No doubt you have heard about the chaos at the airports and the horror stories of lost luggage. Many travelers have turned to technology to help take some of the anxiety out of checking luggage and while I recommend only using carry-on during these unprecedented times, those who cannot avoid checking bags can use luggage trackers, electronic tracking devices.
A common question we hear is, “Are Apple AirTags good for tracking your luggage and do they work with Android phones?”
AirTags are the most widely known tracker that people use for their luggage, but AirTags only work with iPhones. Android users do have many alternatives, and in this article, I will review the Tile Mate which is compatible with both Android and iPhone.
How Luggage Trackers Work
Both of these devices use Bluetooth in order to report their location over short distances. While the theoretical range of Bluetooth is up to 300 feet (approximately 100 meters), in reality, you’re probably looking at a best case scenario of around 33 feet (10 meters). That’s still plenty of range if it’s lost somewhere around you, but what if you send that suitcase down a conveyor belt and into the great unknown? Well, that’s when things become really interesting or a bit terrifying depending on how you think about it.
The Tile Mate and the AirTag both use mobile phones connected to the internet that are within Bluetooth range to report their location to you when you are out of Bluetooth range to it.
For example, if you lose your AirTag, the AirTag will communicate with the first iPhone that comes into Bluetooth range and piggyback off its internet connection to let you know its location. Not unlike when you were young and asked someone to call your mom to let her know that you had gone over to your friend Ryder’s house after school instead of going home.
The Tile does the exact same thing, except that it’s limited to only passing those messages along via other registered Tile users.
Security concerns have popped up around these devices, but most have been when they were used by creepy people to track other people. So far none have arisen around the usage of these devices to track one's luggage. If anything, the stories for this usage have been largely positive in helping travelers find their lost or stolen luggage. The connections between the device and your phone are encrypted, so that adds a layer of security for users.
Neither device is very big, heavy, or bulky, the AirTag is just a bit larger than a quarter and the Tile is probably 50% larger than the AirTag. I’ve included Canadian and American dimes in the photo with the two devices at the top of this post for a size comparison.
My (Unscientific) Testing Methodology
I didn’t have a trip planned where I could throw my luggage trackers into some checked luggage, so I did the next best thing; I made myself the lost luggage! I turned off my Bluetooth, put my phone in Airplane Mode, and ran out of my condo as fast as I could with my AirTag and Tile Mate so that my phone would still think they were at my place.
Next, I had to find a good hiding spot where a passing iPhone or Tile user might come into Bluetooth range of my devices so that they, and I, could be found. To minimize the chance that I would be waiting forever for a Tile user to appear, I went to the busiest spot in Canada to conduct my test. For those who want to add it to your list of random Toronto facts, the intersection of Yonge and Dundas Streets is the busiest intersection in Canada and where I hoped would encounter at least one Tile user before sunset.
As expected, my phone located my AirTag immediately. Anyone who has an iPhone should definitely get an AirTag as the setup was really easy and quick with no additional software required. And, with so many iPhones around you won’t have to wait long for your AirTag to be located. The setup for the Tile took a bit longer as I had to download an app and complete the registration process, so set aside about 10 minutes for that before you need to use it.
The Tile Mate wasn’t immediately located and in part I’m glad it took longer as it proved that my experiment was working. With the AirTag popping up so quickly, I couldn’t be sure for a moment if I had accidentally turned on my Bluetooth. The Tile initially showed its location to be a few blocks away from me, and at first I thought that it might be a problem with accuracy. I then realized that it must have been that a Tile user picked it up during the walk to my destination, especially as the spot was easily out of Bluetooth range from my current location.
I passed the time by crossing the intersection enough times to concern and alarm anyone who was keeping track, but I wasn’t sure what to do with my time as I didn’t want to venture too far from the intersection and away from the maximum pedestrian traffic exposure.
It felt like hours, but it was only about 15 minutes until the Tile app finally discovered my true location. Not the hours I had feared it might take, but still slower than the AirTag by a good margin. However, for those on an Android, it’s a good alternative that should serve you well.
With both devices, you can also trigger an audible alarm if you are within Bluetooth range to help you locate them.
Alternatives to the AirTag and Tile Luggage Trackers
There are many alternatives for Android users beyond the Tile, but many of these only function when you are within Bluetooth range making them almost useless to track lost luggage. Those with the ability to piggyback off other phones, similar to what the AirTag and Tile do, are limited because they can only do that using their existing user base. I selected the Tile because it had the largest user base for Android compatible devices, but as I experienced in my test, even at the busiest intersection in Canada it wasn’t found immediately.
Whether you decide to get the AirTag or the Tile Mate, they will both work well in keeping track of your luggage. The Tile offers many add-on services that seem like a waste of money to me since I’m only looking to keep track of my luggage. I don’t need a complete history of every place that my Tile has been from now until the end of time. As you probably guessed, I did not buy any additional services. There are no additional paid services that are offered with the AirTag.
The cost and the size of the two are about the same, so those factors won’t likely sway you either way. The AirTag does look sleeker and cooler, but the Tile has a built-in hole making it easy to attach it to things like a keychain.
One major drawback of the Tile is that you cannot replace the battery, but they claim it has a battery life of two years. The AirTag battery is replaceable and uses a common watch battery. They sell a more expensive version of the Tile called the Tile Pro that offers a replaceable battery and greater Bluetooth range, but it costs up to 30% more. My advice would be to stick with the Tile Mate. Two years is an eternity in tech years, so you’ll probably want to upgrade to something else by that time anyway.
As I am writing this, I just confirmed a trip to Turkiye (formerly Turkey). I will put both trackers in my luggage and share the results in my posts about the trip, so stay tuned! While I will only be traveling with carry-on, this will be good insurance if I’m forced to check my luggage at any point, and for me to keep track of it when I’m out and about during the day. I will know that I need to return to my hotel should I see my suitcase go on a sightseeing adventure without me.