Bluetooth trackers are nothing new; quite a few companies have created little devices that you can connect to keys, drop into wallets, or stick to remotes to help you find them when they've been misplaced. A while back I reviewed the first-generation TrackR device for TUAW, and at the time I found it was lacking in a few areas. Range was spotty, the built-in speaker was barely audible, and the app seemed flaky. TrackR Bravo ($29.99 for one, $89.99 for five, $119.99 for ten)-- the second generation of the device -- has been shipping for a while so I thought it was a good time to try it out.
As with the previous unit, the TrackR Bravo is about the same size and thickness as a US quarter coin. Inside the aluminum case is the electronic circuitry and a small replaceable battery, while on the outside is one small combination button/LED.
What really makes TrackR different than most of the rest of the devices on the market is that the company what it calls a "Crowd GPS Network" to help you find things that are out of Bluetooth range -- with Bluetooth 4 LE, that range is now about 100 feet. Leave your keys in a rental car in another city? Whenever someone else with the TrackR app gets near your TrackR, you get a message telling you exactly where it is -- without that other person knowing that they're helping you find it!
TrackR has some nice accessories for sale: a TrackR (or group of them) can be personalized with an engraved name, logo or saying, and there's also a waterproof sleeve that can be purchased.
I was initially quite dubious about the Crowd GPS Network, but TrackR now has about 1.5 million devices in the field and it's quite surprising to use the company's online system to see just how many are near your general location.
Setting up the TrackR Bravo is a piece of cake. Basically, you just install the app on your iPhone, click a button to add a TrackR, and then push a button on the device itself. It takes a second or two and then the device is ready to use.
Note that the first TrackR Bravo that I received for testing did not work; I used that as an opportunity to see how TrackR's support was, and I'm happy to say that the company had a new unit to me in a few days. My support request was answered in minutes, and I rate TrackR's support as excellent.
The search function seems to work better than before. You open the app, find the device you need to find, and then tap a small "alert" button. The speaker is louder than before, but you'll still need to be in the same room as the TrackR to hear it. The app also lets you know if you're getting closer or further away from the TrackR, helpful if you aren't sure what floor or side of the house it is on.
TrackR Bravo can also be set up to find your iPhone. Press the "pairing" button on the TrackR, and your phone promptly beeps, even if it is set up in silent mode. You can also set up proximity alerts; for example, if you leave your iPhone somewhere but have the TrackR in your pocket on your keychain, it will start to beep after it loses contact with the iPhone. Likewise, if you leave the house with your iPhone but leave the keychain at home accidentally, it plays a tune and displays a map of the last known location of the TrackR.
I actually had that loud iPhone finder tone go off in a meeting this morning -- apparently something was pushing against the button on the keychain in my pocket and it caused the iPhone to startle everyone. Perhaps the TrackR should be set up to require three pushes on the button or something similar to set off the iPhone alarm if it's this easy to set off false positives.
That last known location comes from several sources; where your iPhone last saw it, and where other iPhones running the TrackR app also located it. As mentioned in the design section above, there are millions of people -- particularly on the heavily populated Eastern seaboard -- who are running the app who will unknowingly pass along tracking information for your TrackR if they pass near it.
I have to admit that despite my previous misgivings about devices like the TrackR Bravo, it does work. In fact, it works better than any similar device I've tested. It's still not perfect, but the growing ability of other users to be able to help you find your lost items through the TrackR Crowd GPS Network is pretty incredible. With volume pricing as low as $12 per unit and TrackR offering a free Bravo to users who refer friends to the device who then purchase one, that network of users is getting bigger every day.