Tile is one of the early names in the Bluetooth-enabled tracking space. Their Kickstarter campaign in 2013 raised a cool $2.6 million smackeroos and yours truly backed 8 units at the time. Since then the team has not sat back on their laurels, but have continuously refined and improve on their offerings. They have been kind enough to send through the new Tile Sticker and Tile Mate 2020 for review.
Let’s start with the more “pedestrian” product, the Tile Mate 2020 edition. This is the latest iteration of where it all started which first shipped in 2015. A trip down memory lane has the Tile Original measuring at 37 by 37 by 5.3mm, a volume of 33-90 decibels, IP57 water resistant rating, Bluetooth 4.0 and a range up to 30m. The battery was non-replaceable but rated for one year of life.
The Tile Mate 2020 Edition is the 5th rotation around the sun, and with every iteration there has been changes and improvements. The Tile Mate 2020 has trimmed down a smidgen to 35 by 35mm, but thickened to 6.2mm. It still have the same one year battery life, but now has a replaceable CR1632 battery. You can also roam up to 60m away from the Tile Mate, and it has IP55 rating meaning it can withstand splashes or a quick dunk in water.
The most exciting news is the launch of the Tile Sticker, the smallest edition of Tile trackers to date. It measures in at 27 x 7.3mm round dot, with a self adhesive backing designed in conjunction with 3M. It packs a non-replaceable battery but is rated for a staggering 3 years. Because of the non-replaceable battery, it boasts an IPX7 rating – meaning it can be submerged in up to 1m of water for 30 minutes. The Tile Sticker has a range of up to 45m. Contrary to the branding, the Tile Sticker is more like a thick button rather than what a sticker implies.
A brief refresher for the masses. On its own, a Tile is a totally useless chunk of electronics and plastic. It works via Bluetooth and an app on your phone, or more specifically, it works via Bluetooth and the Tile app on any phone. The idea is that if your own phone is out of range of your Tiles, then any phone in proximity of your Tiles with the app running in the background can locate it for you in real time. This does not mean any random person can locate your property, it just means their phone can pass on the information of a device it detects nearby.
Very little has changed in terms of the design of the Tile Mates from the previous year. The front is all white with the silver Tile logo in the center – one button to rule them all. Functionality wise, it also seems to have remained roughly on par with the previous year. The advertised range is up to 60m. No doubt if I am testing it in an anechoic chamber (or in the delusional world my local council seems to live in – that’s a totally different story to be told over whisky), I could probably get close to the advertised range. The reality is that in a densely populated city, saturated with other signals, atmospheric conditions, people and bodies of water are all factors which will affect that quoted range.
I have no complains about the Tile Mate alarm. The company does not seem to publish decibel measurements anymore, but everything indicates it is well north of the 88 decibels on the previous model. I can certainly hear it ringing from under a pile of debris rubbish stunning and numerous sculptures in our tween’s bedroom. It is certainly a good thing for him that we limit technology in his room during the sleep period, because the evil part of me would totally stick one under his bed frame and use it as an alarm on school mornings.
As mentioned previously, the Tile Mate has a replaceable battery. Flipping the Tile over shows a door which required a fairly significant blunt force to open. It would appear that the compartment door is the prize winner in a spray on jeans contest, it is that tight a fit.
To the main event, the Tile Sticker announcement was what got me all excited and scared at the same time. Up to now, we have only have the keychain type or the card sized Slim. Both are not exactly small and when you attach it to a TV remote control, a camera or headphones for example, it is an eyesore. The Tile Sticker changes the game, compared to the CR1632 battery that drives it for three years, it is only 70% larger and about double the thickness. It is water resistant (IPX7), and has an adhesive designed to bond to most metal and plastic surfaces. The blurb says when it is placed on a clean flat surface, the adhesive bond should last between three to five years.
Unlike the rest of the Tile product line, the Tile Sticker has it’s speaker on the front of the unit. Logical when you consider the back is fully adhered to another surface. The three speaker holes are cleverly incorporated into the “l” in the Tile logo.
The size of the Tile Sticker covers a market that the previous products struggled to cater for. The adhesive is rock solid with no movement and it takes quite a determined effort to prise it off. It really feels like you are about to rip your treasured gadget apart, but eventually the adhesive will give leaving behind a small residue. With a bit of forward planning, you could incorporate the location of the Tile Sticker as part of a larger design. For example our tween Master J requires a BYOD notebook next year, we will work the Sticker into the design of his Naruto decal.
With the much reduced footprint, I could think of a million places that I could secret a Tile Sticker – and that is the keyword. Although the Tile Sticker is more akin to a button, it would be quite a bit harder to find an errant one placed somewhere compared to a Mate or a Pro. Unfortunately (or fortunately), my mindset is not paranoia but is driven by real world experiences.
Common to all Tile products (except the Tile Original) is the two-way find feature. You can use the app on your phone to find your Tile, or you can use your Tile to find your phone.
In an open field and taking into account my hearing which is no longer at my youthful prime, the distance before you lose contact with the Tile exceeds the distance I could still hear the Tile alarm. This has certainly been the case with all the previous revisions I have used.
Tile Premium is a subscription service launch around October 2018, and provides for six features not available to a standard user: Smart Alerts (beta), 30-day location history, battery replacement, unlimited sharing, extended warranty and premium customer care. Looking at this feature set, the newer generations of Tile products are limited to sharing with one other person. Battery replacement service is handy. The 30-day location history can be useful. Smart Alerts is probably the most useful of all – the latest version of it will proactively send out alerts to assist our occasional lapses of memory, such as going grocery shopping with your wallet and key, and leaving your keys behind.
Having the Tile app installed on your smartphone also turns it into a trackable device. The phone comes up as a pseudo Tile, the location of which can also be shared with another person. It is handy as our tween has a mobile, we simply create a Tile account for him and share his device back with us.
Tiles is now integrated with Google Assistant and Alexa. For me I have linked my account in the Google Home app, and can simply say “Hey Google, where is my car keys, or “Hey Google, ring KC’s Man Bag.”
Public Service Announcement
Tiles are real time GPS tracking devices, they rely on Bluetooth and crowdsourcing for real-time location tracking. As is with any invention, someone will find a way to use it nefariously. If your intent is to track an object that you do not own, or do not have legal right to grant permission to tracking, then you best read up on the surveillance and stalking laws applicable to where you are.
Here in Victoria Australia, the Surveillance Devices Act 1999 (Vic) Part 2 Section 8, clearly regulates the use of location tracking devices such as a GPS. Express or implied consent is required to install, use or maintain a tracking device to determine the location of a person. This extends to tracking devices on vehicles – they can only be installed with the agreement of the person in control of the vehicle. The penalty for an individual is a fine and/or 2 years imprisonment.
In my case, it was a point of law I read up on after discovering that my partner and I were the victims of covert surveillance.
There is very little to complain about with Tile units. Everything could be a bit better – louder, faster connections, better range, etc. But keeping in mind the size of the device, the size of the battery driving the unit, there are physical limitations to just how much performance one can squeeze out of it.
One thing that has always bugged me though, is the reTile program. Historically I have always purchased Tiles which are then activated via different accounts in the family. When the reTile program kicked in, I am limited to replacing the number of units I have under my direct account. That means if I just follow the process, I cannot take advantage of the pricing of a bigger bundle and save on shipping. That said though, by contacting Tile customer service and providing details of the other accounts in the family, they are happy to generate a reTile link which offers the reTile savings across all the units in the family.
I was one of the backers of the Tile Original, and have stayed using it pretty much ever since. There are plenty of options out there now, and it seems even Apple is making a play in this space. Personally I did briefly stray to a competitor product and came crawling back hat in hand. The Tile product has been a robust solution for my needs. Previously with the sealed units, the reTile program offers a 40% savings when you need to refresh them. With the battery replaceable units, it does bring down the overall running cost.
The Tile Mate 2020 is available in a single unit (USD$19.99) or a pack of 4 (USD$69.99) or 8 (USD$189.91). The new Tile Sticker comes in a pack of 2 minimum (USD$39.99), 4 pack (USD$79.98), 8 pack (USD$189.85). There are seasonal specials on right now with savings of around 25% on their website. Locally in Australia you can find them in Apple stores, JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman.
In addition to the basic app, Tile offers an optional service called Tile Premium for their devices. For USD$3 a month, or USD$30 annually, you get the 6 extra features covered off above. Whether you need it or not is a decision for you to make. Personally with how I manage my Tiles and account, the only feature that I might feasibly use is the Smart Alert. YMMV.
There are endless use cases for the Tile range, particularly with the Tile Sticker where it can either be reasonably well hidden or small enough to not get in the way. If you are on the fence about it, then take advantage of the holiday season to get a not insignificant discount and share it with friends and family. DigitalReviews would like to thank Tile for providing the review samples.