Imagine a device that could find your keys with the push of a button or track down your wallet in seconds when you’re frantically searching for it. Those devices have arrived, but they are not all equal. We test the competing technologies that want to help you find your lost keys and wallet.
Radio-Wave Home Key Finders
For a few years, there have been home finders that let you attach a tag to your keys or the remote and then use a base station to trigger a beeping in the tag. Your ears lead you to the missing device. But these only work when you have the base station near. They use watch-type batteries that last between 3 and 12 months depending on how often you use the finders.
Brookstone offers one for $49 with two tags and a range of 60 feet. It worked great on my keys, but after 3 days the metal loop that allowed it to hook onto the key ring broke off.
Click N’ Dig
I had better luck with the Click ‘N Dig. You can get the model with two key tags that costs $27 or three key tags and three flat tags that could fit into a wallet or your purse pocket. It also has a 60-foot range, and the attachment mechanisms have proven sturdier as I’ve had it on my keys for three weeks now without incident.
BlueTooth Key Finders
The big evolution in tracking technology comes from the use of Bluetooth enabled smartphones. Put a tag on your keys, and pair it with your smartphone and an app, and you get more functionality than just a triggered beep. Many will provide a map of the tag’s last known or current location; it can act as an alarm if your phone and the tag are separated (for both security and extreme forgetfulness); and you can reverse the hunt, using a button on the tag to trigger an alarm on the phone if you have the keys but can’t find the phone.
Cobra makes an excellent device called the Cobra Tag that costs $59 for one tag, and the smartphone app is free to install. It’s compatible with Android, IOS and Blackberry. It has all of the above-mentioned features, and it even allows you to lock your phone using the tag if the device is ever lost. But there’s one fundamental problem with this device: the battery life. The tag is rechargeable, but has a maximum battery life of seven days. If I can’t remember where I left my keys, there’s a good chance I won’t remember to charge the tag every week.
The Bikn (pronounced “beacon”) costs $129 and has a case you put on an iPhone 4 or 4S (not available for any other phones), and it then it uses an app to hail the tags you put on your keys. It has one added feature beyond the mapping and triggered beeping we’ve already described: it lets you know the distance your device is from the phone. The distance info is not directional, but it’s helpful to let you know if you’re even looking in the right room. But again, the battery life is an issue. It’s not as challenging as the Cobra Tag: the Bikn tags can last as long at 2 months depending on usage, but the case needs a charge every 3 weeks. Also since it is reliant on the case, this only works for the iPhone 4 and 4S.
THE WINNER: The Wallet TrackR
The credit card sized Wallet TrackR fits perfectly in a man’s or woman’s wallet. It also has a hole in it if you want to use it with your keys. It’s a brand new product that’s in preorder now – $29 for a TrackR or $35 for two. The app is free. Currently it only works with IOS devices. Using the app, it can trigger the tag to beep. It can show you the last known location of the TrackR, and you can use the TrackR tag to make your phone beep for a reverse find of your mobile device. What’s unique here is that the Wallet TrackR uses the new low-power Bluetooth 4.0 so the batteries (two watch batteries) last up to 18 months!
This is a first generation product that is delivering to buyers at the end of April 2013, so a big caveat for me is that you might want to wait a few months for the company to get all the kinks ironed out. The device I tested worked great, but then it got a little finicky. After much tinkering I figured out that the contact points for the batteries had gotten a little misaligned, and once I tweaked them back, the Trackr worked fine. But of all the trackers I tested this one has the most promise if you want a device that can track inside and outside your home.
Note: we also attempted to test the Stick-N-Find, which debuted at CES 2013, but the production units sent to us were not functional (the case that holds the battery in place wouldn’t stay closed and the app they provided crashed on every phone we installed it on). Stick-N-Find also uses the new, low power Bluetooth and has raised over $930,000 in their crowd-funding campaign. We’ll update this article if they come on line and surpass our initial expectations.