Everyone has at one point or another lost something. Nothing quite matches that frantic feeling of scouring through your couch, nightstand, or car for something that was there just a moment ago. What if you could find your lost stuff easily and precisely with your smartphone? An entire industry has sprung into action for this very scenario and several device makers, including Tile and Samsung, have created smart tags for help locating things. Apple’s AirTags are the latest entry in this category and may just be the best. Find out if they beat the competition in the Android Authority Apple AirTag review.
What you need to know about the Apple AirTag
- Apple AirTag (1-pack): $29/£29/€29
- Apple AirTag (4-pack): $99/£99/€99
Apple AirTags join similar trackers in the market, including Tile tags and Samsung Galaxy SmartTags. The idea is simple: attach the tag to something you often lose and find it easily through an app on your phone. The catch is that AirTags only work with iPhones.
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AirTags are available in packs of one or four. The single tag costs $29 and the four-pack costs $99. The only color option is white with a silver backing. If you order directly from Apple, you can have the tags personalized via engraving. Third-party retailers such as Amazon and Best Buy don’t offer tag engraving. Of course, Apple also sells myriad accessories (think keychains) to otherwise personalize AirTags.
Just how easy are AirTags to use, and what about privacy? We answer these questions and more in our Apple AirTag review.
How’s the design?
Each Apple AirTag is about the size of three 50 cent pieces (32mm) stacked together. It’s smoother, of course, and sort of resembles a miniature flying saucer. It is made from hard white plastic on one side and chrome-like metal on the other side. The design is simple and elegant.
I’d call the materials and build quality solid. The tags are water-resistant (IP67), so they can be dropped in a puddle or otherwise splashed and not lose effectiveness. Replacing the inexpensive and easy-to-find CR2032 battery — which is rated to last a whole year — is as simple as rotating the chrome cap counter-clockwise to loosen the cover.
The AirTag design is simple and elegant, but there's one major flaw.
There’s one major design flaw, however: there’s no way to attach the tags to anything directly without an additional accessory.
There’s no support for a keyring on the Apple AirTag, which means you have to use one of Apple’s pricey, optional keyring holders (which start at $29 and range to an eye-watering $449 for the Hermès range) to attach the tag to anything. This is a pure money grab from a company that already has more money than God. Thankfully, Belkin has a couple of its own tag holders priced around $13. You’ll likely be able to find other tag holders from third-party companies at reasonable prices. But still, you don’t make a thing to find other things and then not make it possible to attach it to those things. C’mon, Apple.
How do AirTags work?
Apple AirTags could not be easier to use. In fact, they might be too easy to use. Wake your iPhone, bring the tag near the iPhone, tap a couple of permissions buttons, and bingo they are instantly paired. It takes mere seconds to get AirTags up and running on your iPhone. Attach the tag to whatever you want to track, and you’re all set.
Location tracking is ridiculously precise. AirTags rely on multiple technologies to work. There’s Bluetooth, ultra-wideband, and Apple’s Find My network, which is created by the more-than-one-billion iOS devices out in the world.
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When you’re in your house, it’s the first two that allow for precision tracking. Using the Find My app, you can initiate a search for a lost item and it will emit an audible chirp. The chirp is loud enough (60db) to hear in a quiet house, but you might miss it if the TV is on. Simply follow the sound to your item. I was able to find an AirTag hidden in various places around my home in just moments. I like that it works with Siri on your phone, Watch, iPad, or HomePod. Just say, “Hey, Siri, find my keys,” and Siri will automatically ping the associated AirTag, which will then begin emitting a sound.
If you have a newer iPhone (iPhone 11 or 12 series), the Find My app will tell you if you’re getting warmer or colder as you wander around looking. Distance and direction to the object are displayed on the screen to guide you as you look. This extra bit of assistance helps if you can’t initially hear the AirTag beeping. AirTags don’t have a motor, so they won’t buzz, but your phone will offer haptic feedback to point you towards the tracker’s location.
If you’ve misplaced something by several miles, rather than several rooms, it’s the Find My network that helps you locate lost items. The AirTag will ping other iPhones or iPads in the area and report the location data to iCloud. Using the Find My app, you can then locate your item on a map. Apple says all the data here is anonymized. The iPhone owners in the vicinity of your lost AirTag won’t know they’re passing your data along to iCloud and won’t be able to see it. Only you can see the location details and return to retrieve the lost item.
Android phone owners are left out in the cold here.
Some bad news: there’s no Android support. Android phone owners are left out in the cold here, as AirTags are only compatible with Apple iPhones and iPads. Android users will have to rely on Tile or other tags.
What happens if your tag is well and truly lost? You can put the tag into Lost Mode. In Lost Mode, the tag can generate your contact information if/when scanned directly via NFC by an iPhone or Android phone. The finder can then contact you to arrange for its return.
What about privacy?
All smart tag devices share the same potential for abuse. To Apple’s credit, it has done more than Tile and Samsung to protect user privacy and prevent abuse. Still, AirTags aren’t perfect and there’s room for them to be misused in certain cases.
Apple says the Bluetooth and ultra-wideband connection between the AirTag and your iOS devices is anonymous and encrypted to protect your privacy. Only you can view the location of your registered AirTag, and location data is not stored on the AirTag directly. Devices in the Find My network that relay AirTag location to the cloud remain anonymous, which means you can’t tell who’s sharing the location data with you. Not even Apple knows the location of AirTags nor to whom they belong. In other words, if you’re the owner of an AirTag your location is protected.
However, these privacy controls can be circumvented. As the Washington Post points out in detail, it would be all too easy for someone else to slip an AirTag into your bag or car and track you.
There are several safety protocols built-in. The first applies to Apple iPhones and Android phones alike. When a tag has been separated from its owner for three days, it emits a beep so you know it is there. Apple says it chose this three-day window on purpose in case people are simply sharing a tagged backpack or a set of keys. However, this window could potentially allow someone to track you for up to three days before you’re alerted via the audible beep. What’s more, the tag only beeps for 15 seconds. If the tag happens to beep when you’re not around (like when you’re not in your car, or when you’re in the shower) you’ll be none the wiser that it’s there.
Anyone without an iPhone won't be alerted to the presence of an unregistered AirTag for three whole days.
The second safety protocol is more proactive. People who own an iPhone 6s or newer and are running iOS 14.5 will receive a pop-up notification on their iPhone when the device senses an unregistered AirTag nearby. You won’t be alerted to the presence of tags that are with their associated owner. For example, say you’re with a friend who has tagged their backpack. That backpack AirTag won’t bother you because it is with its owner. The pop-up notification only appears once the phone detects a tag in your vicinity that’s been separated from its owner. The notification reads “AirTag Found Moving With You” and it appears within several hours. If you tap the notification, it takes you to the Find My app where you’ll see your location history as reported by the AirTag. If you happen to find an Apple AirTag that’s not yours in your stuff, you can easily disable it by removing the battery, and Apple provides the directions on how to do so.
Android device owners are not privy to these pop-up notifications. The only warning they get that they are being tracked by an AirTag is the beep that doesn’t take effect for three days.
In other words, despite the safeguards put in place by Apple, determined stalkers appear to be able to get around them in some instances. Again, Tile and Samsung have not implemented comparable safeguards into their tags. Samsung’s only feature is a manual scan via the SmartThings Find app.
Value and competition
The pricing is fair. At $29 each or $99 for four, the Apple AirTag is affordable. They’re particularly cheap if the thing you’re tracking is a high-value item. Tack on at least an additional $10+ for a keyring attachment, however, and the pricing starts to spiral upward.
Tile’s tags are right around the same $29 mark and are also available in packs and various form factors. Tile sells a basic tag that supports a keychain, as well as stickers and the credit card-shaped Tile Slim for finding even smaller items. Tile relies on Bluetooth for nearby lost items and its own Tile Network — which pales compared to Apple’s Find My network — to help with items that are further away. Apple has the network advantage here.
See also: The best Apple AirTag alternatives
Samsung’s Galaxy SmartTags and SmartTags Plus are similar to the AirTag and Tile trackers in that they rely on Bluetooth and an anonymized network for tracking items built on any Samsung device with the SmartThings app installed. SmartTags also cost $29 each, but you’ll receive a discount if you buy them in packs.
Where Tile works with Android, iOS, and Windows, Apple AirTags work only with iOS and iPadOS devices. Meanwhile, Samsung Galaxy SmartTags only work with Galaxy smartphones.
Apple AirTag review: The verdict
The Apple AirTag is an amazingly effective product for finding lost items. Around your house, it can be an essential time-saver in help finding lost keys, bags, or other vital items. It locates items quickly, audibly, and precisely. Moreover, the strength of Apple’s Find My network means lost AirTags can be located from many miles away just as easily as around your home. These products are a no-brainer purchase for iPhone owners who want to keep tabs on their valuables or essentials.
If you can't put a price on losing something, the Apple AirTag is a priceless purchase — if you've got an iPhone.
Bottom line, if you’re an iPhone owner and want the best way to track down lost gear, the Apple AirTag is the best option for you.