Personal Bluetooth trackers are small plastic devices smaller than a credit card you can use to find lost keys and other valuables. You may be wondering how these devices work, whether they’re worth using, and some of their limitations.

Here’s how Bluetooth trackers work and how you can use them to find lost items.

The Hardware

There are a couple of manufacturers of Bluetooth trackers, the largest being Tile and Chipolo. These are small devices ranging from a simple coin-sized square to the credit card shaped solar-powered Ekster you place in your purse, backpack, basically anything you don’t want lost. The only setup required is to pair them with your phone, an easy process shown in the video above.

Manufacturers tackle batteries differently; Chipolo uses small replaceable batteries, and Tile has a trade-in program for example. In both cases, batteries last at least up to a year, if not longer. Otherwise the setup of these trackers is simple, typically with a single button to pair the device and a smaller emitter for beeping sounds. Most Bluetooth trackers are designed to with in either short and long ranges.

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Short Range Use

Depending on the version of Bluetooth, typically these trackers have a physical signal range of roughly 50 meters (150 feet). In these cases, you can trigger an alert using your phone to sound the beeps on the tracker to help you find your keys, for example. The associated app with most trackers will also let you visually locate the tracker when you’re in Bluetooth range and the process works in reverse too – you can use the tracker to set an alarm on your phone so you can locate it.

What Happens When You’re Out Of Range?

You might be thinking by now, “well, I often lose things that aren’t within 50 meters of me,” what now? In these cases you’ll use the Bluetooth tracker’s app to mark it as lost. Once a tracker is marked as lost, it will then activate its anonymous code so that the tracker app on everyone’s phone will be on the lookout for it.

This happens without the knowledge of the other users. So when someone else in the Bluetooth tracking app network (i.e. another user) walks past your lost keys in a cafe, they won’t know that their phone sent a signal back with its location. Once that happens, you’re notified and hopefully you can get to your lost items.

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Network Importance

Outside of the short Bluetooth range, the size of the network is important. Tile has the largest network with 26 million users, Chipolo is the second largest (both have subscription fees). What that means is the chance of another Tile or Chipolo user walking past your lost stuff is higher on those networks. Densely populated areas like cities obviously will have better user coverage but in rural areas your chances diminish quite a bit.

Still, a Bluetooth tracker can help you find your lost keys or be setup to alert you if you get out of a customizable short range to prevent you from forgetting your backpack at a cafe or airport gate.