Review: Cobra Tag Universal BT225 UNI
Cobra Electronics' Cobra Tag Universal ($70, a.k.a. Cobra Tag) has a somewhat confounding history. As one of a handful of device-location accessories we've seen for the iPhone, it was first announced almost a year ago when it supported only Android devices. iPhone compatibility was supposed to come via an app in October 2011, which circulated in pre-release form before that, but didn't actually get released until this year. Now the company has updated the Cobra Tag name to Cobra Tag Universal -- in some places -- to reflect the fact that it works with iOS, Android, and Blackberry thanks to apps on the respective platforms. The solution is composed of two parts that communicate with each other over Bluetooth: a keychain- or bag-ready tag, and that free app.
Cobra Tag Universal is just over 2.5” long, an inch wide, and less than half an inch thick. It’s mostly black plastic but a large hole at the top is ringed with metallic silver material—the original 2011 version (BT225, rather than BT225 UNI) had a golden ring inside. A button on the front sits above a small two-tone LED light, while a speaker’s on the opposite side, and a Micro-USB port’s on the bottom for charging with the included cable. Although Tag isn’t huge, it won’t go unnoticed when attached to a keychain. The battery is promised to work for about a week between charges, and although some users have suggested that the first-generation Tag fell well short of that promise, our results with the new Universal model fell in line with Cobra’s.
Like Kensington’s BungeeAir Security Tether, Cobra Tag Universal is designed to help you find lost stuff in two different ways. The first is a simple call-and-answer system: push the button on the tag or in the app, and it’ll make the other device chime. This works when the two are within Bluetooth range of each other, and can be helpful for things such as finding misplaced keys in your house. The second method is a digital leash: if the Bluetooth connection between your iPhone and Tag is broken because of distance, they can both make noises to alert you that the other was left behind. Cobra supplements this feature with optional Twitter, email, and Facebook notifications, which can display the fact that something was left behind, and an idea of where it was.
When Cobra Tag Universal works, it works pretty well, but we initially experienced an unsettling hiccup or two that shook our confidence in the wireless functionality. After pairing the devices and launching Cobra’s app, we tried walking away from the Tag, far further than the 30-foot range of Bluetooth, and didn’t get any sort of response. Soon thereafter, while sitting at a desk with the two devices almost touching, we received a “Keys Disconnected!” alert on the iPhone and a tweet was sent with that information. After that, the iPhone and Tag wouldn’t communicate with each other even though they both were on and clearly within range. Toggling the Tag’s power didn’t immediately solve the issue, but after a minute or two, the devices regained communication.
Apart from those issues, Tag has worked reliably, including in common usage tests such as walking away with an iPhone from keys left in a car, and similarly leaving keys in a house when going out for a walk. However, the inconsistent results were enough to shake our confidence in the solution a little—if you’re going to be relying on an accessory for the sole purpose of finding lost items, you expect it to work properly, all the time. There’s also the issue of needing to be sure that the app is running; if it’s not, such as being automatically killed by iOS as a background process, Tag won’t do anything. Without question, $70 is already a high price for such a single-use item, but we know some people who are forgetful enough to justify the cost for something that works well. Because of this, Cobra Tag Universal merits our limited recommendation; those who seriously need a keychain-based electronic reminder may like and be willing to pay for it, but there’s definitely room for improvement in the near future.