Can a Tile Help You Find Lost Items? (by Steve Sheridan)

four tiles in the box with instructionsHi Allison, this is Steve back with a product review. The gadget I am reviewing today is the Tile and its associated iOS application, appropriately called TheTileApp.

Let’s start with the problem to be solved. Nearly everyone I know has either lost or misplaced a personal item at some point in their lives. For some of us *raises hand sheepishly* this problem occurs frequently. This is a common problem that is really begging for a solution.

Tile started as a Kickstarter project back in 2013 to specifically address this problem. I contributed to the Kickstarter project two months ago, back in late September and I just received my package of four Tile devices. The Kickstarter project was quite successful and the Tile is now available to purchase at their website www.thetileapp.com at a cost of $25 for one Tile, $70 for four, or $80 for eight Tiles.


Let’s move to a description of the device itself. The Tile is a white plastic square device with rounded corners. It has about a 1/2” hole in one of the corners to hook the Tile onto a keyring or some other loop you might want to use. It measures 37 x 37mm square and 5.3mm thick, that’s just under 1.5 x 1.5 in. square and just over 0.2 in. thick. The Tile is lightweight at 8 grams which is about three-tenths of an ounce. Although it’s lightweight, it feels durable and has a minimalistic, Apple-like design. The device is water resistant but not waterproof, so it will handle a spilled drink or a rainy day but not submerged operation. The Tile is equipped with a non-replaceable battery that lasts about a year. The Tile team will send you a reminder when the device is nearing the end of its battery life. At that point you’ll be offered the chance to order a new Tile. If you do, the company will send you an envelope to return your old Tiles for recycling. Effectively you rent the Tile with a yearly charge to get a new one. Tile has been getting some negative feedback for their non-replaceable battery approach.

Steve holding one Tile between his fingersThe set-up and operation of the Tile is very straightforward and requires use of TheTileApp running on your iOS device. TheTileApp is free on the iOS App Store. The Tile is compatible with the following Apple devices and later models: iPhone 4S, 3rd gen iPad, iPad mini and 5th gen iPod Touch. Although TheTileApp works on several iOS devices I will be referring to an “iPhone” as the primary device from this point on. TheTileApp is currently only available on iOS but the Tile team reports it is coming to Android “soon” starting with the Samsung Galaxy S5.

Once you’ve downloaded and installed TheTileApp, you first activate the Tile by pressing down the “e” on the device to begin pairing it with your iPhone. TheTileApp supports up to 8 Tiles and you can modify the name and assign a photo to each paired Tile.

The Tile does not use GPS to locate itself since this would use too much power for its tiny battery and drive up the cost, weight and size of the device. Instead the Tile uses BlueTooth 4.0 (BlueTooth LE) paired to your iPhone to signal its location. Once you’ve paired the Tile with your iPhone, the app automatically and continually records your Tile’s location relative to your iPhone’s location when you are running TheTileApp.

A Tile attached to Steve's keyringIf you’ve lost or misplaced your personal item attached to a Tile, you go into the app, select the device that is lost and hit the Find button. If your iPhone is out of range from your lost Tile (greater than about 100 – 150 ft), the app will show you where it last detected the Tile on a map and give you an option to report the Tile as lost (more on that later). This is the probably the logical location to start looking for your lost item and begin fanning out from there if you think it is still fairly close. If your iPhone is within range of your lost Tile, the app will do two things: First your iPhone will lock onto the BlueTooth signal emitted by the Tile and show you it has done so. Secondly the app will cause your Tile to start emitting a catchy little tune to help you locate the device.

If you’re too far away to hear the tune, the app helps guide you to your lost item by estimating the distance to the Tile. It does this by using the strength of the BlueTooth signal it receives and it gives you a rough indication of the distance to the device, kind of like a “you’re getting warmer” signal as you get closer to the device. When you get to within arm’s reach of the Tile, the app will indicate so. At that point you should be close enough to actually see and/or hear your lost Tile.

One of the coolest features of the Tile and its app is the crowdsourcing method for finding lost devices. As I mentioned previously, if your lost Tile is outside of BlueTooth range of your iPhone, you can designate your Tile as Lost in the app. This causes all other iPhones running TheTileApp to start “searching” for your lost Tile. If any other iPhone detects your lost Tile, a message is sent to your iPhone alerting you to its location. This is a feature that will clearly gain value as more Tile users come on line. For those worried about security and privacy, the Tile team states that the location of the lost Tile by another iPhone is done anonymously so that other people don’t gain access to your location and vice versa.

Ok, let’s summarize the Tile’s Pros and Cons:

Pros

* The Tile solves the common problem of locating lost items with a simple and elegant solution.

* The Tile is small, rugged and relatively inexpensive

* TheTileApp is well designed and easy to use.

Cons

* Although small, the Tile is a bit too thick to slip into a wallet without making a considerable bulge (I like slim wallets)

* Due to its non-removable battery, the Tile costs more than it first appears, with a recurring charge and some inconvenience in having to order replacements every year.

* Until the user base grows, the Tile won’t help you locate a device that is misplaced at a distance greater than about 100 ft from where you might start looking for it.

My overall assessment is that the Tile is a very good solution to a problem that I and many others have … and for me, it is worth the price they are charging. I hope others jump onto the Tile bandwagon soon so that the crowdsourcing method of finding lost Tiles becomes useful.

That’s it for now Allison … oh, and you can be sure that I will stay subscribed.

2 thoughts on “Can a Tile Help You Find Lost Items? (by Steve Sheridan)

  1. […] Can a Tile Help You Find Lost Items? […]

  2. Tyson - November 23, 2014

    I got a different device called tracker that has a replaceable battery. Their device fits into my wallet as well. They are at http://www.thetrackr.com

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