by Eric Ravenscraft on
When a single Wi-Fi router won’t do, a mesh Wi-Fi system lets you get strong coverage everywhere in your house without tearing your walls apart. These are our favorites.
Bluetooth trackers are a wonky accessory that, in an ideal world, you’ll never need. Still, if you need one, you could do a lot worse than the TrackR Pixel.
The TrackR Pixel ($19, with discounts for bulk purchases) is a small, cheap Bluetooth device that you can attach to your keys, wallet, laptop bag, or anything else you’re likely to lose. If you’re nearby, you can make it ring to find it in the couch cushion. If you left it somewhere, you can check where it last was on a map. This promise—the same one that all Bluetooth trackers make—is an appealing one, but it’s not without its frustrations.
When it works, the TrackR set up process is painless. In my experience, this was not the case. To pair the Pixel to your phone, you open the app and follow the prompts to choose to add a TrackR Pixel, then press the button on the front of the device. It will make a little jingle, blink the blue LED, and eventually pair to your phone.
At least, that’s the idea in theory. When first setting up the TrackR Pixel, I attempted to connect multiple units to multiple phones. In each case, it took several tries to connect the tracker to the phone. On one phone, I had to restart the phone a couple times before it worked. The other phone managed it by turning Bluetooth on and off again, but it still took an annoying number of tries. At one point, a Pixel began emitting a constant, shrill tone. This seemed to be a bug and I couldn’t replicate it, but it’s a really weird bug.
This isn’t the only Bluetooth device in the world that’s ever had first-time set up problems and it won’t be the last. However, it is a little frustrating that connecting via Bluetooth is a problem when that’s kind of all the TrackR Pixel is supposed to do. Aside from emitting tones, it doesn’t have any special function, so connection problems didn’t give me the most immediate confidence.
Using the TrackR Pixel to locate your keys isn’t the easiest process in the world, but I want to give it some leniency because, frankly, no tracker is amazing at it. If you’ve never tried one, the basic process goes about like this: if you’re within range of your missing keys, you can open the app and tap a button to make them ring. If you’re outside of Bluetooth range—or if, for whatever reason, that connection is flaky—then you’ll wander from room to room hoping your phone will connect to it.
This is more of an issue with how Bluetooth technology works in general, rather than a specific problem with the Pixel. I’ve had a similar experience with Tile Bluetooth trackers. Even in a small apartment, the range on a tiny, low-powered Bluetooth device isn’t strong enough, or quick enough to reconnect, to help in most circumstances. If your keys are seriously buried in a really weird place, the Pixel can help, but most of the time you’ll probably stumble upon them as you walk around trying to get the tracker to connect more often than the tracker will help.
Where the TrackR Pixel does stand out, however, is its location history. While primary competitor Tile will show you the last place it saw your stuff, TrackR’s app shows you the last several places. This is important for two reasons. First, it can show you when it moved or how often you were near it. So, say, it shows that it last saw your keys at 9PM, and again at 6AM, you might be able to figure out that you were in the living room last night at 9PM before you went to bed, and walked through the living room in the morning before work. Boom, keys must be in the living room. It’s a crap shoot, but it’s a more helpful crap shoot than “they’re somewhere in your house, try walking around until the app beeps.”
More importantly, TrackR, like Tile, can identify your stuff’s location via crowd sourcing. Anyone else who uses the TrackR app can anonymously locate your stuff and send a signal to TrackR’s servers letting you know your stuff was spotted. Having a location history for your wallet can potentially tell you if your stuff was found and moved. Again, you’re sort of relying on luck, but it’s better than nothing.
Between the Bluetooth connection issues, and how flaky it can be to actually find your stuff, it’s easy to tip over the edge into giving up on trackers altogether. A dead battery a year after you got it is all the push you might need. Indeed, I’ve been using Tile trackers the past year and being told I already need to shell out money for a replacement just to keep using it has turned me off to the whole system.
Fortunately, you can replace the battery on the TrackR Pixel which means, as long as you’re comfortable with the slightly frustrating nature of the device, you can keep using it for years and years. It uses a CR2016 coin battery, which you can get in a pack of ten for $7. Considering the base price of the TrackR Pixel is around $19, you’d definitely rather pay for a replacement battery than a whole new device.
Changing the battery isn’t easy, though. According to TrackR’s own instructions, you can open the Pixel by pressing it between your hands and rotating counterclockwise. I found this difficult, to put it nicely. Human skin and plastic are both pretty slippery and it can be hard to get some leverage. I had to resort to this trick from YouTuber Simon Chan, placing pieces of tape on both sides of the Pixel to get some friction going. It’s an annoying process, but at least you only have to do it once a year or so.
If all of this sounds like a massive pain, don’t let it get you down. On a normal day, the way you’ll use any Bluetooth tracker is by ignoring it entirely. The goal of these devices is to give you a way to track down your stuff in the rare event you lose it. On that front, while the Pixel is not without its frustrations, it still manages to justify its price.
The location history lets you find where it’s been, and it connects to Bluetooth just barely reliably enough to make it easy to ring. Best of all, you can replace the battery so you’re not stuck paying for a whole new one every year. If you’re prone to losing your stuff, any annoyances in dealing with the Pixel will be far preferable to the pain of replacing your wallet or keys.
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