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Research report
21 December 2016

First Look: Tile tracker

Constantly losing your keys? Tile promises to be “the easiest way to find your things”.

I’ve found my phone in the fridge before and I’ve left my wallet on the roof of my car, and driven away from a petrol station. Actually, I’m constantly misplacing my wallet. Not losing it as such … I know it’s in the house somewhere. Then there’s the time I lost my car key. I searched everywhere. After a week using the spare, it fell out of my jeans in my wardrobe. I was sure I looked there.

So when Tile promises “the easiest way to find your things”, my interest perks up.

I trialled two Tiles: Mate is a 34mm square, 4.65mm thick chunk of white plastic, with a hole in one corner for attaching it to a key ring. Slim is 54mm square but just 2.4mm thick, suitable for slipping into a bag or wallet. Both can be stuck on to a flat surface such as a laptop.

A Tile connects to an Android or iOS smartphone app via Bluetooth. They are water resistant and have a built-in battery that isn’t replaceable, but Tile says it’ll last for a year.

Leaving the app running on your phone keeps track of your Tile. When you realise you’ve misplaced your wallet or keys, it’s a relief to see they are within Bluetooth range (Tile says that’s up to 30m).

To locate your missing Tile that’s within range, you use the app to tell it to play a tune. I tested it in the office, looking for Tiles hidden by my colleagues. It worked well, even when one was buried deep in the stationery cupboard. The 88dB tune isn’t deafening like an alarm, but piercing enough. It also works the other way around: if you misplace your phone, a button on the Tile makes it ring, even if it’s set to silent.

If the app loses connection with your Tile, it stores the last known location and time. This helps the process of retracing your steps to where you last had it. Tile suggests leaving one in your car to help remember where you parked.

If you still can’t find your Tile, you mark it as “lost” in the app, and tap into the network of other users for help. If someone has Bluetooth enabled and their Tile app running when they pass by your lost Tile, you get a location notification. I left a Tile stuck underneath a seat in a busy part of Wellington for 12 days, but never got a notification of it being “found”. Perhaps with more local users it’ll get better, but for now it feels like a “fingers crossed” last resort.

The devices don’t come cheap and last for only a year, so you certainly won’t be sticking them on everything. But for frequently misplaced or lost items — those with painful consequences like a wallet, keys or even a child’s favourite teddy bear, they could be a worthwhile buy. Even if they only offer a little extra peace of mind for the more forgetful of us.

Tile Mate and Tile Slim

Mate $49.99 ($149.99 for four)
Slim $59.99 ($199.99 for four)

First Looks are trials of new or interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.

by Paul Smith

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