Earlier this year, I reviewed the Chipolo Bluetooth Tracker. It's a small fob which you can attach to your keys & bag, stuff in a wallet, or slip in a pocket. Push a button on your phone and, if the Chipolo is within 60 metres, it starts beeping loudly.
Six months is a long time in technology, and Chipolo have just released the Chipolo Plus. They've sent me one for free to review. Set your bias filters accordingly!
The Plus is £20 each - or £62 for a pack of 4. They come in a variety of colours
Chipolo offers customer support, a fairly decent app, and much better range. But is the price worth it?
The first thing to note is that this is a sealed unit. This means it gains water resistance but loses its swappable battery. The Chipolo Classic takes CR 2025 batteries which only last 6 months but cost around 30p each to replace.
The Plus claims to have a one year battery life - but after that it ends up in the landfill. That's quite disappointing. Yes, keeping a stack of the correct batteries around is annoying - but a heck of a lot cheaper than replacing the whole unit.
The Chipolo Plus is a little bit larger than a £2 coin (5.9mm thick and 37mm wide) - but fits quite happily on a keyring. It is lightweight and solid - you're not going to notice it in your pocket or in a bag.
The app has much improved from the original version. It doesn't crash, is usually quick to find the beacons, and doesn't take up much background resources. My Nexus 6 reports it using 32MB of RAM - its battery use is insignificant. In part, that's thanks to the efficiency of Bluetooth Low Energy. As the name suggests, it is designed for low power use.
But the strengths of BLE also come with Bluetooth's fundamental weaknesses. It can be really fiddly to set up. The first time I tried to pair the Chipolo with my phone, I got this message.
Or, as wiser minds once said:
“Next year it will work great” should be the motto of Bluetooth.
I got it working by following the instructions - so it wasn't that bad. Realistically, no worse than any other BT devices I've found.
Lost And Found
But what if you drop your keys while out jogging - how will you find them again? These tags are too small and under-powered to run a GPS chip. Instead, the app does the heavy lifting. Every time the app detects the beacon, it records the phone's location and uses that as the "last known location".
The Chipolo also allows you to share a tag with multiple people - so you'll be able to see if the Chipolo is in range of a family member's phone. It is a nifty idea - but quite lifestyle dependent. Does everyone in your family want a Chipolo? Do they all want the app?
If you lose your Chipolo, you can mark it as lost in the app. If someone else with the app comes within range, the Chipolo servers will anonymously send you the location where your device was detected. Again, a nice idea - but is it ever going to be useful? There have been around 100,000 downloads of the Android app - what are the chances that another user is going to wander by your lost keys?
Chipolo claims a 60 metre range. I'd say that was broadly accurate - but it depends on the type of space you're in. At my office, with lots of Bluetooth devices vying for signal, it seemed a bit less than that. At home, the signal strength just about allowed me to detect the device wherever I was.
Because, sometimes, it just doesn't work at all. As I was writing this post I had the Chipolo right next to my phone - yet the app just wouldn't detect it! A few hours later, I got this notification telling me that it had been found by "the community"!
Issues like this only crop up rarely, but it is enough to reduce trust in the app.
When it works, the Chipolo is great. The volume is loud - 100 dB according to the manufacturer - and keeps beeping until you find your lost items. If you need to keep track of physical objects, these sorts of BLE trackers are handy - but the software on the app is a bit of a let down.
The water-resistance is a nice feature - but I find the lack of changeable battery a real disappointment. I'm not sure that it is a worthy trade-off. And I'm definitely not a fan of throwing away electronics after only a year of use.
The Chipolo Plus is £20 - you can get a 20% discount using my referral link http://ssqt.co/NEvh.
It is a nifty bit of technology but, unless you need the water resistant model, the Chipolo classic is the same price and a lot more environmentally friendly.