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TrackR vs. Tile: The Lost-and-Found Face-Off

Both TrackR and Tile use crowd GPS to help you locate your lost things, but one is better than the other.

Olivia Merrion for Re/code

Technology companies are famous for solving problems that people didn’t know they had. This week, I compared two technology products that solve one problem lots of people really do have: Losing stuff.

I pitted two tracking devices against one another — TrackR versus Tile — to see which one is the best for keeping tabs on your keys, purse, dog, luggage, tech products and even your kids.

Small tip: If you’re testing out these kinds of products, it’s better if you don’t actually lose your keys along the way. I am eating crow after attaching not just one but two tracking devices to my husband’s keychain, since he’s the one who usually loses his keys. My keys have no such device … wherever they are right now.

So what are these things, and how do they help you?

TrackR is a small, circular device made by a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based company of the same name. Tile is a small, square device made by a San Mateo, Calif.-based company of the same name. You attach them to things you’d miss if they went missing, and when those things inevitably do go missing, you can use your smartphone app to make the TrackR or Tile beep so as to find them.

They also try to find your stuff when it’s farther away near you: Both of these products use the concept of "crowdsourcing" and GPS.

Crowd GPS is based on the idea that if you can’t find something, say, your keys, maybe someone else can — as long as they also happen to be using the TrackR or Tile app (iOS and Android), with Bluetooth turned on and crowd GPS enabled. Your lost keys will give off a unique identifier that can be detected by other people’s apps, sending you GPS data about where they are.

Last week, TrackR revamped its app and introduced a new tracking device, the TrackR Bravo. This is thinner and lighter than the original TrackR, which I reviewed here, and its new, brushed-aluminum build comes in four colors — steel, black, rose gold and sky blue. This $30 Bravo is $5 more than the original, but you can still buy the original $25 TrackR in various black-plastic builds.


Its competitor, Tile, also got a refresh: It added Shared Tiles to its app, which gives people the ability to share access to any of their tiles with one other person. Instead of asking, "Honey, have you seen my keys?" you and the other person can both use the Tile app to locate the lost keys. Shared access can be granted for a limited time, and access can be revoked whenever you want to stop sharing.

Though these two gadgets work similarly in a lot of ways, they have some notable differences. All things considered, I found TrackR to be the better of the two.

TrackR not only lets you find your devices using your phone, it lets you find your phone using your devices. Think of when you’re about to leave home with your keys in your hand, and you suddenly realize you’re missing your phone. Press a button on your keychain TrackR and your phone will give out a loud ring — even if it’s on silent.

Tile doesn’t do this.

Another TrackR advantage is that it operates on a replaceable coin-cell battery. The company estimates each will last about a year, and these batteries are inexpensive — around a buck or less each on Amazon. The new brushed-aluminum TrackR Bravo is meant to be durable enough to last well past when the battery runs out, something the original plastic TrackR couldn’t reliably do after a year, according to TrackR’s CEO, Chris Herbert.

Tile is a newer company, and its tracking devices haven’t yet been around for a full year. Each plastic Tile is guaranteed for a year, after which you’ll be able to buy renewal Tiles at a discounted rate still to be determined by the company. But these will cost a lot more than the price of the coin-cell batteries that keep TrackRs going.

Olivia Merrion for Re/code

And TrackR is a bit more flexible than Tile in how it can be used. Tile can be used with included adhesive, hooked to a keychain or dropped in a bag. TrackR does all of these things, and also comes in a version you can slip in your wallet. TrackR also recently announced that it’s working with luxury bag manufacturer Mezzi and wallet maker Royce to come already built-in to these accessories.

My testing was pretty uneventful (that is, until I lost my keys, which weren’t outfitted with a TrackR). I attached Tile and TrackR Bravo to a purse, keys and a friend’s dog’s collar; the dog looked slightly bewildered when he heard the TrackR beep sound coming from around his neck.

In these pretend scenarios, I easily located items and/or saw their GPS coordinates illustrated on both apps.

But Tile users who lose something have to take a more deliberate step to "Mark as Lost" the lost item. Meanwhile, TrackR just knows when that item is out of your 100-foot Bluetooth range, thus automatically adding it to the crowd GPS network, which you can ping if you, indeed, lost the thing.

One key factor to remember with both of these networks is that their crowd GPS techniques rely on strong communities of users. That means that people who live in more densely populated areas, like big cities, are more likely to have luck when tapping the crowd for finding lost things. And, of course, the product has to have a lot of people using it in order for the crowd GPS to really work well.

The TrackR app also has a few more adjustable settings than Tile’s. For example, one option in the app lets you connect to Nest, if you own one. Doing this will automatically turn off all alerts when you’re at home, or turns them off when you’re away. Another setting lets you set custom alert sounds for each device, like playing a song from your phone.

So, of the two, TrackR Bravo is the product I’d choose to use to use for keeping track of my stuff.

Seriously, has anyone seen my keys?

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