlast Tile (one year). This observation is based on calculations rather than real life experience. I’ll update this post once I’ve used it for longer.
- The batteries only last a couple of months with minimal usage, even less if you use it frequently. What happens if you forget to switch out the batteries? You don’t have a tracker. That creates unnecessary anxiety.
- The batteries in my TrackR Pixel arrived with no juice. Based on Amazon reviews, that’s happened to other customers as well.
- The battery tracker in the app isn’t accurate and is always changing.
- TrackR has a community feature called Crowd Locate. The only problem is its network is small. There are four TrackR users in my town. That could change, but right now the community feature is useless. Another issue is the Crowd Locate notification goes off every time your phone comes in contact with your TrackR. You only want notifications if something is lost. I don’t need alerts every time I leave a room in my house.
- They aren’t waterproof.
- TrackR Bravo and TrackR Pixel advertise a 100ft range from your phone and TrackR for the ringer to work but other reviewers say it’s about 50ft. In my tests (in the real world with walls and drawers), I’ve found you’ll need to be in the same room or maybe one room over for it to work.
#1 – Best by a mile.
- There are four models:
- Tile Sport & Tile Style (both Pro models have the same specs with different exterior designs): It’s 5.9mm thick with a 200ft Bluetooth range, very loud speaker and costs $35.
- Tile Slim: It’s 2.4mm thick, no circle cutout with a 100ft Bluetooth range and costs $30.
- Tile Mate: It’s 4.65mm thick, with a 100ft Bluetooth range and costs $20.
- The new Tile Sport and Style models supposedly get over 200ft of range if in clear sight. Other reviewers say it’s closer to 150ft in reality. I’ve found its range spans from one end of my house to the other.
- It’s a noticeable upgrade over older Tile models and TrackR.
- Tile Sport and Style are much louder than other trackers (TrackR Bravo and Pixel).
- Tiles don’t need to be charged, and there’s no messing around with batteries. Tile says it’s guaranteed to work for one year. I can vouch for that.
- Tile is lightweight with a quality build and design that’s miles ahead of TrackR. I’m sure not everyone cares, but I value craftsmanship.
- Tile’s not only making tracking devices, but they’re also building a platform. Bose, Samsonite, and other companies are implementing Tile’s technology directly into their items. Hypothetically, you could locate every item you own inside Tile’s app without buying any Tiles. Bose will implement this with a firmware update for the Bose SoundSport Wireless and QC30 headphones.
- There’s a web app to track your phone. (Although, you can’t track your Tiles with the web app, and Apple already has phone tracking with Find My iPhone.)
- You can give your friends or family access to your Tile so they can help you find it when it’s missing. It’s a smart idea because it increases your chances of finding it.
- Tiles Slim and Mate are waterproof up to a meter deep for 30 minutes, while Tile Sport and Style can handle up to 1.5 meters for 30 minutes.
- Tile’s community is much bigger than that of any other tracker. For reference, in my small town of 30,000 people, there are 160 Tiles but only four TrackR devices. That’s important for Tile’s Community Find feature. There’s a much greater chance someone else will find your lost item.
- You get a 30% discount on all Tile items after your first purchase. (You don’t have to buy the same model you owned to get the discount).
- Tile is the only tracking device with an Apple Watch app. It’s not a throwaway app; it’s useful for locating the Tile.
- They have 10 ringtone options.
- The Tile battery only lasts a year. Once the year’s up, you have to buy a new device because the battery isn’t replaceable. It’s a smart business model, but it’s not ideal for customers. However, in my opinion, it’s a better solution than TrackR has because you can upgrade to the newest technology every year for 30% off.
- Geofencing isn’t available yet, but it’s coming and available in beta for a small percentage of users.
- You can’t unpair it to save the battery for later use. Once Tile is activated, you’re only going to get a year of battery regardless of what you do.
- Tile Slim and Tile Mate advertise a 100ft range from your phone and Tile for the ringer to work, but other reviewers say it’s about 70ft. In my tests (in the real world with walls and drawers), I’ve found you’ll need to be in the same room or maybe one room over for it to work.
- Tile Slim and Tile Mate are quieter than TrackR devices.
Which one is for you?
I’m waiting for a Bluetooth tracker that’s chargeable through micro-USB. But in the meantime, Tile is the winner.
Which Tile should you buy?
Tile Style and Sport are only $10 more than a TrackR or Tile Mate, but they have almost double the range with louder volume. These are worthy upgrades and you’ll actually be able to find your lost things. If you’re not willing to spend the extra $10 for extra assurance, you shouldn’t be buying a Bluetooth tracker in the first place.
Unfortunately, Tile Slim (2.4mm thick) is your only option if you’re looking for something thin to fit your wallet. Tile Style isn’t an option for wallets 5.9mm thick. TrackR Bravo (3.5mm thick) could work, but I’d be terrified of it sliding out because of its small size. You’d have to glue or tape TrackR in.
I’d like to see a second generation Tile Slim with the same specs as Tile Style.
I can’t recommend TrackR devices because they don’t function well and I don’t think they’re going to last long. I’d rather buy the best device on the market (Tile), know my things are properly tracked, then upgrade to the latest technology in a year with a significant discount.
But if you don’t want a Tile, go with TrackR Bravo. It has a better feel and appearance and it’s easier take out the battery out compared with TrackR Pixel.