What’s the best Bluetooth tracker for Android?

Arriving in Spring 2021, Apple’s beautiful AirTags shook the Bluetooth tracker market in a way that only Apple can, by combining great design with large market share to create an almost irresistible product. When every iPad and iPhone is looking out for your AirTag, it’s a fantastic proposition.

For those of us Android users on the other side of the mobile fence, it’s a different situation. Samsung is probably the only OEM which could mount a viable challenge to Apple: it’s top dog worldwide, though Xiaomi and OPPO are snapping at its heels. Both Samsung and Xiaomi do have Bluetooth trackers in their portfolio but I’ve only ever seen the Samsung SmartTags.

The Bluetooth tracker marker is a tough one. I was a big fan of TrackR for years but they shut up shop in 2021. Those with long memories will recall that they were one of the first big Indiegogo successes and were feted at CES back in 2015, though they’d been in operation for longer. I reviewed the Mynt Tracker in 2017: a stylish Red dot-winning product but it too has gone. I would imagine Tile is the longest lasting of these companies, starting out in 2012 and still going, though it’s recently been taken over by Life360. Chipolo is only slightly younger than Tile, going back to 2013.

So today I’m looking at Bluetooth trackers from Tile, Chipolo and Samsung from the perspective of an Android owner. What’s the best for returning my gear when it’s been misplaced? Let’s take a look at each in turn.

Tile has the widest range of the three suppliers on review here with four different trackers. Sticker (£25), for sticking to things such as a laptop or remote control; Slim (£21), for keeping in wallet; Mate (£20) for attaching to key rings or bags and Pro (£30) for long-range tracking. Disappointingly, only the Pro has user-replaceable battery: that’s not the way to go in this age of reducing electronic waste and I can’t find anything about recycling on their website. The previous generation of Mates did have a replaceable battery and that’s the one on test here. Plus points go to Tile for producing plenty of special editions throughout the year in different colours.

Chipolo has four trackers in its product line up, though really they’re variants of only two models, a wallet card and a round tag. Chipolo’s Spot range is designed to work with Apple’s Find My feature and the non-Spot variants of the Chipolo ONE (£22) and Chipolo CARD (£30) work with the Chipolo app, which available for both Android and iOS. Confused? As we’re only talking about Android we don’t have to worry. The Chipolo ONE comes in plenty of colours and has a user replaceable battery. The CARD battery can’t be swapped out but recycling through Chipolo entitles you to replacement at half price.

Samsung has two trackers in the range, the SmartTag and the SmartTag+. The former is your basic Bluetooth tracker whereas the latter is equipped with UWB (ultrawide band) which allows an augmented reality app to direct you straight to the missing tag. A SmartTag costs around £25 but the plus ones are closer to £40, though discounts are available for packs of two or four.  Samsung doesn’t have a card-style tracker for wallets but points in the SmartTags favour are a range of colours and replaceable batteries.

Samsung’s SmartTags integrate with SmartThings and appear as a device with the smart home system. However, this brings me to their biggest failing. The SmartTags only work with Samsung phones and tablets. If you are sporting anything else, you’ll get a message saying, “SmartTag is only supported on Galaxy devices running Android 8 or higher.” If you are fully invested with Samsung and live where Samsung is popular, these could well be the trackers for you. For anyone with an Apple, OnePlus, Motorola, OPPO or Xiaomi phone these are totally useless. I think this is a big fail from Samsung as I would otherwise be keen personally due to the integration with SmartThings.

However, if you are in the Samsung world, this devices do appear to work well and as will be seen from Test 3 there are enough Samsung phones out there to make tracking lost items a real possibility.

The Tests
I conducted three tests with all three trackers to see how they each perform. Test 1 was a simple loudness test to check the tracker would be heard from down the back of the sofa. All three passed this test with flying colours and no real discernible difference between trackers.

Test 2 was a simple range test: how far away could the tracker be before it lost touch with the phone (or in this case a Samsung Galaxy Tab S6) in free air. Each tracker’s “Find my phone” feature was used to ensure a working connection and I didn’t simply rely on what the app said: the tracker had to be able to ring the tablet.

First place goes to both the Samsung SmartTag and the Tile Mate. Both managed to maintain a connection at 100 m (at which point I ran out of road). Bring up the rear was the Chipolo One. It lost connection at around 50 m which was disappointing as the specs say 60 m.

Test 3 involved putting the tracker into the postal system to see whether a lost tracker was ever picked up by someone else. I wasn’t terribly confident that this test was going to work at all but happily I was proved wrong. Each tracker was put in a padded envelope and dropped in a post box outside of a popular shopping centre. They went in the post box late on Saturday knowing that they wouldn’t get collected until Monday, maximising the chances of the signals being detected by strangers.

The expected path of the trackers in the postal system should have been:

  1. Post box
  2. Collection depot
  3. Sorting office
  4. Delivery hub
  5. Home

The Chipolo One performed the worst. It was only detected by myself in the post box and when it finally arrived home. It was not detected at any time within the postal system. Obviously there aren’t any other Chipolo users in the area.

The Samsung SmartTag easily performed the best. It was detected quickly in every location and sometimes while on the road between the sites. This undoubtedly reflects the large number of Samsung phone users out and about – there’s easily as many Samsung users as Apple users here in Northern Ireland.

The Tile Mate came somewhere in the middle. The Mate was detected in every location but always after the Samsung was picked up and fewer times. It was never detected between the main locations. Frankly, I was surprised at the outcome given that Tile isn’t a phone manufacturer and has to rely on Tile users, not phone owners.

A commanding win by Samsung with a good show by Tile.

To bring the test to a close, here are my recommendations.

  • Forget Chipolo. The range was the shortest and it was never once picked up while in the postal system. There’s not a critical mass of users to make it effective.
  • If you are in the Samsung ecosystem, go with the SmartTags – it’s a no brainer. Range was excellent and the SmartTag was picked up by Samsung Galaxy devices on multiple occasions during its trip through the post. The Tag was detected in at all the locations plus a few times between locations. It’s a real shame that Samsung doesn’t allow its use with other vendors’ phones.
  • Tile is a worthy contender. The range was as good as the SmartTag and the Mate was detected in two locations by others. If you aren’t into Apple or Samsung, this is the one for you but there’s that pesky £30 subscription cost for features that others offer for free. And don’t forget the current Tile Mates don’t have replaceable batteries, so that’s another big cost every few years.

With hindsight, the postal test was going to be an easy win for Samsung. There are loads of people with Samsung phones and my guess is that the tracking features are built-in to the phones – someone doesn’t have to own a SmartTag to contribute to the search effort, they only need a Samsung Galaxy S-whatever and pass by.

In contrast, only people who have Tile trackers will have the Tile software installed, which makes it even more surprising that the Mate was found as often as it was. If you are thinking of going with Tile, the big downside is that Tile charges a subscription fee of nearly £30 to get the most of out of the trackers and the current Tile Mates don’t have user replaceable batteries.

Personally, I’m disappointed with Samsung too. I’m bought into the SmartThings ecosystem and the SmartTags fit into it nicely but I can’t use the Tags with my OnePlus 9 phone which makes them pointless for everyday tracking. It’s actually doubly bad in that I can’t even see the current location of the Tag in SmartThings even when it’s being detected by a different device. You just get a final “SmartTag is only supported on Galaxy devices running Android 8 or higher.” Come on Samsung, do they right thing and setup SmartTags on other phones.

That’s it. Samsung SmartTags competes well with Apple AirTags, and Tile’s available for everyone else.