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The New Tile Tracker Is Now More Powerful And Rugged

The Bluetooth-enabled item finder now has a range of up to 200 feet, is twice as loud, and is completely waterproof.

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Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

If you never thought you needed a Bluetooth tracker, here’s a tip: You do. They’re relatively inexpensive, and a good way to find smaller, valuable items that often get misplaced, like keys or a wallet. The problem, however, is choosing which one to get.

There are dozens of “item finder” gizmos (an Amazon search yields thousands of results) that have the same basic features. Trackers from Tile, Trackr, and Chipolo all connect to an app on your phone, which displays the item’s last known or current location and can remotely ring the tracker. They can also reverse-find a phone by pressing on the tracker, and tap into a network of users with the same tracker to crowdsource your search when the device goes out of Bluetooth range (between 100 and 200 feet).

That last capability — being able to use the power of crowds to find out where you left your keys — is, in my opinion, the most useful feature. That means the best tracker is the most popular one.

That’s Tile’s advantage. It claims that it’s the “leading smart location company” with the “largest lost and found community.” The Tile Mate is currently the #1 best seller on Amazon and has more Facebook followers (501k) than its competition (Trackr has 471k and Chipolo has 51k).

Today, Tile is launching two new Bluetooth trackers in its “pro” series, the Tile Style and Tile Sport, which, the company hopes, will make Tile not only the most popular item finder, but the most rugged and powerful one, too.

I’ve been testing the new Tiles, and they are indeed more durable and have better Bluetooth range and louder internal speakers. But while I find trackers indispensable, they are not the fail-safe many people assume they are.

The Tile Sport is definitely superior to the Tile Style.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

Functionally, the Sport is better (even though, at $35, the Style is the same price) and it’s the one I’d recommend getting. It has a graphite outer ring, and its body is made of plastic framed by stainless steel—materials that make the Sport more durable. If you plan on ever taking your Tile outside (which, duh, you’re going to), get the Sport, which is more drop- and crush-proof, unless you’re really digging the look of the Style.

Additionally, the Sport has a darker, more subdued design, whereas the Style has a very blingy “champagne gold” metallic detail that I feel cheapens the look.

One downside to the Sport is that it’s slightly heavier at 15 grams (versus the Sport’s 11 grams). But you won’t really feel the difference.

Crucially, the new Tiles have twice the Bluetooth range of the previous version.

Bluetooth trackers are relatively simple devices. They use your phone’s GPS to determine their exact location and need to be within Bluetooth range to be rung remotely.

The Sport and Style can now be detected from up to 200 feet away in perfect conditions, and have the same year-long battery life as previous Tiles. Still, a 200-foot range is a best case scenario, where there’s no interference, and a direct line of sight between your phone and the tracker. A Bluetooth signal can be affected by a number of things, including Wi-Fi signals, people walking by, microwaves, office lighting, metal, concrete, and water (like fish tanks).

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Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

I measured the performance of the Sport versus last year’s Tile Mate by attaching them to a potentially-interfering carbon fiber bike frame, which can interfere with a Bluetooth signal, and conducted two tests. Down a hallway with direct line of sight, my phone could detect both trackers from about 100 feet away. As soon as I turned the corner and walked another 100 feet, however, my phone immediately disconnected from the Tile Mate, but remained connected to the Sport. Though the Pro series’ range may decline in real world conditions, it still has impressive Bluetooth performance.

This more powerful Bluetooth connectivity is a big advantage over Tile’s competition. Both Chipolo Plus and the Trackr Bravo have shorter ranges (up to 100 feet).

Both the Sport and Style have higher waterproof ratings.

The new Tiles are rated IP68, and are completely protected against dust and can withstand long-term underwater immersion in depths beyond 1 meter. The previous models, the Tile Mate and Slim, are rated IP57, which meant they are protected from limited dust exposure and protected from immersion up to 1 meter.

They’re also much louder than last year’s Tiles — and have volume control and a new hot/cold proximity meter, so you can stop annoying your roommate.

Tile

The two new trackers are twice as loud, which is great if you’re looking for something at the bottom of a laundry pile two rooms away, but not great if your roommate is sleeping. If you don’t want to disturb those around you, you can now use the app to lower the Tile’s volume, or even locate it silently, by using the more accurate proximity meter that shows you whether you’re closer or farther away while stumbling around your apartment. (If you have an Amazon Echo or Google Home, you can also just say, “[Wake word], ask Tile to ring my [item name].)

You still can’t change the Tile’s battery, which lasts at least one year.

The Tile’s biggest flaw is the way it handles its battery, which, to keep the tracker waterproof, is glued onto the device’s circuit board and can’t be changed. The entire device needs to be replaced after its battery is depleted.

The reTile program (which you’d need to proactively sign up for) allows you to trade in old Tiles for new Tiles at a discount, though the company has not said how much a discounted Tile Sport or Style would be. (The Tile Mate can be reTiled for $15, and its original price is $25)

What’s frustrating is that you can’t see how much battery is left in your Tile. When your Tile is low, you’ll get a notification to replace it, but you can’t see exactly how much percentage remains. The battery *is* guaranteed to last a full year, so if it doesn’t, you’re covered by the company’s warranty and can send it back to Tile for a new one.

The Trackr Pixel’s battery can be replaced (it also has LED lights for finding items in the dark) and has a battery life of about a year, though its community is smaller than Tile’s.

Who should get a Tile tracker?

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

I leave my keys in weird places: inside shoes, the bathroom cabinet where the toothpaste usually goes, tiny backpack pockets I don’t think to check until two weeks later. You get the idea. Instead of changing my behavior (“Nicole, why don’t you just put them back in the same place every day?”), I got a Tile Bluetooth tracker instead. And my morning routine has been significantly shortened ever since.

The TL;DR is that Tile—and Bluetooth trackers in general—are ideal for people who misplace things in places like their office or home. That’s because it’s best for stuff misplaced in familiar places, *not* stolen belongings or moving items left in a bus or taxi.

Tile is not the Find My iPhone for everything. It doesn’t have GPS built-in (which is why your phone needs to be nearby), and relies on the “last seen location” or other nearby Tile users running the Tile app on their phones to find what you’re looking for.

Keep in mind that if you live in a residential area, it might not be as effective. I left a Tile in my car parked in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, marked “Notify when found,” and, 24 hours later, the Tile has still not been updated by a member of the community running the Tile app.

That feature works best when you have a large community of Tile users around you. The company says that New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, and Houston are the top five cities by Tile density, which means that people based in those areas should seriously consider getting a Tile — though how densely populated a neighborhood is will impact how useful your Tile is.

Nicole Nguyen covers products and personal technology for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.

Contact Nicole Nguyen at nicole.nguyen@buzzfeed.com.

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