If you have ever misplaced an object such as your keys or wallet, then you will appreciate a tracker: a small, easy-to-use device that can be attached to an object to help find it. The Tile tracker has been around for several years. Now, Apple's AirTag is the new kid on the block.
The Tile Trackers
Tile makes several different types of trackers: the Tile Mate, Tile Pro, Tile Slim, and Tile Sticker. You can purchase combination packs with different Tile types in one package. You can also purchase packs with multiples of one specific type of Tile.
I bought a combination pack that contained the Tile Slim and the Tile Pro. They were in the same box but wrapped separately. Also in the box was a printed information sheet. The manual can be found online
These are specifications for each Tile type:
Width x length x depth = 1.4 inch x 1.4 inch x 0.24 inch
Weight = 0.20 ounce
Range = 200 ft. Bluetooth
Alarm volume = 119 dB
Replaceable battery = Yes, CR1632, up to 1-year life
Width x length x depth = 1.7 inch x 1.7 inch x 0.3 inch
Weight = 0.47 ounce
Range = 400 ft. Bluetooth
Alarm volume = 128 dB = loudest
Replaceable battery = Yes, CR2032, up to 1-year life
Width x length x depth = 3.4 inch x 2.1 inch x 0.08 inch (approx. 2 credit cards)
Weight = 0.55 ounce
Range = 200 ft. Bluetooth
Alarm volume = 82 dB = louder
Replaceable battery = No, up to 3-year life
Width x length x depth = 1.1 inch x 1.1 inch x 0.3 inch
Weight = 0.18 ounce
Range = 150 ft. Bluetooth
Alarm volume = 55 dB = loud
Replaceable battery = No, up to 2-year life
The Tile Mate and Tile Pro can easily be attached to a key ring or similar.
The Tile App
The Tile app is free or you can upgrade to Tile Premium, which offers more features. Premium costs $2.99 per month or $29.99 per year.
The Tile app opens to a Welcome screen. Next is a button labeled, "Buy a Tile." Selecting the button brings you to a page where you can purchase various Tile combination packs as well as an individual Tile. Select the Done button at the top of the screen to return to the Tile app. Next are two buttons: Sign In and Get Started. Before using the Tile, you need to create an account. Select the Get Started button.
When the new screen loads, the first option is to add a device. Below it is a Skip button. Next is another opportunity to shop, followed by a heading labeled Activate a Tile Enabled Device. Below this is a list of devices.
Select the Skip button. On the next screen are edit boxes for your email address and a Tile password. Once you sign in, you will be informed that a code has been sent to the email address you have provided. Enter the code in the edit box. Once the sign up process is complete, Tile will ask for permissions such as using Bluetooth and sending Push notifications.
In the next step of the setup process, Tile needs permission for location access. Instructions are clear on how to do this. In addition to setting location in the Tile app, you need to allow location in your device's settings. Go to Settings > Tile > Location.
Adding a Tile
After you sign in, the main screen has an Add Tile button. Activate it. I used my Tile Pro. Tile Mate, Slim, and Pro are in one group and Tile Sticker needs to be selected separately. Next, press the button on the Tile and it will make a noise. After that, the next step is to hold the Tile near your phone. It took a couple of tries, but it paired with my phone. Then choose where you put the Tile. There is a list or you can put in your own selection. I chose to put it on my keys.
When I reopened the app, there was an Add Tile option at the top of the screen. There was a Settings button and a notification that my Tile was connected. The Tile was labeled Keys. I selected the Find button and in a couple of seconds, my Tile began to sound. I located it and pressed the button on the Tile to stop the sound.
I activated my Slim Tile and put it at the bottom of my purse. Once this Tile was activated, the main app screen showed both Tiles and had a Find button for each item. Both Tiles worked well.
In the Settings section of the Tile app is an option to use a Tile to locate your phone. Go to Find Your Phone and select it. On the next screen is a list of your Tiles. Next to each Tile name is a switch button to enable the Tile to find your phone.
Locate your phone by double pressing the Tile button. This feature works even when your phone is on Silent. Once the phone is located, select the OK button. I needed to turn VoiceOver's volume up to hear it above the sound my Tile triggered.
You can ask Siri to find your Tile. In the Tile App, select the item for the Shortcut. On the next screen, go to Siri Shortcuts and select it. The app guides you through the setup process.
Tile with Amazon Alexa
Amazon's Alexa can find your Tile. Say something like, "Alexa, find my" and your Tile's name. For example, I said "Alexa, find my purse." Alexa spoke my purse's last location. She then asked if she should ring my purse. A couple of seconds later, my purse Tile rang.
If you lose an object, such as a jacket, with a Tile attached, you can use the Tile app to help find it. If the item is in range, you just need to select the Tile, but if the object is not in range, start by opening the Tile app and select the Tile you want to find. Next, select the Notify When Found button. Follow the prompts to complete the process. When someone with the Tile app on their device passes near the missing Tile, you will be notified of your item's current location.
Tiles work well and come in four different sizes. The Mate and Pro have holes for attaching them to a key ring or similar object. The Mate and Pro also have replaceable batteries. Sound volume is good, especially on the Pro. Tile activation is a multi-step process. Once activated, the Tile app is easy to use. You can create a Siri Shortcut for your Tile.
Amazon's Alexa can work with Tiles. The setup process is multi-step, but not too difficult. Finding a lost item requires that the finder has the Tile app on their phone.
The AirTag is the newest entry into the tracker market. You can buy one AirTag or a pack of four. It requires iOS 14.5 or later.
I purchased a single AirTag. In the box were print documentation and the AirTag, which sits in a little cardboard holder. Lift it out and note the tab sticking from the AirTag. Pull out this tab to activate it.
The AirTag measures 1.26 inches in diameter, 0.31 inches high and weighs 0.39 ounces. It is water resistant. I was unable to find documentation of the decibel level of the AirTag's sound or its range but it's definitely quieter than the Tile. The bottom of the AirTag has a smaller circumference than the top and is where you have access to the replaceable battery. Once the battery tab is removed, the battery door will not stick out very much. AirTags use a replaceable, mainstream CR2032 battery that lasts about one year.
Each AirTag links to your Apple ID during the setup process. Because of this, someone who finds your AirTag will not be able to convert it to their own use. Up to 16 AirTags can be assigned to the same Apple ID.
Unlike the Tile Mate and Tile Pro, the AirTag does not have a hole for attaching it to an item such as a key ring. Separate holders specifically designed for the AirTag are available through Apple and other retailers. I purchased a third-party key ring.
Setting Up the AirTag
Once you remove the tab that sticks out of the AirTag, a dialogue box will appear on your phone. It contains a button to connect your AirTag. There are several screens to set up including naming your AirTag. There is a list of options via a picker menu. VoiceOver does not read the item number correctly. It keeps saying each item is 1 of 11. Ignore this. Your choice is not dependent on the number of the item in the list. If you do not like any options, there is an edit box where you can enter a name. I named my AirTag "Keys." VoiceOver will speak the Setup process. If you do not find the setup dialogue on your iPhone or iPad screen, you can set up your AirTag in the Find My app. Once your AirTag is activated, there will be an Items tab in the Find My app. Follow VoiceOver's instructions. Whether using the Connect on screen dialogue or the Find My app, during the setup process the Continue button is after the Close button. Make sure to choose the Continue button during the setup process.
Siri can be used to locate an AirTag. For example, if I want Siri to find my Keys AirTag, I say, "Hey Siri, find my keys." My keys were attached to an AirTags key chain. Within a few seconds, the AirTag started to sound. Unlike the Tile, it only played for a few seconds. Volume was less than on my Tile Pro and Tile Slim. You can also ping your item from within the Find My app. Go to the Items tab and activate the Play Sound button. VoiceOver will say the button is off. Select it and a sound will start playing. It is the same idea as when you ping your iPhone with your Apple Watch.
If you have an iPhone 11 or 12, you can use Precision Finding. This feature gives verbal directions and haptic feedback to direct you toward your AirTag. In the Items tab of Find My, select the Find Nearby button. This will engage Precision Finding.
Finding a Lost Item
If your AirTag is not in range and you cannot find it, you can mark it lost. Go to the Find My app and select Items. Follow the prompts to mark it. You will be asked to enter a phone number for someone to call. If someone with an NFC-enabled phone, such as an iPhone or Android phone, is near your AirTag, they will receive a message on their device indicating the item was lost. If the AirTag owner has entered a phone number to call, it will also be in the message with the item.
The AirTag is easier to set up than the Tile. There is only one AirTag model. You cannot put it on a key ring or similar item without also purchasing a special holder. Siri works well with the AirTag. The AirTag's volume is lower than the Tile Pro and Tile Slim. Although the Tile's sound is continuous, the AirTag plays for only a few seconds. Precision Finding is an excellent feature for someone with a visual impairment. If you lose an item with an AirTag, anyone with an NFC-enabled device will receive a message when they encounter the AirTag. This means a much larger network of possible finders.
The Bottom Line
Both the Tile and the AirTag work well. Your choice of purchase really depends on the item to be tracked. The AirTag's volume is lower and only plays for a few seconds at a time, but it is easier to set up and has a much larger finding audience. Precision Finding on the AirTag is an excellent feature, if you have a device that supports it.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
- The Power of LiDAR Comes to an iPhone Near You by Judy Dixon
- Lookout App for Android: Google’s AI Swiss Army Knife by Steve Kelley
More by this author:
- Streaming Audio Services Part 2: The Accessibility of Apple Music
- A Review of the Google Nest 3rd Generation Learning Thermostat on iOS Devices and Amazon Alexa