WHERE ARE MY KEEEEYS? On the front hall table? Back upstairs on my bathroom counter? Or did I leave them in my other purse??
Aaaandd, now I’m late.
Like many of you, I got tired of racing around the house looking for lost things. So I started looking into the best key finders and trackers for other items I tend to misplace, but they’re not all alike. So my team and I compared models— Tile vs. Chipolo vs. Trackr vs. Cube— with some basic tests. How well did they do? Read on.
What Trackers do
Trackers (or lost and found trackers, or locators, or key finders) are little keychains or plastic discs that serve a smart function: They’ll help find your stuff when it’s near you, but not obvious to you. So when your keys are under the sofa, as long as a tracker is attached to them, you can stand in the living room, tap your app, and make the tracker beep. Bonus: You can click your tracker to find your phone and make it ring, even if it’s on silent (so if your phone is under the sofa, but you have your keys… you get the idea).
Trackers are also good for more than keys. Tuck one into your purse, your wallet (though some companies sell card-shaped trackers for this purpose), or any other frequently-misplaced item that can hang a tag on it. If you’re handing your kid a new (expensive) smartphone, or sporting equipment that always goes missing… put a tracker on it.
What Trackers don’t do
Many of these trackers are called “GPS trackers,” because they show you where your purse or wallet is on a map, but that term is a misnomer. They aren’t using GPS technology at all, they’re using Bluetooth technology. What’s the difference? A GPS locator can show you where your item is in real time: so if your child left their headphones in their friend’s car, you’ll be able to watch them hurtle down the freeway as they leave your neighborhood.
You’ll know you’re looking at a true GPS tracker because it will be MUCH more expensive (over $50) and will likely involve a subscription to a service that can track that device as long as the tracker is charged and attached to it. Here are some true GPS trackers on Amazon: I have been using a Trakdot for checked-baggage trip since my luggage went missing in Europe last year (a NOT fun experience) and it works really well.
The cheaper, small trackers we tested here are Bluetooth trackers. They ping your device when you tap the button in the app and find it’s last known location. While they all boast varying ranges under optimal conditions (i.e. a clear, straight shot with no walls in between), they all have a real-life range of about 30 feet. A “near” or “far” message on the app guides the “Marco! Polo!” hunt for your stuff. The app can also show you where your tracker was last seen, but only as long as you keep that app open all the time, giving the feel of GPS, but really just repeatedly pinging your device using Bluetooth.
So how can a tracker find my wallet if I left at the Airport?
Here’s the secret of how these inexpensive trackers find your stuff outside of a small area— they use the proximity of other users to find your device. When you mark your item as “lost”, you’ll receive location info next time the app of any other user of that tracker is within range of your lost item. No personal information is shared with you or the finder— the app “sees” your belonging and pings you automatically and anonymously. Of course, it only works if enough people use the same type of tracker you do, and if their app is running when they pass by your things.
In short, while this technology works well, and is well worth the money (when you lose your wallet, you want anything and everything working to help you find it!), finding something you left far away is about luck as much (if not more) than tech. Is it better than having nothing? Totally. Is it as good as having a GPS tracker on your items? No, but it’s a lot cheaper (though, as this article notes, putting trackers on more than a few of your belongings starts to add up).
So now that we know what these device do (and don’t do), let’s see how each of the tested trackers fared.
The reigning queen of key finders and trackers, Tile offers a few versions, like the “Mate” (the basic model, with a keyring hole) and the “Slim” (credit card thickness, great for slipping into a wallet or adhering to the back of your laptop). We tested the Pro Series “Style” version, which promises twice the range of the basic Tile, a louder ringing volume, waterproofing up to 1.5 meters, and a pearl-white and golden metal casing. The battery isn’t replaceable, and it’s made to work for a year. After 11 months, users get a reminder and a prepaid envelope to mail theirs back for recycling. They can then buy a replacement at a discount.
Pros: This Tile was fantastically responsive and beeped anywhere I hid it, including inside drawers and in the refrigerator. It included eight ringtone options for ringing your phone (not sure why that is necessary, but okayye). Tile has a large user base, especially in big cities, so the crowd-finding feature is especially effective. We tried it at the mall and got a ping about our lost bag in about 15 minutes. The style is rugged, so it seems ready for some banging around, splashing or any other peril that might befall it.
Cons: Its non-replaceable battery, and higher price than competitors’. The tracker is also a bit weighty, about twice as heavy as the “Mate,” which didn’t bother me on my keychain but might be an issue attached to other items. Also, as with many of these trackers, it will die after about a year of use, so you’ll be spending about $30 annually to keep the same item from being lost. If you’ve got a few of these, that can add up to crazy money.
- Warrantee: One year
- Size: About 1.5” x 1.5”
- Volume: 98 dB
- Weight: 11 grams
- Range: up to 200 ft.
- Price: $35
Chipolo makes can’t-miss-them trackers in bright colors: Their base model, the Classic (the latest generation has a replaceable battery— YES!), the Chipolo Plus model, which is waterproof and claims to be louder than any other tracker, and the slim, wallet-friendly Card. We tested the Chipolo Plus.
Pros: Strong connection to app, which responded quickly to searches, even when my tracker was in a drawer or the refrigerator. It lost connection when I got out of range, but regained it quickly once I was back in range. It’s also very light. We found it to be slightly louder than it’s competitors if it was left out on a countertop, but in a shoe, or under a couch cushion, the difference was inaudible. It’s waterproof, so great for things that might get lost by a pool, lake or beach.
Chipolo has a device recycling program very much like the Tile’s. The Chipolo’s chime is pleasing and even a little New-Agey (though when I’m panicked about losing something I want that chime to be LOUD and noticable, not soothing, you know?). The battery is made to work for a year. After I uninstalled the app, the company emailed to let me know my tracker had been offline for more than 48 hours—a handy feature.
Cons: Non-replaceable battery (the Classic version now has a replaceable battery, but the Plus doesn’t), and a few-second delay before the phone responds to it. Also doesn’t come with it’s own keyring as some other trackers do. But it’s $10 cheaper than other comparable models, so for the savings, I’m happy to find my own keyring.
- One-year warranty
- 1.45” round
- 100 dB
- 6.6 grams
- Range: up to 150 ft.
TrackR Pixel is a standout because it’s tiny. Exactly the size of a quarter (1 x 1 x .2 inches thick), it comes with a little key loop like you’d hang from an old cell phone. It comes in eight colors, and has an impressively shriek chirp, plus bright, blue LED lights. TrackR also makes the Bravo, which is slimmer (.14 inches) and perfect for wallets.
When I received my TrackR Pixel, I couldn’t get it to pair with the app. After trying it on two phones, I finally contacted the company, and learned that sometimes, the battery needs to be removed and reinstalled. I couldn’t get the device to twist open. The company graciously offered me two replacement units. In the meantime, I forced the back off the original and reinstalled the battery, which did make the tracker work, but not without first damaging it.
Pros: Small size, and easy to hear.The device worked well, and I liked its siren-style noise. When TrackR’s battery runs low, the app sends a message inviting the user to order a free replacement battery, so you’ll never be without track-ability. Also more cost effective that you can replace the battery, and don’t have to replace the entire tracker, like others on this list.
You can even ask Amazon Alexa devices to use TrackR to find your phone, which is great if you can’t find your phone or your TrackR (no judgement).
Cons: Battery removal is difficult, and can damage your brand-new tracker. And having to remove the battery to get it to work is an extra step I didn’t appreciate.
- One-year warranty
- 1” round
- 90 dB
- 4 grams
- Range: up to 200 ft.
With a satiny, slightly rubberized plastic exterior and rounded edges, CUBE is sleek, techie and thin, with the feel of a fancy cookie (a skinny macaron comes to mind). Cube only makes one model of tracker, and that’s the one we tested.
Pros: Quick connection, works beautifully, and comes pre-installed with a battery, and includes a spare (plus a little key that opens the device with ease). It also uses off-the-shelf batteries that I found for less than $1 a piece on Amazon. And it comes with a keyring! It’s waterproof and, according to the website, can survive sub-zero temperatures (in case you drop your keys in the snow) but we didn’t test that feature in Los Angeles, HA!
The app has an optional “disconnecting notification” that rings your phone once your CUBE is out of range. Since this can happen unexpectedly, you can also tell your CUBE when you’re in a “quiet zone”—for instance, in the library. And when it rang my iPhone, it also made the phone flash. You can change phone chimes (ranging from Latin beats to an air raid signal). Plus the CUBE works as a camera shutter button so you can use it to snap group pics (a seemingly off-point feature, but fine, it’s cute).
Cons: It’s slightly quieter than its rivals.
The new Pro model will soon be added to the line. It looks rugged, with a surface like a tire tread and a metallic border. The manufacturer says it will be able to work with Alexa, will have a greater range (up to 200 ft.), will be pairable with multiple phones, and will have a crowd find function like Tile (which will carry over to the regular version). It will also allow you to ping your CUBE or phone from the product’s website.
- One-year warranty
- 1.5” x 1.5”
- 80 dB
- 12 grams
- Range: up to 150 ft.
Overall, lost-and-found trackers are useful for people who frequently misplace things around the house (that’s me). One complaint I had with all the trackers I tested: the app has to be constantly running in the background in order for them to work optimally, and that ran down my phone’s battery.
My winning pick is the reliable Tile, followed by a second-place tie between the CUBE and the Chipolo. Finding your misplaced stuff when it’s close to you might seem like a silly thing, but frankly, it saves minutes when you most need them. And…it makes searching for them kinda fun.
Did a tracker help rescue your stuff? Do you have a favorite tracker? Tell me about it in the comments!