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Apple AirTag review: High-tech tracking for your precious things

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
29
inc VAT

A little pricey, but Apple’s AirTags work brilliantly – you’ll never lose your keys again

Pros 
Precision finding works beautifully
Find My Network gives Apple a big advantage over rivals
Replaceable battery
Cons 
More expensive than rivals
Only works with iPhones
No geofencing capability
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The arrival of Apple’s AirTags has been rumoured for so long that, when they finally arrived alongside the first M1iMac and M1 iPad Pro, it wasn’t much of a surprise. In fact, with so many iPhone owners out there already using the Find My app, you have to wonder why it took Apple so long.

AirTags are here now, however, and although Apple has taken its sweet time, they’re already supremely impressive. If you’re an iPhone user and you happen to have a habit of losing stuff around the house, AirTags are what you want: they’re a highly effective way of tracking down lost things.

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Apple AirTags review: What you need to know

Bluetooth trackers are, of course, nothing new. Companies such as Tile and Chipolo have been making similar trackers for years and they allow you to locate items in a couple of different ways. First, for stuff within Bluetooth range you tap a button in the companion app, after which they’ll emit a beep, allowing you to locate your stuff quickly and easily.

They can also be used to track down items you might have lost further afield. They do this by using community-generated tracking data. Whenever a user of that particular tracking system is in the vicinity of your lost item, you get an alert telling you when and where your tracker was last seen.

Apple’s AirTags do essentially the same thing but with the added bonus of a far larger community of users for long-range finding – at the time of writing, nigh on a billion devices could potentially be roped into your digital search party, where Tile can ‘only’ count on 26 million global users. AirTags add more precise nearby location tracking as well, courtesy of the built-in U1 ultra wideband chip, a feature that Apple calls “Precision Finding”.

One thing to bear in mind, though. Just like other Bluetooth trackers, AirTags are not designed to track things that move around a lot, such as children or pets. For that you’ll need to use a proper GPS-enabled tracker like an Explora X5 Play or a Tractive pet tracker.

Apple AirTags review: Price and competition

At £29 each, or £99 for a four-pack, buying a bunch of AirTags isn’t going to bankrupt you, but as you might expect of an Apple product, there’s a little bit of a premium over the main competitors in the Bluetooth tracker space.

You can pick up a single Tile Mate on Amazon for £20 or £45 for four, while a Chipolo One will set you back £22 or £66 for four. Both are powered by user-replaceable CR2032 batteries, just like AirTags, and battery life is rated at a year for the Tile and two years for the Chipolo One.

Apple AirTags review: Design and key features

AirTags aren’t particularly exciting in terms of their physical design. They’re small discs measuring 31.9mm in diameter and 8mm thick and they look a bit like a large Go counter, with glossy white plastic on one side and polished metal on the other, engraved with the Apple logo.

You can personalise each of your tags when you buy them by adding up to four characters, one large emoji, or a combination of both, but there are, as yet, no alternative colour options. It’s white and silver or nothing.

Each AirTag is powered by a single, user-replaceable CR2032 battery that lasts up to a year. They’re dust- and water-resistant as well, with an IP67 rating that means they’ll survive a dunking in water up to 1m deep for up to 30 minutes.

As for accessories, Apple produces its own range of these, but they’re expensive so you might want to look elsewhere. The leather key rings are nice but they cost £35 each, and the baggage loops in silicone rubber or leather are also pricey at £29 and £39 respectively.

There’s also a range of Hermѐs key rings and loops with prices starting at an eye-watering £299, but if you’re seriously considering spending this much on a keyring, I recommend taking a long hard look at yourself in the mirror.

Fortunately, you don’t have to stick with the official Apple accessories. Belkin has cheaper keyrings and baggage loops available at £12 each and there’s already a selection of even more reasonable AirTag accessories available from various manufacturers on Amazon.

Apple AirTags review: Precision Finding

Inside, the headline act is the presence of the U1 ultra wideband chip, which allows compatible iPhones (iPhones 11 or later) to sense distance and direction with uncanny accuracy. Apple calls this “Precision Finding” and it’s used in conjunction with Bluetooth and data from your iPhone’s camera, accelerometer, ARKit and gyroscope to help you pinpoint lost stuff that’s nearby.

Setup is simple. Holding the AirTag next to your iPhone generates a popup; at this point, you can click Connect, give it a name or select one from a list, and you’re done. Everything else is done through the Find My app, which has a new Items tab where all your AirTags are found.

All you need to do to track something down is select it in the list and tap Find. The limitations of Bluetooth range mean you have to be quite close to your items in order for your phone to pick them up. That means, depending on walls, floors and other obstructions, you may have to do a bit of wandering around before you pick up a signal.

Once that’s done, however, the phone knows what you’re looking for is nearby and you can press a button to make the AirTag emit a beep so you can narrow down the search.

This is where the U1 chip comes into play: as you begin your final approach, the Find My app will tell you exactly how far away the AirTag is (in metres or feet), accompanying this with an arrow pointing you in the right direction. Get closer than 1m and your phone begins to vibrate – gently at first, but stronger as you get closer. As a bonus, this all works with Apple’s accessibility VoiceOver tech, so blind people can use it to find stuff around the house, too.

The only thing I’d complain about is that the sound emitted by the tag is a little on the quiet side, which means you may struggle to hear it if it’s stashed in a bag or jacket pocket. However, the precision finding part works so well that it renders this weakness moot, effectively making it impossible to lose any item an AirTag is attached to.

There are a couple of features that AirTags lack, though. You can’t use AirTag in reverse, for instance, to locate your phone (although you can do this through the Find My system anyway). The rival Tile trackers have buttons on them that, when pressed, cause an alert to sound on your phone.

And neither can you set up an AirTag to alert you if you leave your tagged item behind (next to your chair in a restaurant, for example), another feature you get with Tile, albeit only when you pay for the Tile Premium Subscription.

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Apple AirTags review: Community finding

If you can’t find something nearby using Bluetooth and ultra wideband, then this is where Apple’s vast Find My network comes into its own. Simply select the AirTag in the Item list, turn on Lost Mode and the next time an iPhone owner with Find My enabled wanders within Bluetooth range, you’ll receive an alert telling you when and where it was last “seen”.

It’s even possible to add a phone number and a message to the tag so that anyone who subsequently scans the tag using NFC (yup, AirTags do that, too) will be able to read it, phone you and arrange to have the device returned.

That’s not the whole story, though. After a prolonged period of time of being apart from its owner, an AirTag will emit an audio alert when it’s moved – so someone can still find it and potentially contact you about it, even if you hadn’t realised you’d lost it.

Again, all this seems to work as advertised. I didn’t want to test it out by actually losing something valuable, or stashing the AirTag where it might be found by a member of the public, so I drove my car to the top of my street, popped an AirTag on the dashboard in Lost Mode, and left it there.

Now, my street isn’t particularly busy, particularly at 14.30 on a weekday, but it took only nine minutes before someone strolled by and pinged the location back to the Find My app on my iPhone. Half an hour later and the number of location reports had risen to five. That’s very impressive and suggests that, as long as people continue to buy iPhones, AirTags will continue to be a very useful way of keeping track of your things.

READ NEXT: Tile Bluetooth trackers review

Apple AirTags review: Security and privacy

Security and privacy are obviously a concern when things like your location are concerned, and this is one thing Apple was keen to talk about at the AirTags launch. Now, there’s no way of guaranteeing 100% that someone somewhere won’t find a way to exploit the AirTags system, but it’s good to see that Apple has put some serious thought into addressing such concerns.

For starters, Apple says that your location data and history are never stored on the AirTag itself, which is a good start, and any location data transmitted via the Find My network is fully encrypted, end to end. This way, no-one apart from you (not even Apple) knows anything about your AirTag or the device that helped pinpoint its position.

And before you think of using your AirTags to track the location of someone without their knowledge, Apple has thought of that, too. If someone secretly stashes an AirTag in your bag without you knowing, your iPhone will notify you that there’s an unknown AirTag travelling with you and provide instructions on how to disable it.

Of course, there is a small flaw with this particular feature, which is that you have to own an iPhone or iPad for it to work. Android phone owners beware: an AirTag can still be used to track you.

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Apple AirTags review: Verdict

Aside from this small oversight, though, I have to say I’m thoroughly impressed by Apple’s AirTags. The precision finding works as advertised and makes it child’s play to track down nearby lost things, while Apple’s huge Find My network makes short work of locating stuff you might have misplaced further afield.

There are a couple of small features AirTags lack. They don’t have a button you can press to find your phone, and you can’t (yet) set up geofences to alert you if you’ve left an AirTagged item behind. However, such is the effectiveness of the location tracking tech, I don’t view these as major shortcomings.

Sure, the price is higher than it is for rival trackers and this will inevitably put off some cost-conscious consumers, but I very much doubt this will prove a barrier to their success.

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