Tile Review

It’s funny, when you read press materials carefully, they can really reveal a lot. For a long while, I was interested in Tile, a little plastic device that you can attach to anything—purse, luggage, bike, cat, keys—and that will track and allow you to find them when you can’t seem to remember where you last left them.

According to the Tile press kit, the idea for Tile was simple: a small, affordable device people could attach to the things they didn’t want to lose. It would send frequent, private signals to the owner’s smartphone and the Tile network so it could always be located.

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The original Tile shipped in June 2014. A little over two years later, we have sold 6 million Tiles and we help people and half a million items each day—a testament to the value of helping people keep track of the things that matter to them most. We’ve heard it all: A little girl found a lost stuffed penguin in Times Square. A guy was able to recover a stolen car in California. One lady found her cat hiding under the porch.

Sounds great.

From my perspective, I thought Tile was a bit pricey, but after losing my car keys (which I had never lost before), I decided to take the leap. I bought a box of four Tiles that retails for about $79. I had some sort of discount from American Express that brought the price down to about $40, or about $10 for each tile.

I put one tile on my cat and one on my keys. The other two are still sitting in the box.

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So far, I’m not so impressed. Each individual tile links to a device, an iPad, an iPhone, etc. That’s great, but the Tile only communicates to that device when it’s nearby. So, if for example, you want to find the location of your lost luggage, you’d have to be within 150 feet and have the device to which the Tile is registered in order to “ping” the Tile. Otherwise, the tile shows up in the “last remembered place.” Which is not only often wrong, but covers a huge and grossly imprecise area. It’s sort of like… yeah, your keys, they’re somewhere in a 5 block radius of your house. To add insult to injury, Tile uses some kind of old school Bluetooth communication that EATS your iPhone battery. Weirdly, though the Tile is always attached to your device via Bluetooth, it doesn’t seem to update in real time. So, if for example, you, the Tile, and your device all move from one place to another, the Tile app will not reflect that until you “search” for an item, your device pings the Tile, and the location is updated. Worse, in some strange instances, even after pinging the Tile, the location remains at the last pinged location and not at the current location (even if you know it may be sitting right next to you.) So, neither the reliability nor the precision of the Tile device doesn’t seem all that great to me.

If you are looking for something and mark it “lost” this magically triggers a secret search among all Tile users and will relay the location of your missing item when it pings the device of someone else. In theory, this is great, but in practice, we had some real difficulty in making it work. Again, when we could get it to work (about 30% of the time), the “location” covered a HUGE area. Congratulations, we found your lost luggage! It’s somewhere at LAX! Again, insult to injury, it’s like knowing there’s  a needle in the haystack, but you still have to sort through the hay to find it.

I think that the Tile website is to blame for my general disappointment. The site doesn’t really (or very clearly) explain how the Tile system works. Somehow, I was left with the impression that it was some magic GPS device that could be tracked from anywhere. I’m not sure exactly what gave me that impression, but it sure was wrong. The Tile promotional literature is quite straightforward. For example, it notes, when marking an item as lost “It would send frequent, private signals to the owner’s smartphone and the Tile network so it could always be located.” It could be. Doesn’t say it will locate the Tile. So, my fault, for not catching that.

Tile claims that by pressing the “e” on the actual Tile that your phone will ring. We tried this with both active Tiles and couldn’t get it to work. Not once. Then oddly, I was driving in the car and for no particular reason (my keys and phone were sitting in the cup holder next to me), the “ring feature” triggered. Odd.

Overall, Tile seems to be a great idea. The problem is, the actual usability of it needs some refinement. At this point, I would recommend holding off on Tile. Like a lot of tech products from newish tech start ups, it’s marketed well, but doesn’t quite live up to the hype.