Apple’s AirTag is not a revolutionary new product. Rather, it’s a significant refinement of an idea that has been quite a niche market until now. It works very, very well, but it works so well that it seems to undermine Apple’s efforts to focus its products on privacy and security.
We spent several days testing AirTags in different situations and found that they work amazingly well, at least in a dense urban environment with iPhones everywhere.
I can’t imagine recommending any of the previous attempts at this concept over AirTags if you have an iPhone. (Unfortunately, Android users are literally being left to their own devices — in more ways than usual, as you’ll see later in this review.)
AirTags are easy to use, well designed and relatively affordable. If you’re looking for something like this, they’re easy to recommend. But we’re a little more concerned about what these AirTags mean to the people who do not buy one. Stay close and we’ll explain.
Each AirTag can be described as a small, silver-colored metal disk embedded in a slightly larger white disk. All in all, it’s 1.26 inches in diameter (31.9mm) and 0.31 inches thick (8mm). It weighs 0.39 ounces (11 g).
Apple does a great job of making most of its products expensive and premium; the tactile sensation suggests a quality product, thanks to the materials, the weighting and other factors. That is certainly the case here. Competing products from Tile or Samsung feel cheaper by comparison.
Like others who have used AirTags, I found that the metal side of an AirTag is easy to damage with normal use, especially if you just toss it in a bag without attaching it to anything. I don’t really care, but some people will be bothered by it, especially since the design is quite attractive. Expect scratches within weeks, if not days.
A single AirTag costs $29, while a four-pack costs $99. Upon purchase, you can add a custom engraving of text or emoji to your AirTags. The emoji idea is a smart one, as there are many emoji options to match any personal item you track with the AirTag. There is no additional cost for these engravings, but they may shift the ship date a bit.
While some trackers like this one have holes or hooks that allow you to easily attach them to your gear without additional equipment, AirTags don’t. In many cases you will have to buy one of the accessories, such as the key ring or loop holder.
This effectively increases costs, so it is important to remember when considering this product. Sure, you can slide an AirTag in your bag and just bounce it around there, and it works just fine. But for many other use cases, you’ll have to pay at least $13 for one of the cheaper Belkin mounts or at least $29 for the options made by Apple itself.
On the other hand, we were happy to learn that the AirTag uses a standard, relatively common battery (CR2032) and that the battery is user-replaceable. Apple says the battery usually lasts up to a year. We obviously couldn’t test that in the context of this review, but we’ve usually found Apple’s battery estimates for its products to be accurate in the past.
The AirTag has an IP67 rating for splash, water and dust resistance. That means if it falls into the water, it will still work as long as it doesn’t go much deeper than a meter and you get it out within 30 minutes.
AirTags are sold through the iPhone section of Apple’s online store and are designed to work exclusively with Apple smartphones or tablets. So if you have an Android phone and not an iPad, there’s no reason to even bother buying one of these things; the AirTag will be useless.
However, if you have one of the supported mobile devices, you can use Apple’s Find My app (or Siri) to find your AirTag, whether the tag is in your room or you bought it three hours ago at your local coffee shop. left behind.
How it works
The AirTag is not a device with GPS. Instead, it communicates with devices in Apple’s Find My network with regular pings. So the more iPhones, iPads, or Macs connected to the Internet near the AirTag, the faster it will be found and the more accurate the reported location will be.
This fits into a fairly consistent theme with some of Apple’s products and services: They are certainly designed for people in or near major metropolitan areas. Like AppleCare and any number of other Apple offerings, AirTags become much less appealing in a rural or other low-density environment without as many Apple services or devices nearby.
But perhaps even more than anything to do with the App Store or anything else, this is where Apple has an advantage that Tile just can’t match. In most major U.S. city centers, you can throw a rock (or an AirTag) at random in any direction and there’s a good chance it will land within six feet of an Apple product. That network of devices ensures that your AirTag can be found relatively quickly.
We didn’t test an AirTag directly against Tile, but some other publications did, and as expected, they found that an AirTag generally took much less time to locate than a Tile device in a public place. There are simply more check-in points for the AirTag, making the process of finding it both faster and more accurate.
Either way, the Find My network is just the first part of the process. Once you’re close enough, you can use the Find My app to make the AirTag make a sound to help you find it. If you have one of the recent iPhones (iPhone 11 or newer) with Apple’s new U1 ultra-wideband chip, you can use an ultra-accurate on-screen viewfinder to locate the device once you’re in roughly the same room.
Finally, you can set the AirTag to “Lost Mode” if you know it’s missing and you need it to be found. You provide your phone number and other iOS users who find the AirTag can see that number and contact you. You will also receive a notification once the location has been determined in the Find My network.