Apple’s AirTag uses iOS integration and the world’s vast network of iOS devices to build Bluetooth trackers that are easy to set up, operate, and locate compared to Tile, the industry behemoth. AirTag is a stylish and enjoyable way to follow your iPhone or iPad, making it our Editors’ Choice for iOS tracking devices.
People, cars, and things can be tracked. Samsung phones and tablets have SmartTag and SmartTag+. AirTag competes with industry leader Tile, making low-cost Bluetooth trackers that beep when you misplace your keys. AirTag works with iOS 14.5 or later for iPhones and iPads. For simplicity, I refer to iPhones throughout this review, but any up-to-date iPad will work just as well.)
AirTags are easier to set up than Tiles and have better directional finding powers. Tiles have more form factors than AirTags and can summon your phone. AirTags’ range is functionally endless as long as an iPhone is nearby. One AirTag costs $29; four costs $99. You’ll also need holders. AirTag lacks a lanyard hole, unlike Tile and SmartTag. Apple’s leather key rings are $35, leather loop holders are $39, and silicone loop holders are $29. Apple’s third-party ecosystem is massive. Basic keychains and loop holders are $12.95 from Belkin and $2.99 from Amazon.
The tags are silver-and-white metal discs. Apple offers free monogram or emoji printing on each tag to distinguish them and define their usage. A dropped AirTag is invisible. It’s thicker than the Tile Mate, Tile Pro, and Tile Slim at 1.26 inches in diameter and 0.31 inches thick. The Samsung SmartTag is thinner and smaller. AirTag is bulkier than Tile Slim; thus, it’s better for tracking wallets. The little tags fit in a backpack, coat pocket, or suitcase and look lovely in an Apple keychain holder.
Apple says AirTag’s CR2032 battery lasts a year. AirTag back is shiny.
I wouldn’t drive over the tags, but they’re durable. They’re IP67 rated and water-resistant for 30 minutes so that they can be dropped in a pool, but if your wallet sinks in a creek, act quickly. AirTags are pretty in the traditional Apple manner. Personalization makes them glossy and silky. The keychain and strap look like fashion, not tech. Even after shaking one in a plastic bag with keys for 30 seconds, my AirTags’ shiny sides didn’t become scratched. Some reviewers indicate their tags got scratched; therefore, their keys may be sharper.
Your iPhone or iPad automatically detects a new AirTag. Find My App will track everything you name. To find the AirTag, tell it to make a pipe sound or play hot-and-cold with distance. A distance indicator was displayed when I was within 30 feet of my AirTags. Ultra-wideband (UWB) directional protocol adds a directional arrow to iPhone 11 and later. Tile doesn’t have UWB tags yet; Samsung’s SmartTag+ costs $39.99 if you want UWB.
UWB direction-finding is helpful. If your iPhone is near the AirTag, you may tap a flashlight symbol in the app to turn on its light. The AirTag’s piping sound is quieter than the Tile Mate’s (78.3dB vs. 99dB at 6 inches), but I could still hear it from 20 feet away or while wedged between couch cushions. It may be harder to hear in a noisy suitcase or outdoors.
Apple’s Bluetooth is more reliable than Tile’s. I use Tiles to track my keys and wallet, but their Bluetooth connection is unstable. AirTag always works. You can’t ping your paired iPhone or iPad with the AirTag. Other trackers offer this. If you misplace your phone often, consider a Tile. AirTags use Bluetooth links with strangers’ Apple phones to locate themselves if they’re more than 30 feet away. Apple says AirTag connections are end-to-end encrypted and nobody, not even Apple, knows their position or identity.
The AirTag has its flaws. It’s not a true GPS tracker because it must be within 30 feet of an iPhone to transmit its whereabouts. This works effectively in crowded iPhone-using cities but not in rural areas. Tile and Samsung use third-party networks. Tile claims to have 7,302 users within 10 miles of me; Samsung doesn’t say. Jiobit uses GPS and its cellular connection to track an object or child where no phones go.
I left an AirTag, SmartTag, and Tile in my friend’s car and went home. After 19 minutes, Find My App said the AirTag was recovered; however, it was near the house. Twenty-two minutes later, it found and stayed at the right place. Samsung located my SmartTag in 36 minutes. Tile took 7 hours to find my tag.
With the AirTag being so small, inexpensive, and connected to a global network, you may be concerned that someone could follow you on your travels. If you have an iPhone with OS 14.5 or later and a “foreign” AirTag is near you (one not associated with your device), Apple says you’ll get an alert at the end of the day or when you return to your home location in Apple Maps or Contacts. Other trackers can be used similarly. Apple promises an Android app will be out by the end of the year, but until then, Android users can’t determine if they have a stray AirTag nearby if they don’t hear the beep.
Jiobits may be used like other GPS trackers. A daily-returning AirTag might be used to stalk a child or live-in partner. This is also feasible with a Samsung tag (unless the tracked individual has a properly equipped Samsung phone and actively looks for foreign tags), and Tile’s network isn’t as good.
If you’re worried about being monitored, get a cheap RF bug detector to see what’s transmitting signals nearby. Lost AirTags? Hold a recovered AirTag to an NFC-compatible iOS or Android device to acquire its serial number and instructions (remove the battery). Use Find My to set a lost AirTag. Whoever discovers it will see your phone number and message.
AirTags have Apple’s fashion-not-tech appearance. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and iPhone 12 lost tag scanning worked properly. You don’t use the Find My App to scan a foreign tag; instead, you tap the tag against your iPhone’s home screen. Apple’s Bluetooth item tracker “simply works” thanks to iOS integration, UWB direction-finding, and no connection failures.
More trackers are needed. SmartTags and Tiles are accessory-free.
The well-made Tile Pro has a solid casing, a keychain hole, and a strong connection. The Tile Slim and Tile Sticker work well with slimline wallets and remote controls. Jiobit and other GPS trackers are superior for finding things and people in less-populated regions. If you have an iPhone and lose your keys, you need this. The attractive and practical AirTag is my choice for iOS-compatible trackers.
Apple AirTags are also a cheap, effective way to track and secure my bike. I’ve tried many bike trackers with varying success. They’re unpredictable or thirsty. Either the battery is terrible, and charging is so frequent that you’ll spend 50% of the time without it, or the GPS signal is so unreliable that putting the bike in a building makes it unreachable. In my opinion, the benefits of this low-tech system outweigh its lack of accurate GPS tracking.
I hid mine under the bottle cage and secured it with bolts. Only a hawk-eyed thief would notice it in this position, and even if they did, the security bolts would deter them. I mounted it under the stem and saddle, which required zip-ties, not bolts, so I preferred the bottle cage. AirTag mounts are starting a new industry. Top cap mounts, junction box mounts, and frame mounts are available online. There’s likely something available now or in the future, that will let you mount it wherever you want.
To activate the AirTags, remove them from their packaging and place them near your iPhone. From here, a wizard explains how to use them. Once connected to your phone, they appear as an item in the Find My app; selecting it displays the location of the tag’s last sighting on a map. It also indicates when the AirTag was last seen, which aids in estimating its accuracy.
From the app, you can rename the AirTag, make it play a sound when in Bluetooth range, use the find function to locate it, and set it to lost mode. After one year, replace the CR2032 cell in an AirTag. Nothing in the month I’ve used them suggests they won’t last longer.
AirTags’ performance and usability impressed me. Simple to use and monitor. The fact that you only need to change the battery once a year eliminates one of the biggest challenges of bike trackers, and their size expands your mounting options. Instant tracking isn’t as accurate as GPS, and it’s less useful in rural areas, but it’s still a great tool.
- Accurate and reliable
- Gives directional cues
- Can send a location from a distance
- Replaceable battery
- No Android compatibility
- No way to ping a phone from the tag
- No hole for a lanyard or keyring
- Anti-stalking features are limited
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