(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 and now offers four different models to suit different applications, a clever app that means you can also find your phone in return - and a network that can find lost items via other Tile users, completely securely.
If you're always losing things, then there's a good chance that Tile has something that will help.
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 range and the batteries, with slightly 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 2019 version (we've given details for the older devices in brackets). There are also Tile Sport and Tile Style, but they are no longer sold.
Tile Mate has a range of 60 metres, features a changeable battery that will give you 1 year of life. (Previous version: range 45 metres.)
Tile Pro is slimmer than the Mate, offering a longer range of 122 metres, but also has a changeable battery that will last for 1 year. (Previous version: range 90 metres.)
Tile Sticker is designed to be stuck via the 3M 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 45 metres.
Tile Slim is a credit card shape and exceptionally thin, so you can slip it into a wallet or luggage tag. Like the Sticker, it's a single-use Tile so you can't change the battery, but the internal battery will last you for 3 years. It has a range of 60 metres. (Previous version: range 30m, different shape.)
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.
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 26 million Tiles out there, and 6 million location requests a day (2019 figures). Open up the app on your phone and it will report how many Tile users there are in your immediate vicinity - for us it's over 2000 users in the immediate area.
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, you can connect to that device and ring the alarm so you can locate your device.
Being able to see the last connected location on a map is great because you can return to that location and if your phone then connects to that Tile, you can simply sound the alarm and find what you lost.
Of course, this all depends on someone not finding your device and removing your Tile - and it depends on there being a community of users. If you live somewhere really remote, that might not be the case.
The other thing you need to consider is how the Tile app runs on devices. If the permissions block access in the background - perhaps to save battery - that might mean that Tile never detects anything until the app is actually opened. Some devices are more aggressive with killing background activity, so this is certainly something to watch out for.
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. At the time of writing it was in beta and we found it to be a little inconsistent. On one occasion we were about 5 minutes from home when we got a notification that we'd left something behind - on another occasion we were a 20 minute drive away, which is less than useful.
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 contacts (so someone else can locate your keys, for example).
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's starting 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.
While this is a seemingly small step, it's an important part of the expansion of the Tile universe and if it encourages more people to use Tile, then it's better for the whole community.
Which Tile is best?
It's easy to levitate towards the Tile Pro: we've found ourselves using the first-gen model for some time because it offers great range and the ease of changing the battery when it runs out - a standard CR 2032. It's also pretty solid, although we have, on occasion, pressed the button by mistake and found our phone sounding an alarm as it happily alerts you to its location, when it's where it should be: in your pocket.
Tile Mate is the most affordable of the options, while still offering decent range and a changeable battery, so if you're just after a single Tile then it might be the easiest approach to the system.
The Tile Sticker brings a new dimension to things. It's 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.
Tile Slim rounds out the package and is great for the wallet, with this new shape now much more useful than the older square version.
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.
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. If there are no Tile users in the area that you've left something, then if it moves from that spot on the map, so you'll have no idea where it is.
Rumours that Apple could enter the market could also be a huge disruptor for Tile. If Apple turns every iPhone into a detector it will likely mean that an Apple Tag would never be out of range, giving Apple an advantage when it comes to finding lost items. Samsung has also recently entered this market with the Galaxy SmartTag, again, with the potential to use every Galaxy phone as a locator, not just those who use Samsung's Bluetooth tracker.
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. With more types of Tile device like Sticker, there are now more ways to keep track of your stuff.
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.