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Apple AirTag vs Tile mate: Which Bluetooth tracker is best?

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This is how the design, features and price of the two trackers compare (The Independent)
This is how the design, features and price of the two trackers compare (The Independent)

Apple may well be credited with pushing Bluetooth key trackers into the spotlight. But companies like Tile had been in the business for almost a decade before the iPhone-making behemoth turned up with its AirTag (£29, Apple.com).

In that time, Tile has grown its product offering from one to four trackers, now comprising the pro, mate, slim and sticker. We have recently reviewed both the 2022 versions of the Tile mate (£14.99, Amazon.co.uk) and Tile pro (£24.99, Tile.com), and here we’ll be seeing how the mate stacks up against the AirTag.

Both broadly do the same thing, connecting to your smartphone over Bluetooth then sharing its location to an app. When that Bluetooth connection is lost, the app shows where this happened in a bid to help you relocate the missing tracker – and crucially, whatever it is attached to, like a bag or a bunch of keys.

They are physically quite similar too, with the Tile mate and Apple AirTag being roughly the same size and shape, but with a couple of key differences that we think fall in the Tile’s favour.

And then there’s the big one. Apple AirTags only work with the company’s own Find My system, which is exclusive to the iPhone and iPad. Meanwhile, Tile takes a platform-agnostic approach, with its trackers working with iPhones and Android smartphones alike. This alone makes the Tile mate accessible for millions more consumers the world over.

Read more:

How we tested

Short of genuinely losing our keys, we tested every feature of both the Tile mate and Apple AirTag. This meant pairing them to our phone, attaching them to our keys, bags and other possessions, and testing out how their various tracking systems work. We simulated losing our keys at home, and also further afield by leaving them in a car parked a few streets away, while our phone remained at home.

That way, the Tile and Find My networks – where the device’s location is sent to the owner when a fellow user walks within Bluetooth range of the lost tracker – were properly tested. We can also confirm that, while they scratch easily, both survived living on our keys for a week, and both also live up to the water resistant claims.

Want to find out which is best at reuniting you with your lost keys? Check out our comparison below.

Apple AirTag

Buy now £29.99, Apple.com

  • Rating: 8/10

  • Size: H 31.9mm x W 31.9mm x D8mm

  • Weight: 11g

  • Water resistance: IP67 (maximum depth of one metre up to 30 minutes)

  • Battery: Replaceable CR2032 coin cell battery (one year)

  • Range: Unknown

  • Features: Bluetooth for proximity finding, Apple U1 chip for ultra-wideband precision finding, accelerometer, NFC tap for lost mode, built-in speaker

The subject of leaks and rumours for years – not least when it cropped up in Apple’s own iPhone software before it was officially announced – the AirTag finally broke cover in the spring of 2021. And, this being Apple, it packed a key feature that separated it from all other Bluetooth key finders at the time.

As well as Bluetooth, Apple fitted the AirTag with a technology called Ultra-Wideband (UWB), which enables more precise close-range location tracking. In simple terms, Bluetooth gets you to within a few feet of the AirTag, then UWB shows you exactly where it is, right down to the inch. Samsung has since added UWB tech to its own key tracker, the Galaxy SmartTag+ (£27.99, Amazon.co.uk), but it’s something all Tile trackers miss out on.

The AirTag also benefits from being a part of Apple’s enormous Find My system, where a lost AirTag can send its location to its owner when a stranger’s iPhone comes within Bluetooth range of it. Perhaps not too helpful in the Scottish Highlands, but in major cities this means an AirTag’s location is beamed to its owner in no time at all.

Read more: The cheapest AirPods and AirPods pro prices you need to listen up to

As for design, the AirTag is typically Apple – which is both a blessing and a curse. It looks great thanks to the sleek gloss white and shiny stainless steel finish, but the lack of a hole for hooking onto a keyring or bag means you have to buy a case or other accessory. And if you buy a nice leather case with keyring from Apple, that’s an extra £35 on top of the £29 for the AirTag itself. The design redeems itself somewhat when you twist the two halves apart, as this provides access to a replaceable coin-style battery – something the Tile mate lacks.

Like other possession trackers, the AirTag can be told to play a jingle when connected via Bluetooth, helping you locate it when it’s not too far away. If lost elsewhere, the Find My app will show you approximately where the AirTag was last connected to your iPhone, so you can go there and, hopefully, reconnect.

If it still can’t be found, it’s time to declare it lost in the Find My app. After that, you’ll be pinged the AirTag’s location when it next comes within Bluetooth range of a fellow Find My user. This is all done anonymously, with that user unaware they’ve helped reunite you with your lost AirTag.

Overall, the AirTag is a well-priced device that does a simple job very effectively. The ultra-precise tracking via UWB technology is a bit of a gimmick, if we’re being honest, and the lack of a keyring hole is a frustrating example of Apple putting form before function. But there’s no faulting the rest of the Find My experience.

Read our full review of the Apple AirTag

Buy now £29.00, Apple.com

Tile mate (2022)

Buy now £14.99, Amazon.co.uk

  • Rating: 8/10

  • Size: 37.8 x 37.8 x 7.1mm

  • Weight: Not stated

  • Water resistance: IP67 (maximum depth of one metre up to 30 minutes)

  • Battery: Three-years, non-replaceable

  • Range: Up to 76 metres / 250 feet

  • Features: Bluetooth, QR code, integrated keyring hole, button to ring phone, built-in speaker

Now for the 2022 edition of the Tile mate. At the time of writing, this tracker has had its price cut by 25 per cent (£14.99, Amazon.co.uk), making it a handy £14 cheaper than the Apple AirTag. And, because the Tile has an integrated hole for hooking onto keys and bags, there’s no need to spend extra on a case, keyring or other accessories. All that makes the Tile mate much better value than the AirTag.

However, as we alluded to above, the Tile mate’s battery cannot be replaced. It lasts for a claimed three years, compared to one year for the AirTag, but once it runs out of juice the Tile mate is destined for the recycling heap. It’s a shame that Tile couldn’t squeeze a replaceable battery into the mate, but at least the company’s larger, pricier Tile pro (£24.99, uk.tile.com) can have its battery swapped out.

Tile lacks the Ultra-Wideband smarts of the AirTag, but otherwise functions in a similar way. The speaker is also much louder than Apple’s alterantive, making it easier to locate when misplaced around the home, and the Tile community feature works just like the Find My network. However, with fewer Tile users than iPhone owners, its ability to reunite you with your lost keys or bag will vary more.

Read more: Chipolo one spot key tracker review

Unlike Apple, Tile offers a subscription service called Premium. This costs £2.99 a month or £29.99 a year and can be used with as many Tiles as you like.

As well as free battery replacements (for compatible Tiles, of course), Premium has a feature called Smart Alerts, where the app will notify you if it thinks you’ve left something behind. That way, if you always leave the office with your Tile-equipped bag and keys, but leave without one, the app will let you know before it’s too late.

Also in the Tile’s favour is a button that, when pressed twice, rings your smartphone if it’s within Bluetooth range. This is a handy way to find your phone at home, and also sounds loud and clear if the phone is switched to silent.

Read our full review of the Tile mate

Buy now £14.99, Amazon.co.uk

The verdict: Apple AirTag vs Tile mate

The scale of Apple’s Find My network can not be underestimated, and if you live in a major city it’s highly likely that a misplaced AirTag will be reunited with its owner more quickly than a lost Tile. However, this won’t necessarily be the case in areas with a lower population density, or in countries where iPhone ownership is less common.

That isn’t to say the Tile system doesn’t work, because it does, and it’s been around an awful lot longer than the AirTag. In that time, the company has perfected the key finder recipe and offers features missed by Apple, like smart alerts to stop you losing your things in the first place, and a button to locate your phone.

Battery life should also be a consideration. While the AirTag’s is replaceable, the Tile mate’s, though claimed to last three times as long, cannot be replaced when it runs out, thus giving it a limited lifespan.

Ultimately, we feel that choosing between the Tile mate and Apple AirTag comes down to what type of smartphone you own. iPhone users should go for the AirTag (unless, perhaps, they are already invested in the Tile ecosystem) and Android fans should go for Tile, since the AirTag is iPhone-only.

Voucher codes

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For a full write-up of the AirTag’s pros and cons, why not check out our AirTag review

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