I’ve reviewed almost every Bluetooth tracking device on the market at one point or another. Most had limited range and weak chirps to mark their location. Even worse, they were dependent on someone else having that tracker’s app on their phone. None of these trackers really made my day, which is why I was so excited about Apple’s AirTag announcement. A four-pack of AirTags ($99) showed up at my door today and I immediately set out to test its capabilities. Read on for a full hands-on review of AirTag.
What are some of those other trackers I’ve used and discarded? Tile, TrackR, and Mynt are the only ones that are still on the market. While all offer iOS apps and have been updated since I reviewed them years ago, only the Apple AirTag is integrated into Apple’s Find My app. This app is available on iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and Mac.
How Apple AirTag Works
AirTag works like most of the other trackers. It sends out a Bluetooth signal that is detected by an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. It can also receive Bluetooth signals; if you lose an AirTagged item and tap Play Sound in the Find My app, it receives a signal to do so and then begins chirping loudly so you can find it.
AirTag is even more useful if you truly lose something and are nowhere near it. As other Apple users pass by the AirTag, their iOS / iPadOS devices pick up the Bluetooth signal from the device and pass the location and AirTag information along to iCloud.
When A Tag Is Lost
When you realize you’ve lost something with an AirTag or that it has been stolen, you can enable Lost Mode in the Find My app. Doing so notifies you when the location of the AirTag becomes available. If someone physically finds the AirTag, they can’t pair to it as it is linked to your Apple ID only. You can choose to leave a phone number and message to anyone who finds the tagged item.
What is going to make the AirTag so powerful is that there are hundreds of millions of devices that are capable of detecting and anonymously reporting the location of your tagged item. Chances are very good that someone with an iPhone will pass by your lost AirTag soon and you’ll be notified
Sample Use Cases
The first thing I thought of when I heard the AirTag announcement was, “cool, I can put one of these in my travel trailer!” It’s small, so nobody is going to look for it, and if the trailer is ever stolen, I can immediately enable Lost Mode and figure out where it is. A $29 AirTag is an inexpensive location tracker for an expensive investment!
I’ve lost my keys just once in my life, but that was enough. I’ve ordered a Belkin $12.99 “Secure Holder with Key Ring” for my keys, so I’ll be able to find them when lost. My wife is planning on putting one in her small purse, and the fourth AirTag in our 4-pack is going into my wallet. I’ve already decided to get a single AirTag ($29) for my “gizmo bag” that goes with me on trips. I don’t know how many times I’ve almost lost that bag…
Apple AirTag Design
Apple is known for its design smarts, and AirTag is no exception. As you can see from the image below, each AirTag is slightly larger in diameter than a US quarter – 1.26 inches / 3.2 cm:
In comparison with some of the other trackers on the market, AirTag is thicker. It seems to be about as thick as four quarters (.31 inch / 8mm). Apple provides AirTag customization with emoji (like the one shown above) or initials. The flip side of an AirTag has an Apple logo, Bluetooth LE, Ultra Wideband, and other text:
The thickness could make it difficult to fit AirTags into a wallet. Accessory designers are already coming out with key rings, straps, bike mounts, and other ways to attach AirTags to physical objects. I’ve owned a Waterfield Designs Finn Wallet for years, and sent off a suggestion that they design an AirTag “pouch” for the inside of their wallets.
I like Apple’s choice of the widely available CR2032 battery to power the AirTag. These batteries are sold everywhere and they’re quite inexpensive. However, it surprises me that Apple didn’t choose to make them rechargeable to reduce battery waste. Size-wise, AirTag sits perfectly on an Apple Watch charging puck; it’s even magnetic. It seems like it would be quite simple to build the charging circuitry into AirTag. Perhaps we’ll see this with AirTag 2…
Setup of AirTag couldn’t be easier! There’s only one thing you must be sure of before you start — that your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad is updated to the latest version of iOS or iPadOS (14.5.1 or later).
Once you’re sure of that, you remove a thin plastic wrapper from around the AirTag, then pull it to remove an internal wrapper piece that keeps the battery from being used during storage. A chirp alerts you to the fact that your AirTag is ready to go.
Next, you place the AirTag within 2 inches (5 cm) of the iPhone or iPad for NFC (Near Field Communication) setup. Immediately, the device shows that an AirTag is nearby. The next image shows the process as shown on the iPhone or iPad:
- Hold the AirTag near the iPhone or iPad until the window shown at the far left appears. It displays a slowly rotating AirTag. Tap Connect
- Select a default name, or choose to give the AirTag a custom name. Tap Continue
- If providing a custom name, type it in and tap Continue
- Select an emoji to represent this AirTag and tap Continue
- Tap Continue again to register the AirTag to your Apple ID.
Using AirTag with Find My App
So, you’ve misplaced your keys in the house somewhere. Launch the Find My app on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Mac, and you’ll notice a new tab. Previously, Find My only showed people (as in “Find My Friends”) or devices (“Find My iPhone, Mac, Apple Watch, etc…”). The new tab is labeled “Items” and displays any AirTagged item.
Tap the Items tab and you see a list of tagged items. If the items are nearby (like in a wallet in your pocket), the list shows that it is “With You.” A map shows the location of the tags as well:
Tap one of the listed items and a details window appears:
Tap the Play Sound button and the AirTag begins chirping so you can find the item if it’s hidden under a cushion or a cat has knocked it under a couch. Tap Find, and if the item is nearby but not exactly close, the following animated screen appears:
When you are using a recent device with Apple’s U1 Ultra Wideband chip and have Precise Location enables in Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Find My, you are guided to the item:
Tapping the speaker icon in the lower right of the window shown above sets off that chirp again so you can home in on the lost AirTag or item.
Other Devices Supported by the Find My App
Apple has licensed the AirTag technology to other companies. At this time (May 2021) there are three third-party devices supported by Find My:
The Big Test Is Yet To Come
I haven’t yet had a chance to do a true “field test”, meaning that I will hide an AirTag (probably in a plastic bag with a label on it) somewhere in our local greenbelt and see if people walking or riding nearby are able to pass the position to me via the Find My network. As soon as that test is complete, I’ll update this article and tell you how the test went!