Stuff we love: This bluetooth tracker fixed my short-term memory
The forgetful mind’s last, best hope
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Your body knows. That gut, animal panic that accompanies the sudden realization of a lost item. You lost your wallet, your purse, your keys. Or as was my case, you left your camera bag on the train, and now you’re feeling ice course through your veins as you watch the train pull slowly away from the station.
That was in 2001, before a reasonably priced gadget could have helped me. Instead, from that point until just last year I vowed to be more mindful. The results have been... mixed. Thankfully I can quit pretending that was working, because I found something better.
What is Tile?
Tile is a little tracking device that you can attach to your important personal items. Most often it's photographed on a key ring, but the applications go far beyond that: luggage, laptops, automobiles, bikes, etc.
For the last year, I’ve owned four of the older, 2nd-gen Tiles. One went in my laptop bag, one on my keys, one on my beloved umbrella, and one taped inside my sunglasses case. They just recently came to the end of their useful but all-too-brief lifespans, and I replaced all of them with new, thinner Tile Mates.
Tiles can be purchased singly for around $25, but you save as much as 40% per Tile if you buy them in a 4-pack. They're also bundled in a combo pack with two Tile Mates and two Tile Slims.
Your phone finds the Tiles, but your Tiles can also find your phone
The Tiles talk to an app on your phone via Bluetooth. Can’t find your keys? Open the app and tap the Find button. If you’re within 100 feet, a surprisingly loud chime will emit from the Tile, and you’ll find them under the blanket, under the couch, under the oven, or wherever else your toddler hid them.
It also works in reverse, meaning that any of the Tiles can be used to find your misplaced phone. Just squeeze the Tile and the phone will emit a loud chime, even if it’s on silent mode.
That last feature is the clincher for me because I lose my phone constantly. The only downside is that both Bluetooth and the Tile app have to be on at all times. That’s had a negative impact on my battery life, but it’s better than not being able to find my phone.
When the Tiles aren’t close by, maps and other Tile owners can help
Sometimes the Tile isn’t within 100 feet, of course. In those instances, the app will show you a map of the last place the Tile and phone were in the same proximity, and how long ago.
As I write this, I can open the app and see that the Tile on my umbrella was last seen 8 hours ago at my house. It’s raining now and not doing much good at my house, but at least I know it’s not lost.
Of course, leaving a wallet at the café or your camera bag on a train is a different and far more anxiety-inducing matter. In those instances, you’ll wish the Tile had an active independent GPS system so it could be located immediately. But it doesn’t and it can’t; that’s part of why they’re so affordable.
Rather, once you realize your item is gone, you tell the app to notify you when it’s found. Whenever anyone else running the Tile app on their phone happens to cross within 100 feet of your Tile, you’ll get an alert with a pinpoint location on a map.
This happened to me just a few weeks ago. I was sitting at a godawful bar in Las Vegas when a message popped up that I’d helped someone find their lost Tile. This act of utterly passive do-gooding blended nicely with the watered-down beer to help me endure one more night in that town. Thanks, Tile.
What to know before you buy
The Tiles are relatively cheap, but come with some trade-offs. As I mentioned earlier, these aren’t outfitted with built-in GPS. They rely on being able to ping a nearby phone. When a Tile is reported lost, it doesn’t have to be your phone, but it does have be a phone that’s running the Tile app. If you lose a Tile in some remote state park, there’s a good chance you’ll never see it again. The more densely populated the area, the more likely you are to recover a lost item.
The batteries in my Tiles lasted for about a year, with some minor variance based on usage. The batteries are not rechargeable or replaceable. That sucks, let’s face it. Surely Tile could have engineered the possibility to crack it open and pop in a new button battery.
That said, Tile offers a relatively low cost insurance for my most important daily items. I’m willing to pay $60-70 for that peace of mind. Once I factor in the hours it’s saved me searching for my phone and keys, there’s no way I’m going back to the old days—mindfulness be damned.