Smart trackers come in a variety of shapes and sizes and offer an abundance of different features that will satisfy even the pickiest ‘loser’. But how do you decide which one is the right one for you?
TL;DR: Here's a quick comparison chart with the main features listed for each tracker. For more information on the individual features mentioned in this chart, keep reading below.
What is a smart tracker?
A tracker is a small device that you can attach or stick to your personal belongings and then connect to an app on your mobile device.
It can help you locate your misplaced or lost things by checking their location or making them ring through the app on your mobile device.
When it is activated, it will exchange information in regular intervals with the mobile device it is connected to. This can be done directly between the gadget and the device, or remotely through an external third party.
In general, most finder tags can be divided into two groups; Bluetooth trackers and GPS trackers.
What is a Bluetooth tracker and what is a GPS tracker?
GPS tracking technology has been around for a few decades, but it became widely accessible somewhere in the mid-’90s when a network of US military satellites was open for public use.
Bluetooth tracking technology started around 2012 with the ascent of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology. The advances in Bluetooth technology provided the Bluetooth finder with a more stable connection and smaller power consumption. This, in turn, allowed the development of a smaller, lighter tracker that you can easily carry around in your pockets or attach to your keys.
There are a few differences between the different types of tracking tags that can influence which one you get.
We prepared a detailed comparison of both tracking technologies to help you navigate through their main features and help you decide which one you could use in your everyday life:
Bluetooth finders are relatively cheap and cost between $10 to $50. Most have no additional monthly fees attached, but double-check before buying - some companies do charge a monthly fee for their additional features.
GPS trackers cost upward of $50 and have an added monthly subscription fee where the cost can vary depending on what coverage plan you need.
Tracker connection range
GPS trackers maintain a constant connection and can provide an updated location at any time.
Bluetooth trackers have a 200 - 300 ft maximum range because they depend on the strength of the Bluetooth signal between the finder and your mobile device.
Most Bluetooth trackers require very little power and use replaceable coin batteries as their power source. A coin battery will keep the finder active from 1.5 to 2 years, and once it runs out, you can replace it yourself in a few simple steps.
A few have a rechargeable battery, which does require charging more often, so if you decide on this option, keep an eye on the battery level, so the Bluetooth tag isn't dead when you need it to locate your things.
Some, like the credit-card thin wallet trackers, have non-replaceable custom batteries and are included in a discounted renewal program for repurchases.
GPS finders have substantial power consumption, but most are rechargeable and will last between 3 – 7 days.
All Bluetooth trackers can ring when you search for them using your phone. You can also use them to make your lost phone ring, in case you forget where you put it. This allows you to precisely pinpoint the device’s location when searching nearby.
GPS trackers do not automatically have sound alerts included and if they do, it will usually mean additional costs either with the monthly fee or with the device itself.
GPS trackers allow you to set up multiple areas where you receive a notification about your tracker’s activity.
Bluetooth trackers are limited to tracking when you’re in range of the Bluetooth signal. They can send a notification when you are in or out of Bluetooth connection range, but because the signal is intermittent that can sometimes happen even if the tracker and your device are next to each other.
All Bluetooth tracking tags offer community search, where you can anonymously ask other users for help if your Bluetooth finder gets disconnected.
GPS trackers do not offer community help since you have a constant connection to either your device or an external service.
Bluetooth trackers are all pocket-sized. Since most people use them to find their misplaced keys or wallet, they are usually the size of a credit card or your regular key chain. The idea is that they can keep track of your keys or wallet without adding any extra bulk to your daily necessities.
Since the technology inside can rely on your phone’s Bluetooth signal and hardware, manufacturers stick to the rule 'less is more' to extend battery life.
GPS trackers are bulkier in size. With more tech and options for recharging inside, more space is needed to accommodate everything. The smallest ones are close to a modern car key in size, but a bit heavier.
A general rule seems to be that with more capabilities come bigger sizes, which means GPS tags are a bit too chunky to carry around in your pockets.
Recharging the battery
This one doesn’t have a clear winner since both Bluetooth and GPS trackers offer rechargeable gadgets.
However, when it comes to battery life, Bluetooth finders generally last a few months, due to their BLE (Bluetooth low energy) technology, while GPS trackers typically need to be recharged every few days.
Which tracker do I need?
Depends on what you want to use it for.
A Bluetooth tracker works best in everyday life.
Let’s say you can’t find your keys or wallet or your phone, and you’re not sure if you left them at home, in your office or maybe in your car. These are all locations you visit at least once a day, so your tracker will be able to connect to your phone and update the item’s location when you pass by it.
If you lose your keys, just open the app on your phone and check the last known location. Then go to that location and simply ring the item to find out where they're hiding.
A GPS tracker works best in larger, open areas you’re not familiar with. Let’s say you want to track your very expensive camera bag that you forgot somewhere and when you returned, it was no longer there.
Again, you open the app, but the map there will show the exact location of your camera bag, within a few 10 meters. The information you receive is in real-time and you can go to the exact location to retrieve it anytime. However, the data is transmitted through satellites in space, so the exact location could be off by as much as 10 meters in bad weather or inside buildings, for example.