If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I. Lose. Everything. That character flaw, in tandem with a complete inability to see things smack in front of my face sometimes, means I’m perhaps the perfect person to try out Apple’s new AirTags. Good thing, then, that Apple sent along a few to test — along with a purple iPhone 12 running the new (and required) iOS 14.5 update.
Let’s just clear one thing up now though: this is not a review! I’ve only had the AirTags for a day, which isn’t nearly enough time to properly live with these things. Still, that gave me ample opportunity to whiz through the setup process and test drive some of the AirTags’ most important features.
Before we get to that, though, we should talk about design. The AirTags themselves are a little larger than a quarter, and roughly the same size as those little buttons you’d pin to your bag or lapel. Tiny size aside, there’s a lot going on inside: apart from the user-replaceable CR2032 battery, each AirTag packs a Bluetooth radio, NFC for pairing, and a little speaker that plays a surprisingly loud alert tone when you need it. And most importantly, AirTags contain Apple’s U1 ultra-wideband chip, a helpful sliver of silicon we’ve so far only seen in the company’s recent iPhones, the Apple Watch Series 6, and the new HomePod mini. I could go on for a while about how the U1 actually works, but all anyone really needs to know is that it uses a high-frequency radio to act as a sort of beacon, allowing other devices with the same chip to more easily locate it.
On the whole, the AirTag design doesn’t leave a lot to be desired, though there are some things I do wish Apple had thought to consider. For one, I wish they had slightly flatter sides so I could stick one to my wallet or camera with a bit of double-sided tape, but that’s been my only gripe so far. And unlike rival object trackers, like all of the Tiles and Samsung’s Galaxy SmartTag, AirTags don’t have a built-in keychain ring. That means you’re forced to buy additional accessories for anything but the most basic situations, like keeping one in your backpack or purse. How very Apple.
Naturally, Apple has a slew of accessories to help you attach your AirTags to your must-have objects — I’ve mostly been using a $35 leather keyring, which isn’t nearly as compact as the Orbitkey I usually use and costs more than a single AirTag by itself. At $29 a pop, or $100 for a four-pack, AirTags are certainly competitively priced but expect your total outlay to swell considerably once you snap up holsters and straps to connect those trackers to your gear. (That is, unless you wait for cheapo alternatives to pop up on Amazon, which shouldn’t take more than a few days.)
Thankfully, figuring out how to attach your AirTags is the most difficult part of the process. Apple promised that setting up its object trackers will be as simple as pairing a set of AirPods, and that’s certainly been my experience so far. Once you unwrap a plastic sheath and remove a tab blocking the AirTag’s battery, a nearby iOS device should detect it in seconds. From there, all you really need to do is give the thing a name and thumb through a basic description of features before you’re all set.
(Pro tip: If it takes a while for your iOS device to recognize your AirTags, or if the “Find” option never appears in the Find My app, make sure location services are enabled for that app. I restored this new iPhone with a backup in which I specifically disabled location awareness for Find My, and I spent the next hour wondering what the hell was going wrong.)
So, what happens when you do lose your keys or whatever? Well, you have a few options, all of which are available in iOS’s Find My app. You could always tap a button to force the AirTag to play an alert chime, and to Apple’s credit, the speaker on these things is much louder than I expected. Our video producer hid my keys somewhere in his verdant Oakland backyard, and I could easily hear my wayward AirTag chirping over the sound of the wind, kids playing, and what I eventually found to be two guys cutting huge slats of wood in their front yard. Unless you have your TV blaring, I don’t think you’d have too much trouble finding your missing gadget with your ears alone.