This week on Wearables Wednesday I'm doing a review of the second iteration of a tracking device that works with an iOS (and Android) app to help you find lost items. Back in the TUAW days, I reviewed the first version of TrackR; now TrackR bravo is available for pre-order (US$29.99). I had an opportunity to test a pre-release version of TrackR bravo, and I still have some reservations about this entire class of “wearable”… Read on for details.
- Diameter: 31mm
- Thickness: 3.5mm
- Battery Life: 1 year
- Battery Type: Replaceable CR1616 Battery
- Device Ringer Volume: 85dB
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0 (Bluetooth Low Energy)
- Device Compatibility: iPhone 4s & Later, iPad 3rd Generation & Later
The idea behind TrackR bravo and similar Bluetooth trackers is that you connect them to something you don't want to lose -- a jacket, keys, a purse, a laptop case, a wallet, etc... -- and pair the tracking device with an iPhone app. Lose the item, and you can fire up the app to “ping” the tracker, which will respond by making a sound.
If that doesn’t work, the app displays a map showing the last known location of the tracker and whether you’re within about 100 feet of it or not. You can also use a tiny button on the TrackR bravo to ping your iPhone if you’ve misplaced it; this is extremely useful if you have the volume turned up on your phone as it works even when you have the ringer muted.
TrackR had the idea of what they call Crowd GPS. The idea is that if enough people own TrackRs and have the TrackR app on their iPhones, then anytime someone else walks past a tagged item, the app can pass along the location of that tag to its owner.
The TrackR bravo is certainly thin, and at 3.5mm it could easily fit into a wallet. TrackR even sells a tiny waterproof attachment that will let you clip the TrackR onto a pet collar, and another that keeps the TrackR bravo waterproof for humans who engage in water sports.
TrackR bravo works quite well within the confines of a home or office. However, there are some limitations you should be aware of.
First, the beeper on the device allegedly emits an extremely rising tone at 85db. I could barely hear the beeper even when it was right near me, so I used an app (dB Meter Pro) to check the level. It maxed out at about 69dB, which is considered to be about the level of “normal street noise, an average radio, or conversation between 3 - 5 feet”. Chances are pretty good that you’re not going to be able to hear the beeper if it’s stuck under a pillow on a couch…
Next, realize that the 100-foot range is a maximum theoretical distance. I found that in some cases, I could be as close as 20 feet and still not have a connection due to interfering light fixtures, wiring, and ductwork. There’s also no directional capability, meaning that when you do get a connection to the TrackR bravo from the app, you don’t know in what direction to walk to get to the TrackR. You’ll still have to wander around, pinging the TrackR and hoping you’ll be able to hear it.
Finally, while the idea of Crowd GPS is attractive, the reality is a little less glowing. The TrackR website shows a “heat map” of the United States displaying everywhere that your device is likely to be tracked by other TrackR users. However, even though the map at the national level showed that most of the Colorado Front Range and mountain areas were “in the zone”, zooming in on a city level shows just how few TrackR users are around. Chances are slim that someone with the TrackR app just might happen to wander by your lost keys or jacket.
I love the idea of trackers and trackable items, as I’m forever losing sunglasses and frequently leaving my jackets behind at restaurants. But the limitations of TrackR Bravo and other similar devices still leave me wanting a better solution. I give the TrackR team kudos for having improved the product since the first TrackR was available, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.