Apple AirTag Review: Finding Lost Items Made Simple

Apple AirTag tracking
AirTag is a small white disc meant to track personal items such as keys and luggage. TYLER HAYES

The idea with an AirTag is simple: Attach it to something you might lose. If you do misplace the item, you can use the Find My app to locate it again. This type of Bluetooth tracker isn't new though; in fact, in technology-years, it's quite old. Apple is following the lead of other companies, including Tile, in its creating a similar tracking product. But, the important question here is, How does AirTag work?

Waiting around to lose something can be time-consuming. At first, I had my kids hide an AirTag around the house, and I found it quickly. Using an iPhone 12 Pro with a U1 chip made it easy to locate items within close distances. A capable iPhone can point you in the direction of an AirTag within inches. To take the experiment farther, I asked a friend to drop one somewhere around town to see if I could find it again. Here's what happened.

AirTag Size and Design

Before we get to the results of my scavenger hunt, let's touch on the design of an AirTag. It's about the size of four U.S. quarters stacked together. The AirTag has a user-replaceable CR2032 coin cell battery, a speaker and wireless connectivity all contained inside its compact shiny shell.

The downside to its sleek shape is that there is no possibility to attach it to anything just out of the box. You can put it in a pocket, but there's no way to clip it to a loop without an accessory. (Luckily, there are plenty of AirTag accessories available.)

The AirTag is $29, and most accessories start around $13 and go up from there. Accessories are one way to customize the stark disc, but engraving it is another. By default, an AirTag is just white on one side and silver on the other. Apple does offer free engraving, which helps, for example, differentiate tags if you buy the 4-pack. There are 31 preselected emojis, numbers zero through 50 and letters a through z that can be used for the engraving. Each AirTag can accommodate between one and four characters.

Finding a Lost Item With AirTag

An AirTag works by pinging the location of passing iPhones to update its whereabouts in the world. This is a private and anonymous process that doesn't allow anyone beyond its owner to discover the AirTag's location. If an item with AirTag attached is lost in a remote area, then its location detection might be less accurate. That means that if you drop your keys in the woods, they'll be harder to locate than if you drop them in a mall.

Apple AirTag tracking
The Apple AirTag Loop can wrap around straps and comes in navy, yellow and white. TYLER HAYES

To re-create the experience of losing an AirTag, I gave one to a friend and asked them to drop it somewhere within a 10-mile radius.

An AirTag is set up simply by bringing it next to an iPhone. The AirTag is recognized and then asks to be named. It uses the Find My app to show its last known location. The Find My app is the same place you can locate a lost iPhone, MacBook or AirPods. It's now where an AirTag gets tracked, too.

Once my AirTag had been hidden, I set off to find it. I opened the Find My app and within a few moments, I saw that it found the AirTag and placed it on the map. I could see that the tag was just over 3 miles away. I got in my car and tapped the directions button inside the Find My app to take me to it. The location of the AirTag in Find My didn't fluctuate or change. The app knew exactly where it was sending me. I arrived at a large park and walked down a dirt path. I should have been on top of the AirTag, according to the app, so I pressed the locate button. This function connects to an AirTag directly within 20 to 30 feet. Nothing.

Apple AirTag tracking
This was the first location, inside the Find My app, where the AirTag noted its whereabouts, along with the dirt path where I was looking for it. TYLER HAYES

I moved around, swinging my phone from side to side like it was a metal detector. Still nothing. After 10 minutes, I sent a text with a screenshot asking for a hint. Was I at least in the right spot, generally? The answer came back: Nope—I was about 1.5 miles away.

My friend sent a pin drop to where he had hidden the AirTag, so I headed over there. I arrived, and I was still lost, because the app thought the AirTag was back where it had originally told me it was. After a few minutes of pressing the in-app button for it to play a sound, I finally heard the AirTag's internal speakers' chirping. Once I knew I was close, I tapped the Find button to get a precise directional location. This took a minute to initiate, but eventually it began indicating where to walk. Finally, I found the AirTag, resting under a few leaves.

I found the AirTag next to a suburban street. There was no sidewalk, so people weren't passing, but it was about 25 feet from where cars drove by. Either the lost AirTag was too far from the cars to pick up a location from drivers' phones, or the cars were moving too quickly.

If this had been an AirTag that had really been lost, I doubt I would have ever found it—or at least not until someone with an iPhone got close enough to it. But, if I had really dropped keys or something the AirTag was attached to, I would have had more information to go on. I would have known for sure the AirTag was out of my house and farther away. I also could have narrowed down my search by remembering the general vicinity I recently had been.

My scavenger hunt sort of underscores Apple's advisory for what types of items AirTag is recommended for, and which ones it's not—pets, for example. If an animal heads off to a spot without many people, its location will be fairly inaccurate. Plus, it is charting its own, new path, not somewhere you've recently been and can retrace your steps.

Apple AirTag tracking
The Apple AirTag Leather Key Ring retails for $35. TYLER HAYES

Should You Buy an AirTag?

Even with my mostly failed test, I still think AirTag is a great product and the best chance you'll have for locating lost items. AirTag taps into the ubiquitous Find My network created by iPhones, and so unless an item tracker has GPS built-in, this is the next best alternative.

The only question surrounding whether to buy an AirTag is, Do you have a relevant item that needs tracking?

Buy at Best Buy and Amazon.

Newsweek may earn a commission from links on this page, but we only recommend products we back. We participate in various affiliate marketing programs, which means we may get paid commissions on editorially chosen products purchased through our links to retailer sites.