AirTags, Tile, & Chipolo: How Do Bluetooth Trackers Work?

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Bluetooth trackers are a convenient way to find your misplaced items, whether you’ve misplaced your keys, wallet, or even a laptop. But how do these tiny devices help you locate your lost belongings?

Here is all you need to know about how Bluetooth trackers work. First, let’s talk about what Bluetooth trackers are.

What Are Bluetooth Trackers?

Have you ever been frustrated because you lost your phone? Or you’ve forgotten where your keys are, or even worse, the child’s car seat in the grocery store parking lot? Bluetooth trackers work well to make sure these scenarios don’t repeat.

Bluetooth trackers are small devices that you can attach to an item of clothing, such as a backpack or even your pet. This way, if you lose the item and want to find it again, you can use the tracker to locate it using your phone.

Bluetooth trackers have been around for a while now, but it’s not always clear how they work.

How Do Bluetooth Trackers Work?

bluetooth tracker

Image Credit: Chipolo

Bluetooth trackers like Apple’s new Airtags, Tile, and Chipolo use Bluetooth Low Energy (otherwise known as BLE or Bluetooth 4.0) to connect and share data with your device.

Once connected, you can track the location of the object it is attached to using the map on the tracker’s mobile app or via a web browser. You can also use your phone to make your tracker ring if you can’t locate it with the map.

Bluetooth trackers work best indoors and for nearby locations. However, some trackers can help you find objects as far as 80 meters away. Beyond that, the app will display the Bluetooth tracker’s last known location.

Bluetooth Trackers Are Not to Be Confused With GPS Trackers

The term “Smart Trackers” is often used to refer to both Bluetooth trackers and GPS trackers, which may cause some confusion. Bluetooth trackers differ from GPS trackers in many ways, the most prominent of which is the technology powering the trackers.

Bluetooth trackers rely on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to locate missing objects within a relatively small range, while GPS trackers can be used to locate objects anywhere in the world.

Advantages of Using a Bluetooth Tracker

blueetooth tracker with carton

Image Credit: Chipolo

Bluetooth trackers can add value to our lives in many ways. Below are some of the benefits of using a Bluetooth tracker.

Proximity Alerts

Bluetooth trackers alert you when you’re about to leave the object they’re attached to behind. Say you left your key in a coffee shop nearby and you’re walking home, you’ll receive a notification on your phone just before you go out of the connection range. This way, you can easily keep tabs on your belongings.

Related: Best Phone Trackers for Extra Security on Android and iOS

Locate Your Phone

Most Bluetooth trackers offer reverse location functions. That is, you can also use the tracker to find your phone. You can make your phone ring, even when it’s in silent mode, by pressing the button on the tracker.

Supports Crowdsourced Location

Another good thing about Bluetooth trackers is crowdsourced location tracking. Should your device go out of the connection range, you can flag the item as lost on the tracker’s app or website.

If someone else with the same tracker comes into range with your lost item, they’ll pick up its signal. You’ll then be notified and shown the new location of the item. The more people using the same Bluetooth tracking device network as you, the more likely you are to find your lost device.

Long-Lasting Battery

Thanks to its low energy consumption rate, you could use a tracker for as long as six months to a year without having to worry about charging or replacing the battery. Some trackers also come with replaceable batteries you can replace on your own.

Water-Resistant

Misplacing your keys on a rainy day doesn’t have to mean getting a new set of locks. Many Bluetooth trackers are water-resistant and can be tracked even on a rainy day.

Community Help

Buying a Bluetooth tracker offers you access to a community where you can ask other tracker users for help when your tracker goes out of the connection range.

Available in Multiple Designs and Sizes

Bluetooth trackers come in many different shapes and sizes, depending on the manufacturer. You will find ones as small as a button or some which are big enough to put on your dog’s collar.

The size of the tracker has an impact on how much battery life it will have—bigger trackers typically last longer than smaller ones.

Durable

Bluetooth trackers are very durable and don’t break if you accidentally drop them. This is a major advantage considering how easy it is for a small device to slip from your hand or pocket.

Limitations of Bluetooth Trackers

Bluetooth trackers are often marketed as a way to make it easier for you to find your lost items. But before you go out and buy one, be aware of the limitations that come with this product.

phone with keychain on table

Requires an External Device

Bluetooth trackers require an app to work properly. This means that the tracker needs access to your phone’s Bluetooth connection for the app to work—which means the tracker is useless if your phone’s battery is low.

Limited Connection Range

Because of how Bluetooth technology work, Bluetooth-powered trackers only work within a limited range, unlike GPS trackers that can locate a device anywhere in the world.

At the time of writing, the maximum range a Bluetooth tracker can cover is 80 meters. Most do not even cover that much. Anything beyond, you’ll only be able to see where your phone was last in range or rely on crowdsourced location finding (which comes with its own issues, as you’ll read in a moment).

Related: How to Use an Android Phone as a GPS Tracker Device

Conditional Battery Replacement

Most Bluetooth trackers use replaceable batteries. This would be good news, except that most trackers with replaceable batteries get damaged when they’re exposed to water.

If you opt for a water-resistant Bluetooth tracker, you’ll have to deal with buying a new tracker whenever your tracker battery runs out, as waterproof trackers don’t allow for battery replacement. Unfortunately, this forces you to choose between a tracker with a replaceable battery or one that is waterproof.

Crowdsourced Location Only Works in Highly Populated Places

Bluetooth tracker users in less populated places have almost zero chances of finding their lost item by crowdsourcing its location. This is because the probability of a person using the same tracker passing by their lost item is low compared to those in more populated cities.

Should You Buy a Bluetooth Tracker?

The question of whether or not to buy a Bluetooth tracker is one that everyone has at some point. The answer, as it turns out, depends on your specific needs and wants. To decide this, you first need to consider how often and in what situation do you most frequently lose your things?

If you’re constantly searching for your keys, phone, or other belongings within your home, then it might be worth investing in a Bluetooth tracker. But if you are always on the go and you’d like to track your devices over longer ranges, you’ll be better off with a GPS tracker.


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