Tile review: Never lose your keys again – unless you lose your phone first

Price when reviewed

If you’re lucky and organised, you should never need Tile. The trouble is that you need a certain amount of forward planning to consider buying one speculatively. You could do with having one about five minutes before you realise you need it.

Tile review: Never lose your keys again – unless you lose your phone first

Tile is a small plastic tag, which can be attached to valuables, registered to your phone and then forgotten about. If you lose any of your Tile-tagged stuff, you can head to the Tile app, check where it was last seen and head there to look for it. If you’re in range, the device will tell you and you can then make it play a short musical number to find it, even when it’s out of sight – for example, lodged behind the Bermuda Triangle of the home, the sofa cushions.

What does Tile do?

That’s Tile in a nutshell, but how well does it work in practice?

The Tile is quite an unassuming looking device. I don’t know if you had to make a keyring in design and technology classes at school, but it looks similar to one – albeit considerably more proficient than the sorry-looking Derby County Ram I over-ambitiously tried to create, aged 12.

It’s a small white square, about 1.25in on each side, with rounded edges and a big hole in the top left for a keyring loop. It’s smooth, plastic, and as stylish as something so utilitarian could hope to be. Subtlety is important here, given part of its appeal is to track down thieves.

The Tile itself is deliberately lightweight: all it contains is a Bluetooth receiver and a battery – one that should last a year, according to the accompanying literature. It outsources the majority of the heavy lifting to your smartphone, borrowing the GPS with the (quite safe) assumption that you take your mobile phone with you everywhere. The phone checks in with the Tile every minute or so, and when it loses touch you’ll be able to see where the Tile was last seen.

That’s great if you’re worried you’ve dropped your keys somewhere, but less useful if you’ve stuck one to your car, and it’s not where you’ve parked it. This is where things get extra clever: the Tile leans not only on your smartphone, but on every other Tile user out there with “Community Find”. Simply say your Tile is lost, and the crowdsourced smartphone army gets to work, anonymously tracking the missing Tile.

Assuming a high distribution of Tile app users, then no matter how far away your car gets, it’s reasonable to hope you might get a notification popping up shortly with a sighting of your missing vehicle. Indeed, the company cites a case study where a Belgian Tiler used the Community Find function to locate his stolen VW bus in Amsterdam, seven days after the initial theft.

How well does it work?

Testing something that relies on you losing it presents a certain amount of difficulty, but in a handful of test cases, the Tile handled itself admirably.

First of all, the range is pretty solid. Leaving my keys on my desk and taking the handset for a walk took around 30 feet and two thick walls before the signal was lost, and the company claims in better conditions the Bluetooth should have a range of up to 100 feet.

Of course, knowing your Tile is nearby and knowing exactly where are two very different things, which is why you have the option to press “Find” in the app when in range, causing a cheery 90s-style ringtone to play piercingly from the Tile. At 90 decibels, to be precise, which is loud enough to be audible a few rooms away at home, even when obscured by some pretty chunky sofa cushions.

I can also report that the sound cuts through ambient London noise when “lost” outside as well. Impressive stuff, although the lost ringtone is maddeningly catchy.

What I wasn’t able to test cleanly was the Community Find function. Within the fairly streamlined app, each Tile in your possession has a custom label, and as soon as one is out of range, you can press the button to call in the entire community in the hunt for the misplaced Tile. I did this and an email popped up in my inbox as soon as I was back in range, so assuming a decent number of people buy into the ecosystem, it’s quite a clever way of crowdsourcing lost and found.

Problems and limitations

There are, however, a handful of limitations. First off, the compromises inherent in making Tile such a cheap and cheerful package. There’s no GPS within the Tile itself, which means you’re relying on having your phone in range for an accurate reading.

That’s fine for things such as your keys, which presumably live nearby your phone at all times, but your luggage will be last tagged the second you check-in at the airport. Community Find gets around this problem, in theory, but you’re relying on the Tile ecosystem taking off, and who knows where the plane with your missing luggage was heading?

That’s the price you pay for the battery life, which is estimated to be around a year. You can’t replace the battery yourself, but the company has a decent recycling program, where you’ll be sent a reminder to replace your Tile through the company’s ReTile programme, giving you a replacement at around half the price of a new one – including a pre-paid envelope to send your dead Tile back in. GPS would be handy, but would just kill the battery life, which is a problem in a product designed to be applied, then forgotten about.

More serious is the thorny issue of phone compatibility. Android handsets running Marshmallow (Android 6.0) are currently not supported. This is a Google problem, not a Tile one, and it should be fixed with Android 6.0.1, but with patchy release schedules, who knows when that will be?

The second is that certain phones – especially those with aggressive battery saving technology (I’m looking at you Sony) – will prevent the handset from talking to the Tile frequently enough to be useful by nixing Bluetooth connections when idle. That’s good for your phone’s battery, but bad for Tile if you find that the phone last spoke to it an hour before it was lost. You can get around this by tinkering with the settings, of course, but again it eats into the product’s “set and forget” appeal.

Tile: The verdict

Still, the fact that the issues I have with the Tile are down to third parties and practicalities, rather than the product itself, shows I’m nitpicking. Tile does everything it sets out to do, and with the help of the community, even more. At £20 per Tile, with discounts for buying more than one at a time, it’s a cheap and cheerful way to give yourself a little extra peace of mind. And some would call that priceless.

Further reading: Smart home technology – how to build the perfect high-tech home

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