When it comes to item tracking, Tile is probably the most popular bluetooth tracker out there. With a variety of models to choose from and compatibility between devices, Tile has made it easy to find items at different prices. Now Apple is in the item tracking game with the $ 29 AirTag – and features like Precision Finding and Apple Integration make it competitive against Tile.
Both use Bluetooth for tracking and connect to a network of other devices that can be used to discover locations. Tile has a network made up of millions of devices, while Apple is using its extensive Find My network and is approaching a billion devices. Neither have GPS nor the connected devices to assign this location when the bluetooth signal is received.
The main difference is the size of each network, and there is a reason for Tile to be concerned. Let’s break down the biggest pros and cons of each tracker.
- Apple AirTag ($ 29; amazon.com): You should get an AirTag if you have an iPhone and want an item tracker. AirTag can be integrated directly into Find My and is easy to use. If you have an iPhone 11 or newer, you can also use Precision Finding.
- Tile Tracker (starting at $ 19.99, originally starting at $ 24.99; amazon.com and thetileapp.com): Those who primarily use Android (or prefer an agnostic operating system approach) should go for a tile. You can choose from four designs and you will appreciate the built-in functionality. Even if the network is smaller, it is still an accurate way to track items.
Jacob Krol / CNN
AirTag is well worth riding if you have an iPhone. Setup takes just under a minute and no heavy lifting is required. You don’t need to create an account either, as the tracker is directly linked to your Apple ID. The entire experience lives in the Find My app, so it’s easy to see your AirTag and other devices that support Find My. You can track a Mac, Apple Watch, iPad, or even AirPods in the same way. The experience is straightforward and intuitive.
In the Find My app, tap the Items tab to see all of your AirTags on a map and easily ping them. It’s all built in enough that you can even ask Siri where it is or create a shortcut for easy access. With Tile, you have to open the Tile app, and it’s a little clunkier. And with standard tracking on a map, AirTags tend to be more accurate than a tile tracker. The Apple network consists of all iPhones, iPads, Macs and iPod Touches online – that total is approaching a billion. It’s a larger network through Tile’s that is in the millions.
If you have an iPhone 11 or later, you can use Precision Finding with AirTag. If you’re looking for an AirTag and have a general idea of where it is, you can hit Search in the app for that day and get detailed directions for that day. The distance in feet and arrows on the screen will take you to the tracker and everything will be updated in real time.
Precision Finding is made possible by Apple’s U1 chip, which offers ultra-broadband support. The newer iPhones listed above support this and can thus determine spatially where the devices are located. It also uses a number of other technologies (ARKit, Bluetooth, and sensors) to enable this feature. It’s something that Tile just can’t compete with as it doesn’t offer ultra-broadband.
There is only one AirTag to choose from, and its design functionality is somewhat limited. It’s a small circular disc with no adhesive padding or even a key ring hole. Fortunately, it has a user-replaceable battery that should last a year. You have to buy an accessory like a keyring for $ 35 from Apple or $ 12.95 from Belkin to attach it to something.
Jacob Krol / CNN
If you’re looking for broad compatibility, Tile is the winner with Android, iOS, and Windows support. Some devices like headphones and laptops even have tile tracking built in. The setup is done via the Tile app and requires a Bluetooth pairing. It’s simple enough, but not integrated at the basic software level like AirTags.
Whichever tile you choose, you have an easy way to attach it to something that is ready to use right out of the box. This is something the AirTag can’t compete with and which you will need to purchase an accessory for. And Tile has a few models that, while confusing, give you more choices. You also have the benefit of pressing a button on a tile to call your connected device. It’s pretty handy and helped us find our phone.
- Sticker ($ 24.99; amazon.com and thetileapp.com): This is the smallest tile and a black circle with a way to attach it instantly. You can use the adhesive backing. It has a standard Bluetooth range and the battery cannot be replaced.
- Slim ($ 24.99, originally $ 29.99; amazon.com and thetileapp.com): The Slim fits perfectly in a wallet with a design that mimics two stacked credit cards. As with the sticker, the battery is non-replaceable and you will need to buy a new tracker when the battery runs out.
- Mate ($ 19.99, originally $ 24.99; amazon.com and thetileapp.com): The original token is now the Mate and has a user-replaceable battery. The classic square design is splash-proof and has a built-in key ring hole.
- Pro ($ 29.99, originally $ 34.99; amazon.com and thetileapp.com): Tile Pro builds the Mate with a robust structure and Bluetooth with a long range. It has a user replaceable battery and a key ring hole. In addition, the speaker inside can make a louder sound which is helpful in finding it.
And as with AirTag (and Samsung’s SmartTag or Chipolo), Bluetooth is the same basic technology for tracking. Essentially, the tracker can connect to other devices on the Tile network, which will determine a location for your tracker. The main problem is that Tile’s network is much smaller and is based on Tile devices or those with the app. It’s in the millions as Apple approaches a billion.
However, you can still see your tracker on a map and even set alerts when you are in Tile Premium. The latter is a subscription service (starting at $ 29.99 per year) that can send smart alerts when you leave something behind and your tile is eligible for a battery change. However, this is not a real prerequisite and does not strengthen the network in such a way that the competitive conditions against AirTag are leveled out.
The core promises of the AirTag and Tile trackers are pretty much the same. You can find each tracker on a map relatively easily using your smartphone. Tiles win in the design category, with multiple models to choose from from this feature for instant fixation. And when you’re on a device next to an iPhone, Tile is the obvious choice as AirTag doesn’t support anything other than Apple.
However, if you have an iPhone, the answer is to get an AirTag. Integration makes setting up a breeze, and all of the controls can be found in the Find My app. You can even ask Siri on an iPhone or HomePod Mini to find the tracker. The Find My network covers more areas and is more accurate in our article finding tests. That trend continues with more congruent tracking from Precision Finding when you have a newer iPhone. However, you will need to pair your $ 29 AirTag with an accessory.