Tech

These Bluetooth trackers have replaceable batteries, so you don’t have to throw them away

Losing stuff is a fact of life. Keys, TV remotes, favourite toys and other items go missing on a regular basis and time is wasted and stress caused unnecessarily when attempting to find them.

When you lose your phone, you simply ring it from another phone. Bluetooth trackers allow you to ‘ring’ then so you can hunt down the item they’re attached to.

And you can attach them to almost any device (even a remote control with a Tile Sticker), or even a favourite cuddly toy that your child is constantly losing.

Bluetooth trackers are also great gifts for forgetful friends and relatives who regularly misplace their keys, wallet and other items.

They cost between around £15/$15 and £35/$40 but you might want to buy a few to keep tabs on your own stuff and there are often discounts for buying in bulk.

How do Bluetooth trackers work?

They pair with your phone like Bluetooth headphones and use an app to play a sound when you need to track them down. When you hit the ‘find’ button, the tracker will emit a high-pitched tune that you can use to locate it.

The most important thing to understand is that a Bluetooth tracker is not a GPS tracker, so you don’t see its location live on a map.

Instead, it’s a short-range device, limited by Bluetooth’s range, which is roughly up to 200 feet (61m). The latest models claim up to 400 feet but that’s in perfect conditions. In the real world it’s much closer than that, especially if there are walls in between, or your tracker is locked inside your car outside your house.

Plus, you won’t be able to hear a tracker ringing 400 feet away. But you might when it’s only 40 feet from you.

What this means is that Bluetooth trackers are useful mainly for things you tend to lose around your home or in the office.

Community Find

Bluetooth is no good if you really do lose a tagged device far away from where you live or work. For those occasions, virtually all Bluetooth trackers offer  offer a community find system. 

The latest (and best) of these is Apple Find My, simply because any iPhone (as well as other Apple devices) are used to anonymously report the location of any supported tracker within Bluetooth range.

So if you drop your wallet at King’s Cross and it has an AirTag or Chipolo ONE Spot tracker in it, another iPhone user passing through the station might get close enough so the app detects your tracker and records its location so you can then see on a map where it was at that time.

If you mark your item as lost, you can also type a short message which can be shown on someone’s iPhone, such as your phone number so they can call you can arrange to get it back to you.

Tile and Chipolo offer their own community find systems, but they rely on smaller numbers of users running their apps. Obviously, the more people who run the app, the more likely the system is to work. And that’s why you’re more likely to find an item via Find My and why it can be worth opting for a Bluetooth tracker that supports Apple’s system.

Currently, that’s just its own AirTag and the Chipolo ONE Spot.

However, Find My doesn’t currently offer ‘left behind’ alerts and you can’t ring your iPhone using an AirTag or Chipolo.

Chipolo ONE

  • Pros: Works with Android & iPhone;2-year battery life
  • Cons: Relies on Chipolo’s community find

We’ve seen few Bluetooth trackers that are worthy rivals to Tile, but Chipolo’s One bucks that trend.

Don’t confuse this one with the older models which were also circular. The new 2020 model has a replaceable battery, but unlike the older Classic model it is water resistant to the IPX5 standard, which basically means it’ll be ok if it gets rained on.

It takes a CR2032 battery which lasts up to two years rather than the old CR2025 model that needed a new battery every nine months or so. It also comes in six colours, which is nice.

There’s a brand new model, called the Ocean Edition. Its outer shell is made from recycled plastic retrieved from the sea, and Chipolo will donate $1 to the non-profit Oceanic Global for each one bought. It is more expensive than the regular edition at £30/$30, so protecting the ocean will cost you.

Chipolo Bluetooth tracker

Fire up the Chipolo app and you’ll notice a lot of similarities to Tile’s app, so there’s a clean interface that’s intuitive to use.

The pairing process is also identical: press the + button in the app and then the button on the Chipolo itself. Once paired you can choose a category (which determines the icon) and type in any name you like for the tracker, such as ‘Jim’s house keys’.

One of the most recently added features is left-behind alerts. It’s on by default and when you walk away with your phone far enough (beyond the 200ft connection range) you’ll get an audible alert from the app asking if you meant to leave your item behind. 

We found this system worked better than Tile’s, alerting us much sooner. Plus, unlike Tile’s you don’t have to pay for the feature by subscribing to a premium tier of the service.

You can also connect Chipolo with Alexa or Google Assistant (or Siri on your iPhone). Then you can simply ask the assistant in question to ring your item, which is faster than unlocking your phone, opening the app and waiting for the device to connect.

In real-world testing the One’s range wasn’t quite 200ft, but the ringer is very loud. And this is crucial because the chances are that your keys are in a coat pocket or sown the side of the sofa cushions.

Like Tile, the Chipolo lets you ring your phone from the tracker itself and there’s a ‘Community Find’ system for tracking lost items outside of Bluetooth range. However, this is a lot smaller than Tile’s user base, so the chances are slimmer of your lost tracker being located by another Chipolo owner.

Another bonus is that – unlike Tile – you can log in with your account details to Chipolo’s web portal in any browser to see where your trackers were last seen. You can’t ring them, but you can mark them as lost and you can ring your phone, so long as it has an internet connection and the Chipolo app is running in the background.

Apple AirTag

  • Pros: Precise location with U1 chip
  • Cons: No keyring hole;Doesn’t work with Android

The AirTag has finally broken cover after years of rumours. But it was worth the wait.

So long as you have a recent iPhone with a U1 chip, you’ll get satnav-like directions when you’re within about 20 feet of the AirTag thanks to ultrawideband technology.

Plus, if you lose the AirTag and attached item when you’re out and about, there’s a good chance someone else with an iPhone will walk within range sooner or later.

The disadvantage with AirTags are that they don’t work with Android and don’t have a hole for slotting onto a keyring. Instead you’ll have to buy a keyring holder from Apple (which doubles the cost) or a cheaper third-party holder.

Lastly, Find My doesn’t currently offer a ‘left behind’ alert, but this is coming later this year as a new feature in iOS 15.

Read our full Apple AirTag review

These Bluetooth trackers have replaceable batteries, so you don't have to throw them away

  • Pros: Works with Apple Find My
  • Cons: Doesn’t have U1 chip;Doesn’t work with Android

Chipolo beat Apple to the punch by making its existing One tracker compatible with Find My before Apple launched the AirTag.

In some ways it’s better than the AirTag, too, as the hole means you can get it out of the box and pop it on your keyring straight away.

It works exclusively with the Find My app, not Chipolo’s own app, which means that Android owners are out of luck: it simply cannot be set up without an iPhone or iPad.

The hardware is essentially the same as the Chipolo One, with IPX5 water resistance and a replaceable battery, though that lasts only a year rather than two despite being the same CR2032 cell.

Oh, and it only comes in black and stock is in short supply, so you might have to pre-order one and wait a month or two for delivery.

Tile Pro

  • Pros: Huge range;Loud ringer
  • Cons: Some features require subscription

The Tile Pro has been around for a good few years now, and it remains one of the best Bluetooth trackers. They work reliably and have replaceable batteries.

Tile used to specify the water resistance rating of IP55 (splash proof) but the Pro is now just called ‘water resistant’.

It measures 42 x 42 x 6.5mm and uses a CR2032 battery that lasts up to a year and – in our experience – a few months longer.

The ringer is twice as loud as the Tile Mate, so it’s easier to hear even if stuffed in a pocket or under a cushion.

But as with the Mate, you still have to subscribe to the Premium service if you want ‘left behind’ alerts, location history and a replacement battery through the post at the right time.

When you consider that a Chipolo One is cheaper and offers more features, the Tile is only worth the extra money because you’ll benefit from Tile’s much larger user base that might just find your lost item.

Vodafone Curve GPS Tracker

  • Pros: Track anywhere thanks to GPS;Inexpensive
  • Cons: Fairly quiet ringer;Requires Vodafone contract

The Curve is a Bluetooth tracker, but it’s more than that. While others have to rely on communities of users to find lost items, the Curve also has GPS and a built-in SIM so you can track it just about anywhere there’s a mobile signal.

Surprisingly, the Curve itself is cheaper than most Bluetooth-only trackers, but you’ll have to pay a monthly subscription in order to use it. It’s only a few pounds per month, which makes it a good-value option for tracking high-value items.

The rechargeable battery lasts up to a week, which is the other issue: lose an item just before it needs recharging and it might go ‘dark’ before you can track it down.

As it’s a Vodafone exclusive, it’s not available in the USA.

Read our full Vodafone Curve GPS Tracker review

Tile Mate 2020

  • Pros: Inexpensive;Reliable
  • Cons: Some features require subscription

The Tile Mate is smaller than the original version and now uses a replaceable CR1632 coin battery that lasts up to around a year.

For £19.99/$24.99 you get a slightly cut-down tracker compared to the Pro: the speaker is quieter and the range is around half at 200ft. But it still does the job reliably and you still benefit from the same set of features, the same app and the same crowd-find system.

It’s not as loud as the Chipolo One which is only fractionally more expensive and you have to subscribe the Tile Premium service if you want extra features such as Smart Alerts that are free with the Chipolo.

You can save if you buy four at the same time. The four-pack makes them £14  / $17.50 each.

Tile Sticker

  • Pros: Tiny;Sticks to any flat surface
  • Cons: Battery not replaceable

The Sticker comes in packs of two or four and is the obvious tracker to use if your TV remote is misplaced on a regular basis.

But you could also stick one to a camera, skateboard, cordless drill – pretty much anything valuable, in fact, so long as it has a flat surface wide enough for the 27mm device.

It’s waterproof, and its battery lasts up to two years. It’s just a shame you can’t replace it.

Stickers behave exactly like a Tile Mate or Pro, though their range is up to 150 feet (46m), and has the quietest ring of any of Tiles models.

How do I choose the best Bluetooth tracker?

The best trackers have a loud ring and a long range. They should also be water-resistant, otherwise if you lose it outdoors and it rains, the electronics could get wet and stop working, rendering it useless.

Some trackers have replaceable batteries, but others do not. This means they’re disposable after around a year. However, some manufacturers operate a ‘renewal’ scheme which gives you a discount on the regular price once the battery of your original has run flat.

You’ll find extra features on some devices, the most common being the ability to press a button on them to ring your phone. This is really just using the system in reverse, but can be handy if your keys are in your pocket (with the tracker attached) and you can’t find your phone.

Above all, though, you want a Bluetooth tracker that’s reliable since you need it to work instantly when you’ve lost your keys and need to leave the house in a hurry. And you can’t check for reliability in the manufacturer’s specs list: only reviews can give you that information.

Why are the Trackr Bravo and Pixel not in your list?

We’ve extensively tested the Bravo, close to a dozen of them in fact. The reason for this is that early samples proved unreliable and the batteries ran flat in a matter of weeks, rather than the claim of 12 months. Being able to replace the battery is one of the Bravo’s selling points, but poor battery life and a lack of water-resistance makes this somewhat moot.

We received updated models, but they too suffered the same battery life issues. And on top of that, we found the range disappointing: less than 20ft on occasion which meant we couldn’t even locate a lost item which we knew was only in the next room.

Similarly, the range offered by the Pixel was below expectations and its battery ran out well before it should have.

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