(Pocket-lint) – Tile is the name in Bluetooth trackers, dominating a market that it invented, with few rivals. It’s a clever system which allows you to ‘tag’ your devices with a Tile and then track them, to help avoid loss.
The Tile ecosystem expanded in 2019 with four different models and those were updated again in 2021, with a new version of the Tile Pro, Tile Mate, Tile Slim and Tile Sticker.
If you’re always losing things, then there’s a good chance that Tile has something that will help with that.
Tile Mate vs Pro vs Sticker vs Slim: What’s the difference?
With four main products, let’s start by telling you what’s different about all these devices. Essentially, the differences are in the different form factors to suit how you want to use the devices.
Note: there have been several versions of the Mate and Pro. Here we’re focusing on the 2021 versions (we’ve given details for the previous version in brackets). The ranges given are those supplied by Tile, we’ll get to actual ranges later in this review.
Tile Pro is shaped like a keyfob, offering a long range of 120 metres. It has a changeable battery that will last for 1 year and this also has the loudest volume. (Previous version: same specs, different shape.)
Tile Mate has a range of 76 metres, features a non-changeable battery that will give you 3 years of life. (Previous version: range 60 metres, changable 1 year battery.)
Tile Sticker is designed to be stuck via the adhesive back, so you can put it onto anything. As such it doesn’t have a changeable battery, but the battery will last for 3 years. It has a range of 76 metres. (Previous version: 45 metres range, slight design change.)
Tile Slim is a credit card shape and exceptionally thin, so you can slip it into a wallet or luggage tag. You can’t change the battery, but the internal battery will last you for 3 years. It has a range of 76 metres. (Previous version: range 30m.)
Tile set up and the app
Everything Tile revolves around your account and the app that’s running on your phone. Setup is easy. Once you’ve installed the app you’re walked through a simple process to register and connect those Tile devices to your phone.
The app will register them and you’ll have the opportunity to give them a name, so if you have a Tile Pro attached to your car keys, you can call it “car key”, for example. The app shows you all the different Tiles you have – as well as devices registered to the Tile service – and also includes your phone and any other phones with the Tile app.
Each Tile has a button on it as well as a speaker to emit a sound to help you find it. Apart from that and the battery, it has a Bluetooth chip that uses very little power so you’re not constantly changing the battery. These have different ranges – as we outline above – meaning that if you have the Tile Pro, you’ll be able to detect it from further away.
Once set up in the app, that’s it – to find your devices you can open the app and hit what you’re looking for, the alarm on that Tile will sound (if connected to your phone) and you’ll be able to locate that item. Yes, you’ll need to keep Bluetooth on your phone turned on.
We mentioned that each Tile has a button on it. You not only use this to get started with the setup, but it can, in return, be used to find your phone. Press the button twice and an alarm will sound from your phone – a nice quid pro quo. Tile says this is the most common feature used – it seems people misplace their phone a lot!
Tile also works with Google Assistant and Alexa, meaning you can ask your Echo to find your keys, for example – and that works nicely.
What happens when your Tile isn’t in range?
This is where things get a little more interesting. Finding something connected via Bluetooth in your home is easy, but what happens when you lose something outside when it’ll likely be outside of range?
Firstly, the last known location of that Tile is shown on a map in the app. Left your keys at work? The app will show you the last place it saw that Tile at your workplace.
Beyond that is where the Tile network comes into play. It’s a network that has many users – there are some 40 million Tiles out there (2021 figures) and anyone with the Tile app on their phone forms part of the finding community.
When you lose a device you can mark it as “lost”. If another Tile user’s phone detects your “lost” device, you will be alerted with a notification. Because Tile uses Bluetooth LE, those members of the community don’t have to actively hunt for your device – it all happens in the background, reporting the location to you without them even knowing that they’ve located your lost Tile.
You also don’t get to see other Tile users or their devices, so you can’t use this to locate people or their tagged stuff – it’s all securely happening in the background. You just get an email and a notification in your Tile app, telling you were it was found and giving you directions to that place.
The net result is that if you leave a Tile-tagged device in a bar or restaurant, for example, you’ll be able to get a location on it after you’ve left thanks to other Tile users. Equally, once you’re back in that location, your phone will connect to that device and ring the alarm so you can locate it.
We left the Tile Sticker in a local park and by the time we got home, we’d had a notification saying it had been detected by another Tile user. As we sit here writing this review, we can see that it’s been detected subsequently – so the system works – if this was a lost set of keys or something else, we’d be able to head back to the park and locate them.
You’ll only get the most recent location for the item, however. If you want a location history (up to 30 days) you’ll need to sign up to the Tile Premium service. There’s currently no option for UWB – ultra-wideband – which will give more precise short-range locations, but that will come with the Tile Ultra in 2022.
What if someone isn’t in the Tile community?
If your Tile is found by someone who isn’t a Tile user, on the 2021 versions of the Tile Pro, Tile Mate and Tile Slim, there’s a QR code on the rear of the devices. This can be scanned by any smartphone providing a link – and when the finder taps on that link, you’ll get an alert telling you that item has been found. (We’ve deliberately blurred it in the photo above.) The new system is called Lost and Found.
When you mark something as lost, you have the choice of adding your contact details so that person can call or message you when they scan your tag, very much like the system offered by the Apple AirTag, which uses NFC to let others scan your lost tag and get those details.
When a tag is scanned, you’ll get a message through the Tile app and via email that says your tag has been scanned. If it’s not marked as lost, you’ll be prompted to see if it is actually lost. But if it is marked as lost, the message will also include a rough location where the device was scanned, so you can locate it again. The person scanning will just see a screen saying it’s a lost item, unless you’ve provided your contact details.
The downside of Tile’s printed QR approach is that those QR codes can wear off. We’ve been carrying the Tile Pro for a couple of weeks on a keyfob and already the QR code is worn so it won’t scan.
What about Tile Premium?
Everything detailed above comes as standard for a Tile user and is included within the cost of the Tile you buy. But there’s also a Premium subscription – priced $2.99 a month, or £2.99 in the UK – that can unlock a range of other features.
One of these alerts you when you leave something behind. You can set this up so that if you leave a location without a device, you can get an alert.
Another option that Tile Premium offers is a 30-day history of your Tile’s location. This essentially gives you a movement map for a device, showing you where it’s been located. That means that if you lose a device, you can see a history of how it moves around the map and places where it’s detected. If you don’t have Premium, you can only see the last location.
There are also free battery replacements, and the ability to share Tiles with unlimited contacts (so someone else can locate your keys, for example) – but you can share a Tile with another user as standard without a subscription.
Moving beyond Tile
One of the things that Tile has been doing to expand this beyond its own tags is working to integrate its technology into other things you might lose. It started with wireless headphones and rather than having to integrate a physical Tile, the company is going deeper and working with the major chip manufacturers that produce Bluetooth hardware. You can find more information about this in our main What is Tile? feature.
By integrating Tile technology into something like a set of Bluetooth headphones, you can get the advantage of this finding technology without having to buy the physical Tile. Take the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless for example – these headphones have Find with Tile technology, meaning you can open up the app to locate your headphones if you ever lose them.
Find with Tile has been incorporated into a collection of HP laptops, it’s appeared on Fitbit models and other devices too.
Tile also works with Amazon Sidewalk. This is another wireless connection technology that’s slowly getting integrated into devices like the Echo. The aim is to help homes better connect to smart devices, but it can also detect Tile devices. That means that if you lose something and it’s in range of an Amazon Echo for example, that could help you find it again.
Amazon Sidewalk is currently only available in the US and only on a few devices offered, but could expand the finding network in the future.
Which Tile is best?
It’s easy to levitate towards the Tile Pro: we’ve found ourselves using the Tile Pro for some time because it offers great range and the ease of changing the battery when it runs out – a standard CR 2032.
The new Tile Pro updates the design, but we’ve found the range isn’t quite as long as an old Pro – in this case a 2018 model. In a side-by-side test, the 2018 model alarm would sound when the 2021 model didn’t – out at the far reaches of range, around 120 metres. Once you get a little closer, about 100 metres, we found the 2021 model worked perfectly.
This is still far in excess of the other Tile models, as well as far in excess of the Apple and Samsung alternatives – so Pro is the model we’d go for.
Tile Mate is the most affordable of the options, while still offering decent range, but in the 2021 model, there’s no changable battery. The battery is rated for 3 years, but after that, you’ll have to replace the whole thing, which again makes us lean towards the Pro instead.
The Tile Sticker is much more discreet, easily attached to something and then basically forgotten, until you need it. Whether that’s something small at home like the TV remote or something large like your bike, the appeal of the Sticker is its versatility, although once it’s stuck, it’s basically there for the life of the Tile.
The 2021 model has a 76 metre range and in our testing this proved realistic – the same range as the new Mate and the Slim. In the latest version the button has moved to the side of the Tile Sticker, which might reduce accidental presses.
Tile Slim rounds out the package and is great for the wallet as it’s basically the same shape as a credit card. With 3-years of life, it’s a valid addition to your wallet.
Really it’s a case of picking the option that suits what you want to attach it too, as the functionality overall is basically the same. All offer IP67 waterproofing too, so it doesn’t matter if they get wet.
If you’re prone to misplacing things around your home then Tile has immediate appeal – it’s really easy to find things via your phone by sounding an alarm, or using voice via Google or Amazon devices. Beyond that, having a location on a map showing where something was last connected to your phone is really useful. You can retrace your steps and find whatever you left behind.
Beyond that, it really depends on how active the Tile community is for automatically locating things beyond a given Tile’s range. The new option to scan a QR code might help to close some gaps in the user base, but at the same time, when we’ve marked a Tile as lost, it’s been located fairly quickly. Obviously, if you live in a remote area, this might not be the case.
Overall the Tile system works well, offers plenty of choices for Bluetooth tags, and is easy to use. That has immediate appeal, making it easy to find things you misplace around the home while giving you some scope to find things you lose further afield. Tile is responding to new competition and with Tile Ultra due to launch in 2022, there’s more to come in the near future.
Alternatives to consider
Samsung Galaxy SmartTag
Samsung’s SmartTag offers the same basic functionality as the Tile Pro, but is limited to Samsung users. The advantage that has is that any Samsung device could potentially find a lost item and report the location back to you. The downside is that you need to use a Samsung phone or your SmartTag won’t be compatible.
Apple’s advantage is that it has a huge userbase of iPhone users that can detect AirTag with reletive ease. With all AirTags also offering UWB detection, they are a step ahead in technology – but the range is no where as good as that of Tile.
Writing by Chris Hall. Originally published on .