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Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen
Highly accurate Precision Finding feature
Easy to set up
You can swap out the battery easily
Doesn't play nice with Android
Precision Finding requires a special chip only found in recent Apple devices
You'll need to buy additional accessories to attach it to things
Limited anti-stalking features, especially without an iPhone
Apple’s AirTags can pinpoint your lost items from anywhere, but you'll need a recent iPhone to get the best out of them.
AirTags are small circular tracking devices from Apple that use Bluetooth and the Find My app to help you locate lost items. With the help of optional accessories, you can attach an AirTag to your keys, wallet, luggage, and virtually anything else you’re worried about losing. You can even hide an AirTag on something you’re concerned might get stolen, like a bike or a car, or clip one to your pet’s collar in case Rover ever decides to make a run for it.
I’ve used Tile trackers in the past to stop misplacing my keys and wallet, but they’re mostly useful when you’re already in the same room as the item you’re looking for. AirTags leverage Apple’s existing Find My app and a new chip Apple developed itself called the U1, so I was very interested to see what they could do.
I tested a set of four AirTags over the course of about a month, checking out how easy they are to set up and use, how effective they are at helping you find lost items, and how well the Find My app and U1 chip work.
Each AirTag is a small white disc capped on one side by a slightly smaller silver disc. The silver disc is polished to a slick mirror finish, with the Apple logo emblazoned in the center. The entire unit is 1.26 inches in diameter and 0.31 inches thick, or roughly the size of a stack of three 50-cent pieces. In comparison to its main competition from Tile, it’s a bit smaller and has more of a premium feel.
While an AirTag looks great right out of the box, I did notice both the plastic shell and metal disc picked up a number of scratches over my month of testing. The metal cap also picks up fingerprints and smudges, although that’s less of an issue. You can keep an AirTag from getting scuffed up by sliding it into a protective case or keyring holder, but you’ll start noticing scratches sooner rather than later if you don’t.
Unlike their competitors, AirTags don’t come with any built-in attachment method. You can slide a Tile onto your keychain without any additional accessories, but doing the same with an AirTag requires a keyring accessory. Other accessories are designed to help attach an AirTag to luggage, your pet’s collar, and other items.
The best thing about the AirTag’s design is its easily user-serviceable battery. The silver disc rotates against the white disc, pops off, and reveals a standard CR 2032 battery (often known as a 'watch battery'). Apple usually makes battery replacement a hassle, so it’s nice to know an AirTag won’t be rendered useless when its battery runs out.
The AirTag setup process is exceedingly fast and easy thanks to deep integration with the Apple ecosystem. I’ve used other trackers that have fairly straightforward setup processes, but Apple did a great job streamlining setup even further.
To set up an AirTag, you need to place it near your iPhone. The iPhone will recognize the AirTag and start the setup process. You are prompted to select a name for the AirTag associated with the object it will be attached to, like keys or wallet, confirm you want to register the AirTag to your Apple ID, and that’s it. There is no special app to install and no complicated pairing process. It just works.
I’ve used other trackers that have fairly straightforward setup processes, but Apple did a great job streamlining setup even further.
If you have an iPhone that’s equipped with Apple’s U1 chip (iPhone 11 onwards), this is the best tracker you’ll find, hands down. AirTags have the same basic functionality that’s built into competitors like Tile, but the U1 chip takes it to the next level.
Starting with the basic functionality, a lost AirTag emits a Bluetooth signal that can be read by nearby iPhones. So if you lose an item attached to an AirTag and mark it lost in the Find My app, you’ll get a ping any time someone with an iPhone gets close enough to the lost item.
You can then pull up the location of the lost item in the Find My app, head to that location, and have the AirTag emit a tone to help you find it. This is similar to the way Tile works, but there are far more iPhones out there than Tile users.
But if you have a phone that’s equipped with Apple’s U1 chip, like an iPhone 11 or iPhone 12, everything changes. When you get close enough with one of these iPhones to a lost AirTag, instead of relying on a tone or a rough idea of signal strength, the Precision Finding feature actually provides an arrow on your iPhone that points you in the right direction.
AirTags have the same basic functionality that’s built into competitors like Tile, but the U1 chip takes it to the next level.
I tried shoving mine deep in the couch cushions and other areas where a tone would be muffled or silenced, and the accuracy of the locator was astounding. Both of my dogs have AirTags on their collars now, and I can breathe a little easier knowing I’ll be able to quickly track them down the next time one pulls a Houdini.
My one issue with AirTags is that you can’t use them to perform a reverse locate. With a Tile, you can double-press the button on the Tile itself, and your phone will ring. AirTags don’t provide that functionality.
One of the biggest strengths of Apple’s AirTags is that they don’t require any additional software. If you have an iPhone, you have the Find My app, and you don’t need anything else.
Both of my dogs have AirTags on their collars now, and I can breathe a little easier knowing I’ll be able to track them down quickly the next time one pulls a Houdini.
But the cost of this tight integration with the Apple ecosystem is that if you don’t have an iPhone, AirTags are useless to you. While you can read a lost AirTag with an Android phone, you can’t use an Android to locate a lost AirTag.
With an MSRP of $29.00 for a single AirTag or $99.00 for a pack of four, Apple has provided an attractive price point. Competing trackers are priced in this general range, with some being a bit cheaper and others being a little more expensive.
Keep in mind, AirTags aren’t really designed to be used without accessories. While you can snap a Tile Mate onto your keychain or attach a Tile Sticker to a remote control without any accessories, you need to buy a key ring, bag charm, luggage tag, or other accessory to achieve the same functionality with an AirTag. That can add either a little bit to the cost of an AirTag if you buy an aftermarket accessory, or a lot if you buy one of Apple’s own AirTag accessories.
There are a number of Bluetooth trackers on the market, but Tile is Apple’s biggest competitor. Tile trackers are available in a number of shapes and sizes, unlike AirTag, including the $15 Tile Sticker that’s smaller than an AirTag, and the $25 Tile Mate that’s a little bigger.
The biggest difference between AirTag and Tile is that Tile trackers work with both Android and iOS. If you use only Android phones, or you use a mix of Androids and iPhones, then you should go with Tile trackers instead of AirTags. While I’m more impressed with the tracking functionality you get from AirTags, it’s impossible to ignore the fact they don’t work with Android devices.
If you’re an iPhone user, then AirTags are the superior choice. Apple’s Find My network is more robust than Tile’s, so AirTags are a safe bet even if you have an older iPhone without the U1 chip. If you have an iPhone with the U1 chip, the AirTags’ Precision Finding feature leaves Tile in the dust.
If you’re deeply rooted in the Apple ecosystem, this is the tracker you need to own.
Apple entered a crowded field with their AirTag tracker, and they knocked one right out of the park. While Android users can safely take a pass on this one, Apple devotees won’t find a better tracker. Apple’s network is just bigger than the competition, making it more likely you’ll find your lost items faster, and the Precision Finding feature leverages Apple’s hardware in a way the competition just can’t. If you’re plugged into the Apple ecosystem, AirTag is the tracker you’ve been looking for.
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