Testing GPS Tag (Tile)

By Brian Rhodes, Published Jun 26, 2014, 12:00am EDT

$20 for a device that will find the locations of lost or stolen objects. That's the potential of a startup, Tile, that has crowdfunded more than $2.5 million worth of orders.

We were one of the first backers / purchasers and recently received our Tiles.

 

The promo video below shows the concept behind tile:

Product Overview

Tiles are small but thick. While ideal to loop through a keyring or sticking to a television remote, they add bulk to pocketed devices like cellphones. Catch our quick overview in the video below:

Units ship with die cut double-sided adhesive that allows for mounting the tags flush with devices, although the aesthetically may not look desirable and leave adhesive behind when removed. 

Battery Lasts Only 1 Year

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Each tag is powered by a coin cell battery the company claims will last about a year. The battery is not field replaceable and the unit is sealed, however. While this is a big weakness, it also makes the Tile waterproof and sealed against dust and dirt.

Tag Range:

Tile uses Bluetooth 4.0 (a Bluetooth Low Energy standard) to broadcast its location. The app accommodates both near and far tracking through different methods - Local tracking is handled directly between the Tile and the app (up to ~150 feet) over Bluetooth. However, if the Tile is out of range of the app, it relies on other nearby users armed with the app to geolocate your Tile. The app picks up any Tiles in range, regardless of who owns them, and broadcasts their location to their owners even if the are far away.

Performance

In the video below, we demonstrate the unit and how it works with the app to indicate location through map pinpoints, instructions (ie: 'Tile is within arm's length'), and audible alerts:

The tracking strategy could be useful if Tile takes off and is a common device with many users in tightly populated areas. However, rural users and those living where Tile just isn't popular could find the units do them no good beyond range of their smartphone.

In our test area, the text instructions (close range) were accurate, but the GPS map locations were wildly inaccurate, sometimes pinning locations 10 miles away from the actual target.

Issue #1: Replacement Cost

Tile is unclear on is the cost of replacing units after one year, at the end of the non-serviceable battery's life. In early marketing, the company emphasized that exchange would be managed by the app, and the company would send a pre-paid envelope to mail back dead tiles for new ones.

However, the company has not released the cost of exchange. While the company has hinted the replacement cost may be discounted off the 'new' price of $20 each, it says "Tile replacements are likely to be discounted for customers, but since we are still in development phase the final cost is not yet determined."

The company counters that whatever this price might be, the cost of replacing batteries would still be an expense, and they will swap your old units for new, updated designs during the exchange.

The bottom line though: Tile will not be a one-time purchase, and the lack of clear policy and pricing for exchange will turn people off.

Issue #2: Apple Only

At the current time, the Tile App is only compatible with iOS devices. While other platforms like Android have 'bootlegged' programs that work with Tiles, they are not factory approved or supported. The company cites the issue because Android does not support the standard implementation of Bluetooth 4.0 and will not work within the current methods of device-app communication. 

The company claims Android support is road mapped for the future, but no official deadline has been given.

Limited Application

Tile makes sense for people who absentmindedly misplace things inside the home like car keys, laptops, or even TV remotes. However, with Bluetooth-based local tracking ability, Tile is not suited for heavy-duty or commercial use for tracking assets like mailed packages, vehicles, or storage trailers. 

Security users and resellers periodically have need for, or are asked for something like Tile. Whether its for tracking down equipment onsite, like alarm panels or maintenance access doors, or just for keeping tabs on shared tools or equipment, there is interest in lightweight, independently powered location tags.

Unfortunately, unless you love the concept and are willing to live with the grey-areas and shortcomings, you may be disappointed. Even alternatives like StickNFind or Gecko are priced higher, share the same range limitations, or are at early production/ fundraising stage themselves.

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