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Best and Worst Wireless Key Finders 2015

Best and Worst Wireless Key Finders 2015
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That early-morning scramble to find your keys before you leave the house doesn't have to be so frantic if you've got a wireless key finder handy. No more than the size of a standard keychain — and even smaller in some cases — these dongles pair with your smartphone to act as proximity sensors, alerting you when your keys are nearby or in danger of being left behind. And with these sensors now using lower-powered Bluetooth LE to connect to your phone, you needn't worry about your occasional bouts of forgetfulness draining your phone's battery.

Plenty of key finders promise to keep your valuables close at hand, but after putting a variety of devices through their paces, Duet by Protag ($30 on Amazon) emerged as the best choice for tracking the whereabouts of your keys, thanks to a solid mix of features packed into a compact design. It just edged out our second choice, Pally Smart Finder, which boasts a loud alarm and a helpful virtual leash feature.

How We Tested and Rated

Clockwise, from top left: Pally Smart Finder, Elgato Smart Key, Duet by Protag, Hippih HipKey, Kensington Proximo Fob, Tile, Zomm Wireless Leash, LassoTag iBeacon. Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideClockwise, from top left: Pally Smart Finder, Elgato Smart Key, Duet by Protag, Hippih HipKey, Kensington Proximo Fob, Tile, Zomm Wireless Leash, LassoTag iBeacon. Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideWe looked at five primary factors when considering which wireless key finder is the best choice.

Design: We considered the size and shape of each proximity sensor. We examined the ease of inserting a new battery into those devices with replaceable batteries. We also took note of indicator lights and other on-device controls.

Battery Life: We looked at how long the batteries last between charges, or how long each sensor would last before you would need to swap in a new battery. 

App Features: We evaluated the cross-platform compatibility of the companion apps. We also considered any additional features offered beyond just finding your keys.

Volume: We used our decibel meter to record the actual sound output at 5 feet from the device.

Range: We tested not only how far we could walk away from a proximity sensor before it lost its connection, but also how easily that connection could be regained once we were back in range. We also tested alarm volume levels.

To conduct our range tests, we went to a busy public park that was largely free of electronic interference. In two separate tests, we put the sensors down on a bench and walked to places at various distances. Those tests gave us both an average range for each key finder as well as the maximum distance we were able to reach while still maintaining a connection with our proximity sensor.

In addition, we noted whether any alarms or alerts were audible in both the public park and at home when we buried each sensor under a pile of laundry. We also used the devices around a home to see how they performed in a space with walls, doors and other electronics within range.

It's worth noting that key finders, even the top-rated ones, receive wildly mixed reviews from users on ecommerce sites like Amazon. We chalk this up to vagaries of Bluetooth connectivity, where other electronic signals and physical barriers can interfere with the link between your keyfinder and your phone. We'd recommend familiarizing yourself with return policies before buying just in case you have trouble keeping a connection with your key finder. Our ratings reflect our experience with pairing the key finder and maintaining a connection.​

Duet by Protag: Best Wireless Key Finder

Of the wireless key finders we tested, Duet by Protag offers the best mix of features and performance. Combine that with a compact design — the Duet measures in at a wafer-thin 1.1 x 1.1 x 0.2 inches — and you've got a compact proximity sensor that can reliably keep you in contact with your valuables.

Finding your keys

Duet's app is available for both Android and iOS. In the app there are a couple different alert options. The most effective is the Buzz feature, which causes the Duet to emit an audible, if not exactly piercing, beep for 15 seconds. A second feature, Radar, uses bars and buzzing to indicate how close a lost Duet is to your mobile device.

A geofencing feature can send alerts to your phone whenever you stroll out of range. A Wi-Fi Zone feature keeps those alerts from sounding when both your Duet and your phone are connected to the same Wi-Fi network. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be a way to disable those alerts when your Duet is in a secured location — say, inside a backpack that you have in the trunk of your locked car as you walk away to run errands — other than dismissing the alerts your phone sends to you once you walk out of range.

You can also see a map of where your Duet was last recorded. If someone else with a Duet walks by, that person's app will ping the map to alert you of its location. We like the idea of the crowd-sourced locator feature, but it does require lots of other people to also own a Duet.

Duet doesn't just let you track your valuables; it also makes sure your phone isn't out of reach. Press a button on the Duet device, and your phone will start buzzing and beeping — assuming it's in range.

How Duet Performs

The Duet offered the most consistent performance of any proximity sensor I tested, routinely giving me ranges between 70 and 80 feet. Hearing the alarm was another matter altogether — it's fairly faint, compared with other trackers, and I had a hard time picking it up, even inside my house. When I lost contact with the Duet, I usually had to walk 20 feet toward the device to re-establish contact.

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideCredit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideWhen we tested the volume using our decibel meter, we couldn't register even 50 dB at 5 feet away. That's on a par with the category average. At 1 inch, however, we recorded 79 dB, which is louder than the company's own claims. 

Battery life for the Duet is about six months, but Protag includes one replaceable CR2016 battery, so you can expect to get a year's worth of battery life out of the device before you pay up for new batteries. While it is the second-softest alarm we tested, when you consider the two-way tracking feature and consistent range, this is the most reliable choice if you're looking for a wireless key finder.

Specs

Range: 70 to 80 feet on average; Longest distance 81 feet
Battery Type: Replaceable CR2016 battery
Loudness claimed (dB): 75
Loudness tested (dB)
: Less than 50
Compatibility
: Android, iOS

Pally Smart Finder: Runner-up

Pally Smart Finder nearly matches the Duet in terms of features, but it does so in one of the larger devices we tested. At 1.5 x 0.9 x 0.52 inches, the Smart Finder isn't that much larger than a keychain fob, so if compact design isn't on your wish list, it's worth considering.

Using the Android and iOS versions of the app, you can use a Find feature to make your Smart Finder buzz and flash when it's out of sight; a Virtual Leash feature buzzes your phone when you leave the Smart Finder's range.

At its best, the Smart Finder turned in the most impressive test results, allowing me to walk up to 93 feet away in a public park while still maintaining a signal. Ranges of 55 to 70 feet were more typical. Regardless of how far I got, the extremely audible beep of the Pally Smart Finder could be heard over the ambient noise around me. (In fact, while testing the device, a parks employee approached me, thinking that beeping sound meant I was up to no good.)

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideCredit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideIn the lab we recorded 50 dB at five feet from the device, far from the 115 dB claimed by the company. But that matches up with the category average. We recorded at a 1-inch distance as well, where we got 93 dB. That makes the Pally the second-loudest finder we tested.

The Smart Finder runs on two AAAA batteries, with Pally promising two-plus years of battery life for its device. Replacing the batteries is simply a matter of loosening a single screw to open up the case.

Unfortunately, the Smart Finder’s app is poorly designed: The Find button is placed too close to the button for adjusting the settings. Also, it took some effort to regain the signal of a Smart Finder once I had walked out of range. Still, if you appreciate a loud alert and don't mind the Smart Finder's less-than-compact size, it's a good alternative to the Duet.

Specs

Range: 60 to 70 feet on average; Longest distance, 93 feet
Battery Type: 2 replaceable AAAA batteries
Loudness claimed (dB): 115
Loudness tested (dB): 50
Compatibility
: Android, iOS

Hippih HipKey

HipKey from Hippih boasts the most features of any proximity sensor. And at $60, it also has the highest price tag, twice the price of the Duet. It's worth noting that HipKey's battery is rechargeable via a micro USB cable, so you won't have to pay for replacement batteries. A fully charged HipKey can go two to four weeks between charges, Hippih says.

HipKey turned in consistent ranges. Set at medium sensitivity, it was more likely to sound the alarm than on the default setting. I was still able to record ranges between 60 and 70 feet most of the time. In a park, I got as far away as 85 feet before losing connection with the HipKey. And when that connection is dropped, HipKey raises a ruckus, sounding a very audible alarm that keeps ringing until you recover the device. Fortunately, the HipKey app lets you designate "safe zones" like your home so that the device's alarm won't go off just because you've left a room.

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideCredit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideOther HipKey features are more of a mixed bag. I like the child mode that lets you attach the device to your child, causing the alarm to sound if the child wanders too far away. I strapped the HipKey to my daughter's wrist at the park and told her to run for it; after 50 feet, the HipKey's unceasing alarm helped me track her down. It's not a foolproof solution — the device is pretty large to slip into a child-sized pocket and your kid could always ditch the HipKey — but it certainly works as advertised.

I was less impressed with the Motion Mode, which sets off the HipKey's alarm if whatever it's attached to is even jostled. I can't see this being an effective feature for anything, except for garnering dirty looks from anyone within earshot every time the HipKey starts beeping.

When we measured the volume output of the alarm, our decibel meter couldn't pick up even 50 dB at 5 feet, which is in line with the category average. At 1 inch, we recorded 86 dB, below the company's 90-dB claims. 

HipKey is not a slender device: It's nearly 2 inches in diameter and about 0.3 inches thick. If you don't mind the extra bulk at the end of your keychain, though, HipKey's feature set and its constant alarm offer plenty of appeal. Android device owners will have to look elsewhere, though, as HipKey's companion app only runs on iOS.

Specs

Range: 60 to 70 feet on average; Longest distance, 85 feet
Battery Type: Rechargeable battery
Loudness claimed (dB): 90
Loudness tested (dB): Less than 50
Compatibility
: iOS

Bravo Trackr

TrackR's latest offering, the $29 TrackR Bravo, seeks to improve upon the company's older Sticker. And it does, for the most part. The Bravo is a bit wider — now 1.2 inches in diameter — though it's slightly thinner, at 0.13 inches. It's far easier to swap out the battery than it is with the TrackR Sticker.

The Bravo's range is noticeably smaller than the Sticker's. In a public park, I usually lost a connection with the key finder within 20 feet. The trouble is, the Bravo will take some time to alert you that you're out of range. When I simply walked away from my keys, I got anywhere from 47 feet to 62 feet away before my phone alerted me that I was in danger of leaving something valuable behind. The Bravo does a better job than the TrackR at re-establishing a connection to your missing valuables, though you still need to be within 10 feet to reconnect via Bluetooth. The Bravo's alert noise was the loudest of the key finders we tested, so it's certainly audible in a public setting.

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideCredit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

TrackR has revamped the Android and iOS versions of its software for the Sticker and the Bravo, which now shows the location of your key finder on a map, and adds a button to make your Sticker and Bravo sound an alarm on the same screen. But you still have to drill down into each individual TrackR sensor in the app to enable features like two-way tracking and phone alarms when you're out of range.

Like the Duet and the Tile, TrackR's Bravo and Sticker feature crowd-finding features. For example, lost devices can be found by other TrackR users who send anonymous reports back to TrackR when they're within range of your lost valuables. But such features require widespread adoption of that particular key finder to be of much use. If you’re inclined to spend $4 less on a wireless key finder, the TrackR Sticker is still available for sale.

Specs

Range: 15-20 feet; longest distance: 62 feet

Battery Type: Replaceable CR1616 battery

Loudness claimed (dB): 85 dB

Loudness tested (dB): 58 dB

Compatibility: Android, iOS

Tile

Tile, an aptly named 1.5 x 1.5 x 0.2-inch white square that looks like a piece from a board game, lets you find your keys from either an Android or iOS mobile device, but you can't use Tile to track down your phone. 

Looking just at the key-finding features, though, Tile does a pretty good job. If you lose sight of a Tile, just refer to the green circle on the app's screen, which will fill in as you get closer to the misplaced Tile. You can also tap the Find button, and your Tile device will play a jaunty electronic tune until you tap the Find button again. Tile's volume is decent — I could pick it up in a busy public park, though if you leave your keys in that pair of pants you threw in the laundry, the sound can be pretty muffled.

The company hasn't released any claims about how loud the tune should be. In our lab we measured less than 50 dB at 5 feet from the device, which matches the category average. At 1 inch we measured 84 dB. That's just barely above the category average of 82 dB. 

But if your Tile isn't in range when you try to use the app's Find feature, you have a problem. A map built into the app displays the last location where your Tile was logged, but it's not very detailed.

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideCredit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideTile gives you the option of marking an unfound object as lost. If other Tile users should pass by your missing Tile, their app will log the location in an update — all anonymously, Tile says — that will result in you receiving a push notification as to the whereabouts of your stuff. This requires an awful lot of other Tile owners to be a useful feature.

On the bright side, Tile's range is consistent, and in my public-park test, it turned in the second-best range of any device I used. I walked 87 feet away and picked up a signal (and even faintly heard Tile's musical beep). The trouble was, once I lost the signal, I had a devil of a time picking it up again, having to walk 30 to 40 feet before the Tile app would detect any device.

Users may also balk at Tile's battery. Tile promises a year of battery life, but because Tile is completely sealed, when that battery does go kaput, so does your Tile. Tile's maker says that it "will give you the option to renew your Tiles. We are currently working on a renewal program at a discounted price that will easily allow you to exchange your old Tiles for brand-new Tiles." That's a detail that should be nailed down before people buy.

Specs

Range: 35 to 45 feet on average, Largest distance, 85 feet
Battery Type: Nonreplaceable battery
Loudness claimed (dB): Unknown
Loudness tested (dB): Less than 50
Compatibility: Android, iOS


Elgato Smart Key

The 1.6-diameter Elgato Smart Key is certainly on the larger end of the proximity sensors we tested. But its real issue is a faint alarm and a thin set of features.

The Elgato Smart Key app for iOS — there's no version for Android phones — keeps a fairly good log of when the sensor connects and disconnects, and its location features for lost items are among the more precise we encountered. But Smart Key is only aimed at finding lost things attached to the sensor; there's no two-way find feature that can help you track down your missing phone.

Smart Key also had one of the shorter ranges in our tests, consistently dropping its connection between 30 and 40 feet. Worse, there's a serious lag time between when the connection between your phone and your Smart Key drops and when the mobile app sends you an audio alert that you're out of range. At my test in a park, I was 42 feet away when the Smart Key app indicated visually I was out of range, but I walked another 106 feet before my phone began beeping.

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideCredit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideThe on-device alarm is barely audible in an outdoor setting and extremely difficult to hear when buried under a pile of laundry. That alarm, triggered by a tap of a button in the mobile app, only works when the Smart Key is in range; lose your connection and you'll have a difficult time re-establishing it, unless you're within a few feet of the sensor.

We recorded less than 50 dB at 5 feet, which is on a par with the category average. At 1 inch, the Elgato scored 80 dB, which is softer than the competition and the category average of 82 dB, but louder than the company's claims.

A replaceable CR2032 battery powers the Smart Key, with Elgato promising six months of battery life. To change the battery, you'll need to pry open the Smart Key using either a very small flathead screwdriver or a small piece of metal that ships with the device. It's easy enough to do, provided you have the right tools. However, a soft alarm and lack of features holds this device back.

Specs

Range: 30 to 40 feet on average; Longest distance, 42 feet
Battery Type: Replaceable CR2032 battery
Loudness claimed (dB): 72
Loudness tested (dB): Less than 50 dB
Compatibility: iOS

Zomm Wireless Leash

The Zomm Wireless Leash fancies itself as more than just a proximity sensor. In addition to alerting you when you and your phone are about to become separated from your keys (or anything else you attach to a Wireless Leash), the device also serves as a speaker for whatever phone you've paired it to and boasts security features like a panic button and emergency calling. It would have been better to focus on perfecting any one of those features rather than delivering mediocre implementations of each.

At 1.62 inches in diameter, the disk-shaped Wireless Leash is nearly the exact size of Elgato's Smart Key, though noticeably fatter in the middle. It doesn't have a dedicated app, which means you can pair it with other mobile phones over Bluetooth. (Another version, the Wireless Leash Plus, does have a dedicated app, but only for Android at the moment. The Wireless Leash Plus offers more key-finder capabilities than the $50 base model, but it'll cost you $80.)

With no dedicated app for your mobile device — there's a desktop tool that lets you adjust the Wireless Leash's settings — you're looking at a limited feature set. Walk away from the Wireless Leash, and once you're out of range, it will begin to blink, then beep, then beep even louder, though the loud beeping stopped after 10 seconds.

We used our decibel meter to measure the volume of the Zomm. At a distance of 5 feet, we couldn't quite register 50 dB. But at 1 inch, where it should be its loudest, we only recorded 58 dB. That makes the Wireless Leash's alarm the softest we tested.

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideCredit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideTesting the device in its long-range setting, I got about 125 feet away before the Wireless Leash sounded its alarm, though at that point, it was pretty far away to hear it. I had better luck picking up the alert when using the device's short-range mode, when the alarm kicked in after 40 feet. However, adjusting that setting meant having to go back to my desktop, plugging the Wireless Leash into a USB port, and navigating to Zomm's website

The Wireless Leash runs on a rechargeable battery that lasts about five days, which is shorter than any other device we tested.

If you like multitasking tools, the speakerphone and security features of the Wireless Leash may appeal to you, though I found the speakerphone tinny and the call quality below average. As a key finder, the lack of a dedicated app and unintuitive controls limit the Wireless Leash's appeal.

Specs

Range: 30 to 90 feet on average, depending on setting; Longest distance, 125 feet
Battery Type: Rechargeable battery
Loudness claimed (dB): 75
Loudness tested (dB): Less than 50
Compatibility: Any phone that supports Bluetooth pairing

Kensington Proximo Fob

Kensington's Proximo is a disappointing wireless key finder. There's plenty of promise, as the 6.5 x 4 x 0.5-inch Proximo Fob straddles the line between a design that's too tiny and too bulky. But design isn't the problem here; it all comes down to performance.

The Proximo certainly provides a promising feature set. In addition to alerting you via your Android or iOS device anytime it goes out of range, the Proximo also sports a button that you can press to find your phone.

As far as volume goes, we recorded 59 dB when 5 feet away, which is above the category average. We also got a very loud 95 dB at 1 inch away. So, at least you'll be able to hear the alarm, which was the loudest we tested.

However, the Proximo's range isn't terrific; get more than 40 feet away, and you'll have a hard time maintaining a connection. An on-screen display in the app, which purports to show you how close the Proximo is to you and your phone, is so inaccurate as you move away from the phone that it's practically useless. 

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideCredit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideWorst of all, when you lose a connection with the Proximo, that connection stays lost. Even when I walked back to where the Proximo was and placed it on top of my phone, I couldn't re-pair the proximity sensor with my mobile device. Instead, I had to power down my iPhone and reboot it before the Proximo could be paired again. Once you lose contact with the Proximo, anything you have attached to it is as good as lost.

The Proximo runs on a replaceable CR2032 battery that is rated to last for six months. To put in a new battery, you've got to unscrew the back of the Proximo Fob with a tiny screwdriver Kensington includes in the packaging. It's not a particularly elegant solution, but given the Proximo's connectivity problems, it's really the least of your worries.

Specs

Range: 40 feet on average; Largest distance, 49 feet
Battery Type: Replaceable CR2032 battery
Loudness claimed (dB): 95
Loudness tested (dB): 59
Compatibility: Android, iOS

LassoTag iBeacon

LassoTag iBeacon, a guitar-pick-shaped tracker that you tie or stick to your valuables, is simply too inconsistent to recommend. It takes a different tack from other proximity sensors, alerting you when you and your phone have gone out of range from the LassoTag, but not offering much in the way of location features, save for a not very helpful hot-cold indicator that tells you how close you are to the sensor when you are in range.

LassoTag is clearly intended to be used on things you never want to leave your side as opposed to helping you find misplaced items like keys. The trouble is, LassoTag proved to be not very accurate. Using the LassoTag iBeacon in a park, I got a maximum range of 52 feet, but most of the time, the connection dropped when I was 25 to 30 feet away; I couldn't re-establish contact with the LassoTag until I was practically standing on top of it. 

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideCredit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's GuideMore troubling were the false positives — the times when my phone would alert me that LassoTag was out of range even when the device remained in plain sight. One such alert arrived when my phone was in my right pants pocket while the LassoTag was in the left. There was no alarm sound with which to measure decibel levels.

The LassoTag iBeacon features a fairly slender design — only the Duet and TrackR sticker are more compact — and an easy-to-replace battery. (You'll need to replace it a lot: LassoTag promises only three months of battery life, which is the shortest of the proximity sensors I tested.) The LassoTag app only works with iOS devices, so Android users should ignore this option entirely.

Specs

Range: 25 to 30 feet on average; Largest distance, 52 feet
Battery Type: Replaceable CR2016 battery
Loudness claimed (dB): N/A
Loudness tested (dB): N/A
Compatibility: iOS

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  • 0 Hide
    Steve Dudenhoeffer , February 27, 2015 11:27 AM
    Are any compatible with Windows Phone?
  • 0 Hide
    PhilipMichaels , March 1, 2015 5:36 PM
    Zomm Wireless Leash works with any smartphone with Bluetooth connectivity. The others require dedicated apps, and none of those apps work on Windows Phone.
  • 0 Hide
    Lostkeys , March 24, 2015 6:41 AM
    What about the trackr?
  • 0 Hide
    PhilipMichaels , March 26, 2015 7:03 AM
    Quote:
    What about the trackr?


    We're testing the new TrackR Bravo as well as the TrackR Sticker. Expect those to be added to the guide shortly.
  • 0 Hide
    PhilipMichaels , April 9, 2015 3:11 PM
    This article was updated on April 9 to include the TrackR Bravo.
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