Trackers: How to keep an eye on the things in the digital age

Forever losing your phone?  Worried that the dog keeps jumping the fence into the neighbor’s garden?  Wondering where exactly your teenage daughter and her friends are driving to this weekend?  If you find yourself asking these questions to yourself regularly, it may be time to invest in some trackers.

Trackers can take many different forms these days, and use a multitude of different connectivity options, as well as ranging in size, battery life, and style.  Finding the right one for you can be tricky, so here are a few options that will help you make the right choice.  Even if these products aren’t a perfect fit for you, hopefully you should be much better equipped to find the right product and ask the right questions when you do decide to splash the cash.

Whistle 3 – Pet Tracker

The problem with pet trackers in general are two fold.  Firstly, they are generally very big.  Having a box of electronics the size of a lunchbox hanging around your dogs neck isn’t an ideal situation at all, and in the case of some trackers, small dogs and cats simply cannot wear trackers safely without straining their neck, or catching the box on the edge of tables, chairs, or anything else they happen to walk near to.  The Whistle team have seen this problem and tried to tackle it head on, with the release of the Whistle 3.  The third iteration of this product has halved in size compared to previous models,  weighs less than an ounce, and is now fully waterproof.  The second issue with pet trackers, is the limited connectivity.  Many trackers rely on Bluetooth only, which not only is a battery hog, but also limited in scope and application.  Bluetooth alone, can be used as a proximity sensor (think along the lines of the motion tracker in the Alien movies, but without a screen), where by a series of intense beeps means you are close to your pet, and a slow, dull beeping noise means you are further away, but apart from that has very little data to offer users.  The Whistle 3 has Bluetooth, wi-fi, 3G, and GPS, which grants the owner a whole host of different options when looking for a lost pet.  The addition of wi-fi to the latest version on the device has increased battery life by as much as 20%, which means you should only need to charge this device once a week if your pet spends most of its time within 20 metres of your router.

As well as the physical and connectivity differences, Whistle have also tweaked the software inside allowing for multiple ‘safe zones’ that you can designate.  These safe zones are areas that your pet can roam, without the need to alert you.  This can be your house and garden, the park you walk your dog in, or a friend’s house you visit regularly.  When a pet leaves the confines you have digitally set on Google Maps, a message will be pinged to your smartphone, where you can track the pesky little critter no matter where they run off to (so long as they don’t happen to run down a mine shaft where signal strength is zero).  When you do finally get your pet back, you can use the phone app to see just how active your pet has been, and compare its daily exercise against other animals of similar age and breed.

Now, before you run off to buy one of these please bare in mind that this neat little tracker will need a data plan to work over 3G.  While this is indeed a slightly off-putting facet, it is obviously a necessary one if your pet ventures further than your wi-fi router can cover.  Data plans can cost around $8 a month, but if your pet has a habit of getting itself lost, this may be a price you are more than willing to pay.

TrackR Bravo

Many tracking systems are pretty expensive to implement due to the nature of tracking in the digital age.  Connectivity means different types of wifi or Bluetooth cards, and the ability to use these components means big batteries. Neither of which are idea for a product that 99% of the time you don’t even want to notice.  Nobody wants to spend hundreds of dollars on a tracker for their rucksack, even if they are always misplacing it.  This is where products such as TrackR come in.  These tiny coin sized devices attach to whatever product you want, from your wallet, to your phone and use an interesting way to communicate with their owner when the item has been lost.  Instead of relying on a direct line of communication to your smart phone, TrackR uses its whole customer database as a sort of ‘mesh network’ to look for lost items.  For instance, if you attach one of these trackers to your luggage when you leave home in San Francisco, but it unfortunately ends up in Dehli rather than Cape Town, then worry not!  Open your Trackr app, and if any one of TrackR’s customers has wandered near to your lost item, it will ping the location to your phone.  This obviously relies on whether or not TrackR is popular in your area, hence this product is great at locating lost items in busy cities, but not so much in rural areas. Now, while you may think this is a little hit and miss, locating lost property is only one function of the TrackR.  Other uses are as a distance indicator (for items like wallets, keys, or dogs), which is helpful for those times you cant find the car keys and you are late for work, or as a warning device if you are about to leave your wallet behind on the beach.  In the second instance, your phone will beep to warn you that you are about to leave it behind.  Highly useful for those forgetful types (you know who you are), and great for peace of mind when leaving your items on a table in public.  TrackR also lets you ‘buzz’ your phone, if you happen to have your TrackR Bravo to hand, but have lost your phone.

TrackR uses a new form of Bluetooth called BLE (Bluetooth low energy), and nothing else for its connectivity, hence it has great battery life.  This new version of Bluetooth require around 50 times less battery power than previous Bluetooth adapters, a fact that will allow your TrackR to last a year without needing to replace the battery.  Retailing at around $25 for each TrackR disc, these little devices are perfectly priced as gifts, and their uses are only limited to your tracking needs.  Stick them to your wallet, your car, your kids, your chocolate bar, if you need to keep an eye on something but don’t want to break the bank, then get yourself a TrackR.

WatchU: Kids & Guardian

The WatchU Kids has been positioned as a GPS enabled watch that lets parents keep an eye on their kids location, and even send and receive messages from them, but children aren’t the only family members that can benefit from using a tracker such as this.  Dementia patients, and those who suffer from Alzheimer’s can also benefit from wearing a WatchU, and help put their children’s mind at ease, just as much as it would for parent’s tracking their own children.  For those of you that are put off by the idea that a brightly colored and garish kids watch might look a bit odd on Grandpa, they also have the Guardian version, that is a lot less bold, and in fact quite stylish.   The device itself requires a SIM card, but having this enables the wearer to send an SOS, message, or GPS location from anywhere in the world that they can get signal. Aesthetically, the watch is pretty simple looking, with an average digital or analogue clock face that doesn’t scream ‘smart device’ at all, but rather flies under the radar as a pretty normal looking watch.  Kids versions do look a little bolder, but again wouldn’t exactly stand out as a smart watch, which is a good thing, considering that most parents don’t want to send their kids outside with an expensive looking device strapped to their wrist.

While there are other similar devices out there, WatchU do something a little different to most of their competitors.  They include a SIM technology called CPR Chameleon.  In simple terms, this allows the device to hop on whichever service provider is currently giving the strongest signal in the area, so dead-spots should be greatly reduced when comparing to devices that use only one service provider.  While the prices for calls and data may be slightly higher, it is a small price to pay for peace of mind when travelling abroad, or heading off into the forest where signal is likely to be weaker.

The WatchU also give you the ability to set up safe zones, and be alerted if your child, or parent leaves the area, by sending a message to your phone. The WatchU Kids and Guardian are currently retailing for $153.37, and can be found on Amazon here.



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