AirTag vs. Tile Buyer's Guide 2023
The AirTag remains a prominent player in the item tracker market, known for its small, round disc design that integrates seamlessly with Apple's Find My app. However, it's worth noting that Apple wasn't the pioneer in this technology; Tile has been a forerunner in Bluetooth item trackers for over a decade, maintaining its status as AirTag's primary competitor even today.
While both AirTag and Tile continue to lead the item tracker industry, recent advancements and updates have potentially shifted the landscape, making the choice between them more nuanced than before. Our updated guide delves into these developments, providing insights to help you determine whether AirTag or Tile better suits your needs.
AirTags are available in just a single model with a white plastic and silver metal design that features a removable battery and no direct way to attach the tracker to other items. An AirTag can be slipped into a bag or other appropriate item, but Apple also offers a range of accessories to attach AirTags to different objects and there is a burgeoning market of third-party offerings. AirTag is priced at $29 for one or $99 for a pack of four.
Tile makes four different trackers, each with slightly different features and form factors:
- Tile Mate: Tile's most basic small tracker – $24.99
- Tile Pro: A more premium alternative to the Tile Mate with a longer range, louder speaker, and a range of color options – $34.99
- Tile Slim: A long-range, waterproof, ultra-thin tracker shaped like a credit card to be placed within a wallet or adhered to a flat surface – $24.99
- Tile Sticker: Tile's smallest tracker, designed to be stuck to objects with an adhesive – $39.99 for two, $59.99 for four
Each Tile tracker has a different design and set of features to serve different purposes. The Tile Mate and Tile Pro are ideal for attaching to a keyring, for example. The Tile Slim is the perfect shape to slide into a wallet, while the Tile Sticker is small enough to stick to a TV remote. Ultimately, the exact way you choose to use a Tile tracker is your choice, but there are a range of designs to suit your exact needs.
Compared to the single AirTag design that doesn't include an attachment point or adhesive, Tile's selection of tracker designs is more versatile.
Comparing AirTag and Tile
Apple's AirTag and Tile's trackers share a number of important features, such as Bluetooth tracking, audio alerts, and water resistance:
- Close-range Bluetooth tracking
- Long-range community-leveraged location tracking
- Built-in speaker for audio alerts
- Replaceable batteries (some Tile trackers only)
- One-year battery life (some Tile trackers only)
The differences between AirTag and Tile are more pronounced when it comes to Ultra Wideband features and software integration.
|Ultra Wideband and Bluetooth tracking
|Bluetooth tracking only
|Ultra Wideband "Precision Finding" on compatible iPhones
|Find My network integration for tracking from any in-range Apple device
|"Community Find" for tracking from any in-range device
|Lost Mode for notification when found by a nearby device
|Lost Mode for notification when found by a nearby device with the Tile app
|Phone tracking available
|One design, but engraving customization available
|Multiple designs, with color options for Tile Pro and Slim
|Requires accessory for adding to keyring
|Accessories not required
|Uses Find My app
|Requires Tile app
|iOS and Android compatible
|Unwanted tracking alerts, with NFC for owner information
|Unwanted tracking alerts, "SCAN ME IF FOUND" QR code
|One-tap setup process
|Setup through Tile app
|Replaceable CR2032 battery
|Replaceable CR2032 for Tile Pro, others non-replaceable
|One-year battery life
|One-year for Tile Pro, three years for non-replaceable models
|IP67 rating, varying degrees for different models
|$29 for one, $99 for four
|Varies; Tile Pro at $57, Tile Sticker at $19, Tile Mate at $19, Tile Slim at $24
|No subscription options
|Tile Premium subscription available
Read on for a closer look at each of these aspects, and see exactly what both item trackers have to offer.
AirTags have a simple convex design, with a glossy white plastic shell overlapping the front and the sides, and a polished metal disc on the back.
There is nothing built into the design to help the AirTag to attach to items for tracking. Unless you are simply placing the AirTag loose in a bag or pocket, you will need to purchase a separate accessory to attach it to the likes of keys, luggage, and more.
Apple offers a range of AirTag accessories, including the Polyurethane Loop, designed to be lightweight and durable, and the Leather Loop and Leather Key Ring, featuring tanned European leather. There is also a wide range of more inexpensive third-party options.
Although AirTags are only available in white, Apple offers the option of free engraving so users can personalize their AirTag with a selection of emojis or text.
On the other hand, Tile's trackers feature a range of different designs. The Tile Mate and Tile Pro have a square design with a hole to easily attach to keys or tie onto items. The Tile Mate is made entirely out of white plastic, while the Tile Pro has a more premium metal design and offers a range of color options including Black, White, Ruby Red, Azurite Blue, and Rose Pink.
The Tile Slim is very thin and shaped like a credit card to easily fit in a wallet or stick flat against a surface, and is available in Black, Ruby Red, Azurite Blue, and Rose Pink.
The Tile Sticker is small, black, and circular. It features a flat, adhesive back surface to make it easy to stick directly to a surface.
There are no first-party Tile accessories for sale other than adhesive pads, but they are not completely necessary, unlike with AirTags, since attachment is built into the designs.
Both AirTag and Tile use Bluetooth Low Energy as their main tracking technology. When the tracker is within Bluetooth range, users can use their smartphone to see its current location and get it to play a sound to help find it. When out of range, you can see the last known location of the tracker.
The Tile trackers have Bluetooth ranges between 150ft to 400ft, depending on the model. Apple has not disclosed the AirTag's Bluetooth tracking range.
When out of Bluetooth range, both AirTag and Tile leverage devices in the community for tracking. This feature allows users to see the location of their tracker on a map even when it is long out of range.
Tile uses a feature called "Community Find," where any in-range device with the Tile app installed can detect and locate any user's Tile tracker anonymously.
Apple calls its community tracking feature the "Find My Network." Any Apple device with the Find My app, such as the iPhone or iPad, can detect an in-range AirTag and anonymously report its location back to the owner.
Both AirTag and Tile users can also put their tracker into "Lost Mode" to receive a notification when it has been located by a device.
Although the community tracking features of AirTag and Tile work almost identically, AirTag has a clear advantage. This is because an AirTag can leverage any Apple device with the Find My app, which Apple says is approaching one billion devices already.
Since the Find My app is pre-installed in iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and macOS, there is a far larger community of devices in circulation that are able to detect AirTags. The Tile app, on the other hand, is not pre-installed in any operating system and has to be actively downloaded by a user to run in the background.
Tile's Community Find feature only uses the devices within the Tile user base, but AirTags can use almost every Apple device. It is therefore likely that AirTags will be located by devices in the community much more often than Tile trackers, making their remote detection much more effective.
Ultra Wideband and Precision Tracking
AirTag also has an additional tracking technology that Tile does not have, Ultra Wideband, which enables a unique close-range tracking experience that Tile is unable to match.
Each AirTag contains an Apple-designed U1 chip for Ultra Wideband connectivity. This enables a feature that Apple calls "Precision Finding" with Ultra Wideband devices, such as the iPhone 11 or newer.
Precision Finding can more accurately determine the distance and direction to a lost AirTag when it is in range. As a user moves, Precision Finding fuses input from the camera, ARKit, accelerometer, and gyroscope, and then will guide them to their AirTag using a combination of sound, haptics, and visual feedback.
To set up a Tile tracker, users need to first download the Tile app from the App Store, create and activate a Tile account, hold down the button on the tracker until an audio cue plays, place the Tile tracker on the device, and wait for confirmation of pairing.
AirTags have a much simpler pairing process, similar to that used by other Bluetooth Apple devices such as AirPods or the Apple Pencil. There is no need to download an app from the App Store, create an account, or hold down any buttons. Users simply need to hold the AirTag near to their device, tap pair, and the process is complete.
A key difference between AirTag and Tile is the apps they use. Tile trackers use a dedicated Tile app that has to be downloaded from the App Store. The Tile app is available for both Android and iOS, allowing Tile trackers to work across platforms.
There is no AirTag app. Instead, AirTag works inside the pre-existing Find My app that is built into iOS. There is no way to use an AirTag with Android devices as a result.
The Find My app already tracks friends and Apple devices, so AirTag appears as an additional item within the app. There are also additional software integrations such as support for Siri, where users can ask Siri to find their item, and the AirTag will play a sound if it is nearby.
AirTag and Tile Pro both use a replaceable CR2032 battery, while the Tile Mate uses a replaceable CR1632 battery, to achieve around one year of battery life. When it has run out, users simply open their AirTag, Tile Mate, or Tile Pro, and insert a new battery.
The battery of the Tile Slim and Tile Sticker is not replaceable or rechargeable. Users will need to dispose of their tracker and buy a new one when the battery runs out, but they do offer a longer three-year-long battery life.
The AirTag, Tile Mate, and Tile Pro are all "water-resistant." Since there is no replaceable battery in the Tile Slim or Tile Sticker, they are "waterproof."
The AirTag has IP67 water-resistance, but Tile has not disclosed the exact water-resistance ratings of its trackers.
Tile trackers have a unique feature allowing them to find a user's smartphone. When within Bluetooth range, users can double press the button on their Tile tracker to make their phone ring. There is no equivalent feature with AirTags.
If a lost AirTag is found by someone, they can tap it using their iPhone or any NFC-capable device, including Android devices, and be taken to a website that will display a contact phone number for the owner, if they have provided one. There is no equivalent feature with Tile trackers.
Privacy and Unwanted Tracking Alerts
Apple says that AirTag is built around privacy. No location data or location history is physically stored inside the AirTag, and communication with the Find My network is end-to-end encrypted so that only the owner of a device has access to its location data. The identity or location of any device that helped find an AirTag is also kept completely private.
AirTag is also designed with a set of proactive features that discourage unwanted tracking. Bluetooth signal identifiers transmitted by AirTag rotate frequently to prevent unwanted location tracking.
iOS devices can also detect an AirTag that is not with its owner, and notify the user if an unknown AirTag is seen to be traveling with them from place to place over time. If users do not have an iOS device, an AirTag separated from its owner for an extended period of time will play a sound when moved to draw attention to it.
The Tile Mate and Tile Slim are priced at $24.99. The Tile Pro is $34.99, while the Tile Sticker is $39.99 for two or $59.99 for four. Tile also offers a wide range of cheaper combo packs containing multiple Tile trackers for an overall lower price.
It also has to be remembered that the Tile Slim and Tile Sticker will only last up to three years before they have to be discarded, potentially reducing their value for money in the long term.
The AirTag costs $29 for one, or $99 for four. Though the AirTag is priced competitively against Tile trackers, it should be noted that in most use cases, users will need to buy additional accessories to attach the AirTag to an item, which pushes up the overall cost considerably.
Moreover, the Tile app contains an optional Premium in-app subscription for $2.99 per month or $29.99 per year. The Premium service includes Smart Alerts, Unlimited Sharing, Location History, Free Battery Replacement, Extended Warranty, and Premium Customer Support.
AirTag's unique Ultra Wideband Precision Find features, more effective community tracking through the Find My network, NFC Lost Mode, and easy setup make it a better overall offering for most Apple users. While Tile's trackers feature more versatile and practical designs, the AirTag's software experience is difficult to beat.
The only customers who should buy a Tile tracker instead of the AirTag are Android users, individuals who need a specific design, such as the ultra-slim form factor of the Tile Slim, or simply individuals that would find features such as the ability to ring their phone remotely indispensable.