My spouse recently lost his wallet while hiking in San Francisco. Four days later, he received a call from someone who found the wallet’s contents — drivers license and credit cards — in the parking lot of a Walmart 25 miles away. (The actual wallet and cash that was in it are still MIA, of course.)
Playing a small but important role between the “lost” and “found” parts of this drama was TrackR bravo, an inexpensive, thin Bluetooth Low Energy device that’s designed to help locate missing items.
A TrackR bravo had been inside the wallet, and though TrackR’s mobile app couldn’t find the missing property, we concluded the wallet was most likely not in our home or cars. (We also searched these places, just to be sure.) In other words, TrackR bravo helped us eliminate possible locations of the missing wallet, which was helpful.
Pros and cons of Bluetooth trackers
TrackR bravo is a Bluetooth-only device, so it has a limited signal transmission range. The latest version of the device recently received a hardware upgrade to expand its signal range from between 30 and 50 feet to about 70 to 100 feet, according to Chris Herbert, TrackR’s CEO and cofounder.
Cellular-connected and GPS devices can share their locations from further away, of course. However, both of these technologies require larger devices than TrackR bravo. Cellular and GPS also drain significantly more battery than Bluetooth LE, and they typically come with some sort of monthly subscription fee. Neither technology is currently a viable option for small, thin, low-cost trackers such as TrackR bravo. (TrackR bravo’s user-replaceable CR1616 battery should last about a year.)
TrackR also has what it calls a “crowd GPS” feature, so if you lose your TrackR-equipped wallet miles away, another TrackR user could pick up the device’s signal when in range and alert the lost object’s owner. TrackR currently has about 100,000 users in the United States, which limits the value of crowd GPS. (It didn’t help us.)
TrackR bravo vs. Tile
The TrackR’s audible alert, which can help you locate a missing object, also got an upgrade with the latest version; it’s now about 80 decibels (in close range), or 4 decibels more than the previous version. However, I compared the sound from a previous-generation bravo to the new one, and I didn’t notice a big difference.
In comparison, Tile, a thicker competitor, emits sound at 97 decibels, or 30 decibels more than its last version, according its manufacturer. The new Tile is noticeably louder than both the first-generation model and the new TrackR bravo, in my experience.
TrackR bravo is significantly smaller and slimmer than Tile, though, which means you can slip it into your wallet (unless it’s super-slim), hang it on a key fob, or drop it into a backpack or purse. You could also stick it inside an eyeglass case, though you’d probably want to use packing tape to better secure the device and keep it from scratching your glasses.
Another advantage of TrackR bravo compared to Tile: You can’t swap out Tile’s internal battery when it dies, though the company says it will sell you a fresh one at a discounted rate. (A replacement battery for TrackR bravo cost me about $5 at a local hardware store, but five of them go for $4.29 on Amazon.com.)
Tile and TrackR work well, and I recommend both of them. However, Tile’s thickness makes it less desirable as a tracker for your wallet and other small objects. The upcoming Lapa 2 tracker will also feature an LED light and can be outfitted with a wristband (to help you keep track of children). That device’s Indiegogo campaign has already earned more than three times its original funding goal.
James A. Martin is a seasoned tech journalist and blogger based in San Francisco and winner of the 2014 ASBPE National Gold award for his CIO.com blog. He writes CIO.com's Living the Tech Life blog and is also a content marketing consultant.