Woman pulling wallet from handbag with Apple Airtag bluetooth tracker attached.
August 2021

First Look: Apple AirTag

We trialled Apple’s new Bluetooth tracker, but is it really one out of the box?

Apple has released the AirTag – its first Bluetooth tracker. The small device can be attached to belongings, like keys and bags. If they then get lost, you use an app on your iPhone or iPad to locate them.

We gave an AirTag to four Consumer NZ test team members to trial for a few weeks. Here’s what they had to say.

Results

Paul Smith, Product Test Manager

“The AirTag looks good and connects faultlessly to my iPhone. With no sharp edges or flat surfaces, it’s lovely to hold. But its shape, like a small river pebble, makes it frustratingly awkward to use. I put it in my wallet, but it was like carrying a pebble in my pocket. I could buy an accessory tag to attach it to keys or a bag, but those cost as much as the AirTag itself. So my AirTag ended up rattling around in the bottom of my daily backpack. But, I’ve never lost a backpack. It’s now tracking my bicycle. The rounded shape again makes it awkward, so I’ve hidden that lovely-looking form under a mass of duct tape to keep it attached.”

James le Page, Product Test Team Leader

Photograph of Apple Airtag saddle brown leather loop.
Apple AirTag

“I always lose my keys somewhere in the house, so the idea of an Apple AirTag really appealed. Setting up was seamless and easy, and required little know-how. I placed the $55 tag inside the $65 – $65! – Apple-branded leather key ring and attached it to my keys. It’s worked really well – I haven’t misplaced my keys since or even had to try track them down using the AirTag’s features (maybe for fear of losing the most expensive keyring I’ve ever owned). Would I buy one? Nope. It’s way too expensive for the small amount of value it’s brought to my life. Perhaps if I could fit the bulky disk in my wallet, I’d be more on board.”

Deb Lindsay, Test Verifier

“It took me 30 seconds to set up from start to finish – it was super easy. I simply removed the battery tag from the battery compartment to activate the AirTag. My iPhone 7+ instantly detected there was a new device to add, via Bluetooth. It was just a matter of confirming I wanted to set up an AirTag. I then named the AirTag and confirmed that I wanted it to start working immediately. I left the AirTag in my car on Wednesday, as it was getting serviced in the next suburb along, and I just wanted to see what the range was like. I was able to locate it from my house (about 1.5km away), so I was quite impressed with that. I could also see that my car didn’t leave the premises! I wanted to know how this was possible as the Bluetooth range of my iPhone only detects connected devices up to 10m away. I found out that because the AirTag uses Apple’s Find My network, it can be detected whenever it’s within the Bluetooth range of anybody’s Bluetooth-enabled iPhone. The AirTag passively communicates with that device and essentially sends you “piggy-backed” data to help you locate it!”

Julia Addison, Product Test Writer

“If you have an older or bottom-of-the-range iPhone, you’re probably going to be disappointed. My SE doesn’t have an U1 (Ultra Wideband) chip but tapping “Directions” within the Find My app gave greater accuracy, although it still wasn’t spot-on (I couldn’t tell if my keys were upstairs or downstairs). It’s not just about obsolescence, though. Attaching an AirTag to your keys requires a key ring (and Apple’s official accessories don’t come cheap). Tile-branded trackers, however, come pre-drilled. They have another advantage, too: double-pressing any one of your Tile trackers will make your phone ring (because sometimes it’s your phone that’s lost).” 

Verdict

We weren’t overly excited by the AirTag. While the test teamers found it very easy to set up, the shape was impractical, and the accessories needed to fix that were too expensive. While Apple’s specs state the AirTag is compatible with devices running iOS 14.5 or later, that’s not the whole story. You’ll have to read further in the product description to discover that the Precision Finding feature – which makes the AirTag most useful – won’t work on phone models older than the iPhone 11.

In comparison, the Tile Mate ($49.95) and Tile Slim ($59.95), which Julia has investigated, offer more versatility. They can be attached to your belongings without the need for expensive accessories. The reverse-calling feature, which can be used to find your phone, is also super handy.

Specifications

Price: $55 (single), $189 (4-pack)
Dimensions: 31.9 x 31.9 x 8mm
Weight: 11g
Water and dust resistance: IP67
Battery: User-replaceable coin cell CR2032
System requirements and compatibility: iPhone, iPod touch and iPad models running iOS 14.5 or later

First Looks are trials of new and interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons. The AirTags were loaned to us by Apple.

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Member comments

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UK
07 Sep 2021
Tips

If you are going to place one on a bike against theft, put two - one decoy one and second one taped over so the alert sound is not audible.

p.s. AirTags have way better network coverage when compared with Tile.

Rory H.
28 Aug 2021
Too expensive?

Your tester wrote “Would I buy one? Nope. It’s way too expensive for the small amount of value it’s brought to my life.” I think if your tester actually lost those keys one day in some remote place and was able use the AirTag to recover them – avoiding the cost of an expensive replacement transponder key for his car (typically at least $350 but sometimes much, much more) and perhaps the cost of a urgent locksmith call out to his home – it would make the $55 one-off lifetime investment in an AirTag seem very inexpensive indeed. Also, I had been a Tile user for many years but given the billion Apple devices that are out there you are MUCH more likely to recover a lost item with an AirTag attached than you are with a Tile. Other than the wider variety of form factors available there are no notable advantages to Tile and I’d suggest you do Google Tile vs AirTag for a quick comparison before buying into the Tile ecosystem which (unfortunately) now likely shrink and become less functional over time now that Apple has entered this market.

David C.
28 Aug 2021
A needless brand-name premium?

A 4-pack of Tile sticker Bluetooth trackers can be had for under $100 - given the trackers have a pretty hard life, would you really want to spend much more on something that is essentially a consumable?

Derek P.
28 Aug 2021
Great for travel

I think you might be trialing the wrong uses. We started using tiles several years ago after loosing a bag on a train overseas.. I don’t really lose bags about town but when traveling you often have many items and it’s easy to forget one. Putting a Bluetooth tracker in kids bags or luggage is really helpful. The shape and accessories aren’t really an issue. I haven’t tried the apple tags yet but I imagine being able to be found by any apple phone will make it even more powerful than the tile tags.

Graham E.
28 Aug 2021
AirTag Firmware Update

On 26 August 2021 Apple released a firmware update, the second since the device was available. Apple did not say what the Airtag firmware update contained but like the June update, it probably enhances its function and effectiveness even further.

Daniel M.
28 Aug 2021
Use a 3D printer to overcome expensive accessories

I agree the price of the accessories to hold the airtag are excessive. To overcome this I 3D printed a couple of keyring holders costing cents to make: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:4845088 and they work surprisingly well. The other issue I've found is they are locked to a single account and can't share the location which is annoying for items like car keys which are used by multiple people.

Samantha P.
29 Aug 2021
Buy a non-apple holder also

Good idea with the 3D printer.

Also, although I have no doubt Apple probably say to only use their products with the airtag, you can buy an after market holder off trademe for $5. So there is no need to buy their expensive accessories.