Review: Tile Bluetooth tag (verdict: Great)

Summary:After almost a year since it started taking orders, Tile is finally shipping. It's like having 'Find My iPhone' for your keys.

Tile (@TheTileApp) is a small square Bluetooth LE device that can be attached to keys (or just about anything) and be located via Bluetooth when you're close enough, and via a crowdsourced community of users and people that install the app. The use case is attaching the square device to your keyring and using the free iOS app to locate Tile when you misplace your keys. 

tile-keychain-ogrady

For background, I recommend that you read my original Tile article (from a year ago) and my follow-up interview  (from May 15, 2014) with Tile Co-founder Mike Farley. 

I backed Tile on June 21, 2013, received my address confirmation email on May 22, 2014 and my Tiles shipped on June 2, 2014. (I also received a Tile press unit on May 31, 2014.) So it took just under a year to get my Tiles, which is a long time by any standard, but not completely unheard of for a startup.  

Tile has shipped over 20,000 units to early backers, but, when will you get yours? Tile has published the following shipping schedule

  • Ordered placed before July 18 – Will ship in June 2014
  • Ordered placed between July 19 and 31 – Will ship in July 2014
  • Ordered placed between August 1 and September 23 – Will ship in August 2014
  • Ordered placed between September 24 and June 3, 2014 – Will ship in September 2014

So, how well does Tile work? In about a week of testing my units, I'm comfortable saying that Tile works as advertised. It's pretty simple, really: you activate a Tile by pressing and holding the "e" then pair it to your iPhone via the Tile app (free, App Store), then attach the Tile to your keychain, MacBook or kid and forget about it. 

When you inevitably misplace your keys or MacBook (but hopefully not your kid!) just launch the Tile app and use it to find the missing Tile. Since it's based on Bluetooth 4.0 (a.k.a. Bluetooth LE) you'll need to be within 50-150 feet of the Tile. If you're not within range, the Tile app will display where it was last seen on a map. The app uses a proximity indicator to show when you're getting closer to the Tile. Pressing the "Find" button in app makes your Tile play a little tune that helps to locate it. Some have complained about the volume level of the Find sound, but it hasn't been a problem for me. 

You can watch a video demo of the Tile iOS app here.

Where Tile gets interesting is in its community tracking features. Like other Bluetooth trackers on the market Tile uses a crowdsourced model to help find your Tiles when you're not within range. Each phone running the Tile app is capable of picking up the location of any Tile, regardless of its owner. Tile allows other community members to anonymously and unknowingly report the location of a lost item. For example, if you lose your bike and another Tile user happens to be in the area of the Tile on your bike, that user will anonymously and securely update its location.

tile-app-1

My wife and I recently took an overnight trip to Philadelphia to celebrate our wedding anniversary. To test my eight Tiles, I attached two to our keys, two to our bags, two to a pair of MacBooks, and I gave two to our kids. Via the app I'm able to easily track all eight Tiles and see their location at any given time. When I want to know a Tile's exact location I simply touch an icon to see it on a map, and I can use the Find button if it's lost. 

tile-app-2

Tile hasn't yet implemented its "Mark as lost" feature nor are you able to share Tiles with family members (yet) but the company tells me that the lost feature is coming "in the future" and that family sharing will arrive in "the next version." Neither is a deal breaker for me as anyone with the Tile app installed is effectively always looking for your Tiles. Speaking of the size of the community, anyone reading this post would do a great service to the Tile community by installing the Tile app and creating an account. 

As I mentioned in  my follow-up interview  with Tile Co-founder Mike Farley, customers have Tweeted backer numbers approaching 200,000, so it's safe to say that Tile's audience is growing rapidly. Tile isn't sharing actual numbers but by the fall – when most Tiles are shipped – the size of the community will be substantial. Currently, you probably have the best chance of locating a lost tile in San Francisco or New York, but your best defense is to have family, friends and colleagues install the Tile app, because they tend to run in the same circles that you do. 

While some have been critical of Tile's sealed battery, the company claims that batteries will last one year and the company will notify customers at the one year mark and provide recycling. The company hasn't finalized its replacement options and hasn't committed to a discount on replacement Tiles for existing customers. Although Tile ships with an adhesive sticker allowing you to install it on a flat surface, it doesn't come with any sort of lanyard, loop or ring, an oversight in my opinion. 

Although Tile's been fraught with delays, I'm glad that I stuck with them. They've delivered a slick product that works as advertised and it will only get better as more features come to the app and as more users come online. While Tile hasn't shared precise user numbers (competitor TrackR claims to have "the world's largest Crowd GPS network,") the tracking tag space will be dominated by the company with the largest community. 

If you're interested in buying a Tile, you can pre-order them for $19.95 for delivery in September, or you can buy Tiles from users selling their extras on eBay for around $25 each (just make sure that they're not activated before buying). 

Topics: Mobility, Apple, iOS, iPad, iPhone

About

Jason D. O'Grady developed an affinity for Apple computers after using the original Lisa, and this affinity turned into a bona-fide obsession when he got the original 128 KB Macintosh in 1984. He started writing one of the first Web sites about Apple (O'Grady's PowerPage) in 1995 and is considered to be one of the fathers of blogging.... Full Bio

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