Today, many of our personal gadgets — including smartphones, laptops, smartwatches and even headphones and wireless earbuds — are integrated with tracking technology that allows us to locate them in case they are misplaced or stolen. To find them, all we have to do is open a certain app and it'll tell us where that device was last located. For Apple devices, it's the Find My network. For Samsung smartphones and tablets, it's Find My Mobile. And for Google devices, it's Find My Device.
Of course, not all of our gadgets are integrated with such tracking technology. And neither is any of our personal belongings, such as bags, bikes and other non-electronic gear that could potentially get lost. The good news is that you can easily attach a separate device called a Bluetooth tracker to any of these gadgets and belongings and it'll track it in exactly the same way.
Tile has been the biggest name in Bluetooth trackers for almost a decade — and they are, offering a wide variety of trackers in various shapes, sizes and other capabilities. However, the market for Bluetooth trackers has gotten exceedingly crowded thanks to Apple and Samsung — two tech goliaths — throwing their hats in the ring, releasing AirTags and Galaxy SmartTags, respectively, and now we as consumers have options.
How do Bluetooth trackers work?
As their name suggests, Bluetooth trackers use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to connect to your smartphone and share location data with it. This allows you to pinpoint its location by simply opening up the tracker's companion app or via the tracker's website and logging into your account. The catch is that the Bluetooth tracker has to be within roughly 150 feet of your smartphone to maintain this BLE connection. If you go out of range, the app or website will show you the tracker's last known location.
The neat thing is that Bluetooth trackers have a special ability to relay location information to your smartphone even if they go out of range — and they do this by crowdsourcing location information. For instance, even if you lose an AirTag and anybody with an iPhone comes with BLE distance (roughly 150 feet) of it, it'll be able to share location data and your Find My app will have an updated location of your AirTag. If you have a Tile tracker, it works exactly the same way but that smartphone must also have the Tile app downloaded.
What to Look for
Ecosystem and compatibility: It's best to commit to one ecosystem of Bluetooth trackers, be it Apple's, Tile's or Samsung's. This is because they all work a little bit differently and use separate app for keeping tabs of all your Bluetooth trackers. Also, not every Bluetooth tracker is compatible with every smartphone. AirTags work with iPhones. Samsung's Galaxy SmartTags only work with Galaxy smartphones. Tile trackers work with both iPhones and Androids.
Size and shape: Tile is really the only company that makes Bluetooth trackers in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. This allows you to get one that specifically fits your needs, say if you want to stick a tracker to a bike or slip one into your waller. Apple and Samsung only currently offer one type of Bluetooth tracker.
Water resistance: Most Bluetooth trackers have a water resistance rating, so they'll survive if you leave them out in the rain or accidentally drop them in a pool. However, different trackers are more or less water resistant, which is important depending on how you plan on using the tracker.
Battery: Bluetooth trackers are reliant on their battery life to work properly, so the longer the battery life the better. Some Bluetooth trackers don't last as long but have replaceable batteries. Others don't have replaceable or rechargeable batteries, so you'll need to get an all-new tracker once its battery dies (usually after two or three years).
Special features: Some Bluetooth trackers have special and exclusive features. For example, AirTags support Precision Tracking, which is a feature that allows iPhone users (so long they have an iPhone 11 or later) to pinpoint the exact location of the AirTag when in Bluetooth range. Tile's trackers also have a two-way tracking feature that helps you, if you have the tracker, find your missing smartphone.
The main hurdle when it comes to Bluetooth trackers is the smart ecosystem they work with and device compatibility — because they pretty much all work the same (although each has some unique features and capabilities. We tested each of these Bluetooth trackers with a compatible smartphone — AirTags with an iPhone 13 and Samsung's Galaxy SmartTags with a Samsung Galaxy S22 — and tested Tile trackers with both (as they work with iPhone and Android alike).