IF LIKE ME you put things down and then forget where they are a few hours later, you may want to check out The Tile. It’s a Bluetooth widget that can attach to things and with a smartphone will help you find these lost items.
The Tile idea isn’t anything new. It was one of the first big crowdfunding successes back in 2013. The Tile crowd managed to rake in US$2.5 million from people who just wanted to find where they’d put those damn keys and glasses.
But it’s no small issue. Believe it or not, most of us will spend around 153 days during our lifetime looking for lost items. Me, I’m already at double that.
Look And Feel
The Tile seems larger than I’d imagined. While it isn’t huge, it is about the same width as the remote thingymabob you use to unlock your car. It is thicker than two credit cards stacked atop of each other. Looks-wise there isn’t much to write home about.
In a nod to Apple, its square body has rounded corners. Its grey and white body sports a small metallic button in its centre that displays the Tile logo. It’s minimal, simple and effective.
Bells And Whistles
The unit I got sent to review is the second-generation version. It has had a few tweaks added for good measure. Its speaker (which will belt out a tinny tune like something out of a 1980s video arcade) will help you locate your gadgets when it is within Bluetooth range.
Another nifty improvement lets you use The Tile to find your phone. This has already proven handy beyond measure.
The not-so secret sauce of The Tile is its mobile app. It supports both Android (version 4.4 or later) and IOS. The app is free from the Apple App Store and Google Play. It guides you through a seamless and simple setup process, which is all but idiot-proof. Setup involves pairing The Tile with your phone. The app prompts you in a helpful step- by-step manner, complete with brief videos. Pressing the metal button saw The Tile play a brief tune so you know it’s pairing. The app then asks you to place The Tile next to your phone and voila, sorted.
Tracking down a lost object (such as my vanishing keyring) with The Tile is pretty straightforward. Starting at its last known location (the hallway) I fired up The Tile’s app. Given the approximate range of Bluetooth 4.0 (about 45 metres), I was able to connect to my keys.
If the lost item isn’t within Bluetooth range, the app displays ‘out of range’. Because I was within range, a green ‘Find’ button appeared. Hitting this caused the tinny video arcade tune to play. This made tracking the keys down (in the pocket of a jacket I’d hung in the hallway) effortless. My home is a quiet spot. If it’d been in a noisy café or street, things may have been somewhat trickier.
Another nifty feature I discovered by accident was that I can tap The Tile’s icon inside the green circle on the app. This displays a gauge which based on Bluetooth signal strength can show how close your lost doodad is. As useful as this is, it doesn’t tell you the direction you need to move in. That said, I got there by trial and error – or by hitting the find button and listening for the tinny tune.
House keys aside, another often lost item is my phone. Here’s where the second gen Tile shines. Hitting the metal button on The Tile sees my phone playing a ringtone if its within Bluetooth range. It’s easy, convenient and works well in practice.
The Tile isn’t the size of a brick because Bluetooth 4 is battery friendly. That does entail a trade-off. Because the range of Bluetooth is usually around 45 metres, this limits the usefulness of The Tile as a standalone means of tracking lost goods that are out of range.
This wasn’t overlooked by the folks at The Tile. They’ve created a peer-to-peer tracking system called Community Find. The Tile app can anonymously log the location of any other Tiles it detects. Other Tile users can have the location of their lost thingamajibs relayed to them through their app. As clever as this is, it isn’t a perfect solution. You need to have lots of other Tile users wandering around for this to work. In New Zealand, this isn’t at all likely.
The Tile is also waterproof. If you lose your stuff with a Tile attached and it’s exposed to the elements The Tile should continue to function. However, this involves a trade-off in the form of a non-replaceable battery. There are many things I like about The Tile – but this isn’t one of them. Even though the battery will last a year with moderate use, The Tile will eventually end up in landfill as e-waste.
There’s a lot to like with The Tile. Anything that helps me locate misplaced gear has to be a winner. That it is small, lightweight and well-designed definitely earns it brownie points too. That said, the non-removable battery means having to buy a new Tile every year. The big thing though is that the app is polished and The Tile is an all-too-rare instance of tech that is actually useful rather than gimmicky. PAT PILCHER