An ice cold feeling runs down your spine, your heart races as fear sets in. You scrub your mind: "Did I leave it at home? Am I looking in the wrong pocket? Did I drop it on the way here? Can I just not find it?". You lost something. Everyone has had this happen to them at some point in their life, and the Tile Bluetooth Tracker states that they are trying to make this a thing of the past. But does it really do this?

The simple answer is "Yeah... nah". I'm not saying that it can't do this, because it can. I'm saying it because it can't do this with the system they have in place at this moment.


What is a Tile Tracker?


It's a 37mm by 5mm square with rounded corners. Inside the Tile Tracker is a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Transponder which transmits it's existence. Any BLE capable phone with the Tile app will hear those advertisements and forwards them and the phone's location to Tile's severs which then sends them to the registered owner.
Who then can view the location of the tag in the Tile App.

The Tile is waterproof, and is powered by a non-replacable battery which is advertised to last 1 year. Sadly after this battery dies, you have to purchase a whole new Tile. They do give a almost reasonable discount, but it is very expensive if you don't live in North America, since the shipping blows the price tag up.


Now most people would only think this is for keys, but it's not! You can attach this to anything and be able to know where it is (If a Tile member can see it). I have intentionally left one of my 4 Tiles attached to a carabiner so I can clip it onto any object I choose, from my camera, my umbrella or anything with a loop. Without any fear of it being damaged.


As you can tell from the blurred out lines, the location is accurate enough to find an object that you may have forgotten. But it must be said that it isn't accurate enough to track an arbitrary object you have never seen. So from a Security standpoint a Tile can not be used by it's owners to accurately track someone, since the owner doesn't get the Tiles location, but they actually get the location of the device that detects the tile location, and is displayed as a circle.

And if your worried about state level tracking. While it is easily possible (The NZ Government [More accurately the NZTA] is already doing this). It's no more dangerous than a Fitbit, a smart(ish) watch, or any other wireless device.

But does it work?


Sure it probably works wonders in North America, but does it work at all in New Zealand? Well I put it to the test and well... It didn't work. So how did I run this test?.

From the 29th of February to the 4th of March, which is the first week for The University of Waikato, hold's it's O-Week event. This event is huge (I'm talking enough people for the campus to be classified as a small town huge.), this year it spanned 2 weeks, and people stay on campus for this event. Combined with the fact that you can't guess the perfect time to arrive to the lecture (Especially for First Years) when you enter a block of lecture theatres just before a lecture, it's packed with hundreds of people, and has a lot of first years wandering around trying to figure out where their lecture is (.. isn't that hard to follow isn't it?).

This makes it perfect for testing since hundreds of people in very confined spaces makes for a lot of possible targets. This in an normal area is an unrealistically high proportion of people in a space, but this makes the odds of my test well into Tile's favour. All I needed to do is turn my phone's BlueTooth off, and mark one or more of my Tiles (On Friday I had 3) as "Lost" and walk around the University. For the Tile to not lose, there only needed to be a single "Find" of a Tile that wasn't by me (Or when I was at home) at any time in the whole week. I walked past probably hundreds of thousands of devices which could have ran the Tile app, a win should have be definite if the device was usable.

On top of that, I also had the Tiles lost while I traveled to and from Uni on public transport, which is where people are more likely to lose items.

But even with the test being in Tile's favour, it wasn't to be. Not a single "Find" from a Device that wasn't mine. Which truth being told is not surprising and exactly what I had expected. Without people running the Tile App, the tracker is useless and people won't buy it. If the tracker is useless people won't have any reason to install the App.

In a nutshell, the device is currently completely useless in areas with low density of Tile users, and a waste of quite a lot of money if you live in those areas.

How does one acquire a Tile


If you live in North America, chances are you can get one from a local Electronics seller. But if your like me and you don't live where it is sold, you have to order one direct from The Tile App or get it through [amazon=B011HT91DO]Amazon[/amazon]. It's quite expensive coming in over a hundred dollars for a 4 pack including shipping to NZ and will only function for a year. On top of that there was an incredible delay in shipping, at over a week! The time it took to ship from USA to NZ was the same amount of time for it to get picked from the warehouse!

Now the price tag may not look appealing, but if an local online retailer like Mighty Ape were to pick it up and sell it at higher volumes, that would reduce the cost quite a bit. And the lead time! But for them to do that the device must actually be usable for customers!

So what does a Tile do?


Not a whole lot. It tracks where an object is on the Tile App. There is a not terribly well documented feature that will show an approximate distance away from the Tile just by tapping the tile icon, it is quite inaccurate at times, but that's just an RF thing.


So the Tile Tracker is useless for me. And probably useless for you.


How could it be better?


The physical tracker component could only better if they replaced the non-rechargeable battery with a super cap or Low Discharge battery, and utilised Wireless charging standards like QI. This will extend the usable lifetime of the device beyond and it's environmental impact, while retaining it's ability to be Waterproof and strong. This means you only need to replace it when it wears out or is lost. Which makes it more attractive to users wanting to purchase it, but don't like the lack of value for money.

And the really tough point, that it isn't all that useful, is actually incredibly easy to fix. Since it only tells you where it was last sighted. More importantly it should (But doesn't) tell you that it's gone out of range! It is possible that you lose an item, don't notice it's gone until you next need to use it, which could be a few days or even weeks, and when you look it up on the App, and see a location that was picked up a long time ago, you have no chance to find it. And this includes the tracker itself!

And ultimately that's a deal breaker. A device to stop you from losing items, that can be completely lost itself, is useless.

And it's incredibly easy to fix.


There is an Companion app that you must use to register and track the trackers, all they need to do is make the Companion raise an notification when it first loses contact. And add a Geo-Fencing capability down the road so that if you leave it at home, it doesn't notify you. Boom problem solved, with minimal false alerts. It becomes a device that you have to try really hard to lose, because it will let you know if you do.

They could even extend it with the phones location, you can accept that an item is located away from the device, in a zone. If another App user sees it outside that zone, it can immediately notify you that the item has been nicked.

And those companion updates would make the Tile Tracker an almost perfect device, not only will it help you find the item like it does now, it will help you from losing the item in the first place, and even tell you that it's been nicked. Which would make the Tile Tracker an really worthwhile investment.
If I had to give this an subjective score I would give it a 1 of 10.
It's a device that is intended to make it incredibly hard to lose items... that is incredibly easy to lose.

Yeah, it's not great. It's got an companion app that looks nice. But is missing important functionality.

And if your like me, and you live in an area with pretty much no uptake, it's pretty much useless.

So I would recommend holding off buying it until they fix some significant flaws in the Tile App.