When Bluetooth first came into existence years ago, it was primarily the domain of wireless audio solutions like phone headsets — however, the development of the much more battery-friendly Bluetooth Low Energy protocol has opened the door to a much wider variety of applications, ranging from fitness devices to simple proximity devices. TrackR’s new bravo ($29) is one such solution — a coin-sized Bluetooth tag designed to help you keep track or recover lost items using your iPhone or iPad. If you find yourself often misplacing your keys or wallet, then this may be just the device you need.
While TrackR bravo seems primarily designed to fit onto a keychain, it’s also slim enough to be placed into a wallet, or clipped onto a backpack or even a pet’s collar — essentially, anything that you want to track with the device. For convenience, TrackR sells a pet collar attachment, metal carabiner, and water-resistant case as add-on accessories. Although the package includes a basic metal ring that should allow you to attach it to just about any kind of hook or fastener you like, the water-resistant case has some usefulness for those with more active lifestyles that may involve water sports. It’s also available in four colors: standard silver, blue, black, and rose gold. The TrackR bravo is powered by a single CR1616 Lithium coin battery, which should provide about one year of normal use, and the durable anodized aluminum construction means it should hold up pretty well in most typical situations.
The basic concept behind TrackR bravo is relatively straightforward: You load up the companion iOS app and pair bravo with your iPhone (or iPad, if you prefer), and both devices will notify you when they’re out of range of each other. For example, if you keep TrackR bravo on your keychain, your iPhone will remind you when you leave your keys behind, and your keys will remind you if you leave your iPhone behind.
A button on the TrackR bravo will also let you beep your iPhone if you find yourself wandering around the house or office trying to figure out where you left it — a much easier solution than trying to fire up Find My iPhone on your Mac/PC or another iOS device — and a similar button can be used in the iOS app to make TrackR bravo ring so you can locate whatever is attached to it. As an added bonus, the phone finder feature even sounds if your iPhone has been set to silent mode, making it one of the very few third-party iOS apps that can override the silent switch.
Beyond the basics, however, TrackR actually has a few other neat tricks up its sleeve that make it much more useful than other Bluetooth proximity tags we’ve seen. The app incorporates a rough distance indicator so that you can get an idea of how close or far you are from the bravo, so even if you can’t hear it beeping away, you’ll know if you’re hot or cold. A Wi-Fi Safe Zones feature in the app also allows you to disable alerts when you’re near a known Wi-Fi network (e.g. at home or the office), or even in tandem with the “Home” and “Away” modes on a Nest Thermostat so that you can leave your keys on the kitchen counter without getting proximity alerts every time you wander upstairs with your iPhone.
If you do end up leaving TrackR bravo behind somewhere, the iOS app will also record the last-known location of the TrackR bravo, so if you drop your keys while you’re out for the evening, you’ll have an easier time figuring out if it was the restaurant, movie theater, or club that you left them at. It’s also worth mentioning that multiple tags can be paired with a single iPhone, so you can keep tags on your keys, your wallet, and your pets, and have them all tracked in a single iPhone app — the app even provides ways to associate names and icons with each paired tag so you can identify them at a glance.
On top of all that, one of the most interesting features that TrackR has baked into its system is “Crowd GPS.” The most serious limitation of tracking tags is that they can’t do much more than Bluetooth proximity without being both considerably more expensive and larger in size, and Bluetooth limits you to a range of about 100 feet, so once you leave the area, you may know where you device was last, but you won’t know if it moves. What TrackR has done here, on the other hand, is connect all of the iOS and Android versions of the TrackR app into a crowd-based network that can automatically locate ANY lost TrackR device. If you wander off without your keys, and a TrackR bravo is attached to them, their location will be reported the next time any TrackR user comes within 100 feet of them.
While this is obviously going to be dependent on how many TrackR users are out there, the company claims to have pretty good urban saturation, and our own anecdotal testing seemed to confirm this — we left a TrackR bravo in downtown Toronto on a weekday evening, and it appeared through CrowdGPS within an hour, and continued to be tracked fairly regularly over the next few hours. To be fair, however, the opposite was true when we found ourselves in a considerably smaller rural community – no Crowd GPS tracking available, although of course, TrackR still accurately recorded the location of the B&B where we left our luggage when we went out for a walk. It’s worth mentioning as well that TrackR is also making a strong effort to increase use of its devices through various social marketing initiatives; for example referring a friend who buys a TrackR bravo will get you another tag for free.
Crowd GPS is also designed to be anonymous and secure — TrackR bravo only appears to other TrackR users when it’s “lost” (not connected to its paired device) and other TrackR users don’t receive any notifications when they’re detecting other devices; the tag ID is quietly sent to TrackR’s servers in the background. TrackR users won’t even be aware that their devices are reporting on other TrackR devices. Despite this, users who are uncomfortable with the feature can still choose to opt out.
TrackR bravo is by far the most well-thought out Bluetooth proximity tracking solution we’ve seen, both in terms of the construction of the tag itself as well as the design of the app and the more advanced and innovative features such as Crowd GPS. The presence of an easily replaceable battery is also a nice touch, considering that we’ve seen other solutions where companies seem to just expect you to toss out the tag and buy a new one every year or two.
TrackR isn’t a device that everybody will necessarily need, and the $29 price tag makes that an even tougher call. A second included tag at that price would make the decision easier. But if you’re concerned about losing your keys, wallet, or other valuable items, TrackR bravo can be a lifesaver that’s well worth the money, covering you every step of the way from finding a nearby lost item, getting an alert as you leave it behind, recording its last-known location, and even providing a possible — if not entirely reliable — way to keep track of it afterward. We’re pretty impressed with what TrackR has managed to pack into a tag of its size and design while keeping the price fairly reasonable.