AirTags first impressions: A quick look at the new AirTags and my unique key setup.

Paul Alvarez

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Since receiving my AirTags only a couple of days ago, I have not had enough time to say how useful or good they are in all scenarios. So instead of a review, I want to talk about my first impressions and my plans in using the tiny new trackers by Apple.

After deciding to buy a 4-pack of Apple’s AirTags, I realized that I didn’t know what I would use them for other than my keys. So this tweet by Ken Norton really resonated with me:

https://twitter.com/kennethn/status/1388277120753836036?s=21

I knew I at least needed one for my wife’s keys and mine, but other than that didn’t know what else the AirTags would be helpful to attach with. Especially with the COVID and my wife being at the end of her pregnancy, we rarely ever go anywhere so the possibility of misplace things is very low.

One of the biggest reasons I feel it’s hard to find uses for the AirTags is due to its design. With the little device being slightly thick and rounded, it isn’t easy to throw it into a ton of different places. I started contemplating items that I lose sometimes, and all of them don’t work with the AirTags.

I am in complete agreement with Quinn Nelson, from Snazzy Labs YouTube Channel, on this point:

https://twitter.com/snazzyq/status/1388325531167326212?s=21

Some of the things that would be nice to track are my wallet, keycard for work, Kindle, Sony headphones, sunglasses, water bottle, or an external battery. All of these things are not ideal to have an AirTag attached to it, even if I got some double-sided tape and stuck it on. In most cases, it would stick out, making the device uncomfortable to hold or potentially just fall off.

So what I ended up doing was putting a device on both my wife and I’s keys and one on my backpack. I may just put the other one on my wife’s purse or her backpack, but since she is not going anywhere right now, it is just sitting on my nightstand waiting to be set up.

AirTag and Accessories First Impressions

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The AirTags, like all of Apple’s products, definitely feel high quality and solid. The shiny metal side is pretty, especially when looking at it in the leather key ring. Setting up is a breeze, too; if you have ever set up a pair of AirPods or an Apple Watch, the setup process is pretty identical. And once it is set up, you don’t need to do anything else.

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Unless you lose it which you will then you pop into the Find My app, which has a new Items tab that lists all of the AirTags you have set up, and use it to find whatever you are looking for. It is a seamless process and one that, once it is done, you forget about until you need it. That is the point of a tracking device on items; you don’t want to use them but rely on them to find that item later.

It is pretty hilarious that I paid more for some of the accessories for the AirTags than the devices themselves — but you get what you paid for. Apple’s leather accessories have never disappointed, and these Leather Key Rings are no exception.

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I got the blue one to match all of my other blue gadgets and bought my wife a brown saddle colored one since it matches her MagSafe wallet. I thought only one side of the AirTag would show through in the photos on the website, so I didn’t go for the engraving, hoping to get the device faster. But now that I see both sides are exposed, I am a little sad I didn’t get my wife a cat emoji or something else creative.

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Either way, the leather key ring has a solid button keeping the AirTags secure and a lovely keyring to attached to keys or a zipper, like I did for my backpack. I also got a silicon loop AirTag holder for my wife to use on her backpack or purse. Depending on what she ends up using these for, I may swap the loop with the leather one since the leather one may look better with her brown leather purse.

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For my keys, I wanted to try something a little different. As you have seen in my Geek’s Everyday Carry post, I use a Distil KeyLoop to keep all of my keys together. This makes things very simple and allows me to switch car keys instead of having a ton of keys in my pocket that I don’t need to use every day.

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When I wanted to add the AirTag to this setup, I decided to purchase a couple more KeyMod Sticks and throw an AirTag on it. Overall it worked just fine, the 3M sticker keeps hold of the AirTag great, and it fits within the KeyLoop without issue.

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It does add a bit of bulk, though, as seen in the pictures. The edges of the AirTag do slightly stick out on each side and it does kind of push all the keys surrounding it but not enough to bother me that much. In my pocket, I don’t feel much of a difference at all. I also decided to remove the YubiKey that I use for work since I now use an app on my iPhone for two-factor authentication.

This is another instance where if Apple made the AirTag flat or a little less rounded, it would fit in places more comfortably. I don’t hate it, though, and I plan to follow up with how I feel about this setup in the future. But the utility of being able to find my keys now when I lose them is excellent.

Functionality and Features

I tested the AirTags by putting my keys in my bedroom, then going out into my backyard and opening up the Find My app to find them. I was a little disappointed when this screen came up:

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I was probably about 30 feet away from where the keys were, but it was a little odd that it didn’t immediately point me in the right direction. Even weirder is that the arrow didn’t come up until I was only 3–4 feet from the device.

I wonder if I had had an iPad or my wife’s iPhone in the bedroom next to the keys that the Find My app would have been able to give me more precise directions right when I asked. I also wonder if Apple expects most to play the sound of the AirTag, which will already lead you down the right direction and the Find feature is to get you to those last few steps if they are hidden under something or down in the couch cushions.

Either way, I came away feeling a bit disappointed. I thought that right when I open the Find My app and click Find; it would bring up the screen showing the arrow pointing directly towards my bedroom and then lead me there. Instead, it is only there once you get pretty close to the device, which if the sound was playing, don’t know if I would need this feature at all.

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When you get up closer to the device, though, the app does give you a very satisfying vibration that builds as you get closer to the device until it stops telling you it is “here.” It is excellent attention to detail, but overall would have expected more from the U1 chip and Apple’s deep integration with the ecosystem.

This, of course, is only a couple of days of having the device and not real-world example, so I don’t want to assume anything prematurely. But it is helpful to know if anyone is looking at getting one that Apple’s advertisements at the event isn’t as exact as it seemed.

You could also compare this to Tile and recognize that Tile only really had sounds. They didn’t have any directional features leading you to the device regardless of how close you were to it. Tile did have a similar feature to that of the U1, where it would look for other devices nearby, making the signal that much stronger when you are looking for it.

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I like the sound that it plays but isn’t as loud as I would have expected it to be, and it doesn’t continue playing the sound until you find it. You have to keep pressing the Play Sound button after a few seconds to keep it playing. You also can play the sound when you are using the Find feature, which is pretty convenient.

The other thing I wanted to mention was the Lost Mode feature for this device in Find My. Like the “Mark As Lost” feature for iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks, the Lost Mode feature on the AirTags marks the device as lost. This will make it so you will be notified if found or a location becomes available, locks it to your Apple ID, and can leave a phone number and message for anyone that finds it.

Overall I think the AirTags are an excellent addition to my Apple product collection. Not only has Apple thought through a lot of cool features making the integration of the AirTag with the iPhone pretty great. But they were also cautious about making these devices environmentally friendly and safe from abuse. Being able to swap out the battery instead of replacing the entire device, like a Tile, is a great thing.

The replaceable battery isn’t just great since you don’t have to replace the whole device but you can physically make the device unusable if someone were to try to use it maliciously. Apple also has the AirTag beep if it knows it is being separated from its owner for an extended period. Apple thought through many nefarious behaviors that people could do with them.

There is just one other area that I can’t seem to understand, though. Please allow me this rant but for such a cheap and simple device, I am surprised Apple came out with them. I know that Apple is in the “consumer products business”, but AirTags or any tracking device seems like something Apple wouldn’t waste their time with.

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I do get that it creates more buy-in to their ecosystem, but just having the Find My app open to other manufacturers, in my opinion, should be enough. You would think that creating a platform for Tile or other trackers to include the U1 chip or some kind of software add-on and have deep integration in the Find My app would be enough to satisfy this need.

Coming out with $29 (or $25) devices to help make the ecosystem more robust seems strange to me. The Apple AirTag is pretty great compared to the Tile that I had in the past (though I have never tried the Pro versions), but how nice does a tracker need to be. When you think about it, you aren’t looking forward to using it for those “just in case” situations, so is it that important that it is the best quality?

The durability and functionality are obviously where Apple shines with the AirTags, but I am still conflicted on how important it was for Apple to make these. I do like them and will probably continue to upgrade them in the future now that they are a part of my, and my wife’s, lives. But I don’t think I would have been that disappointed if they never came out.

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AirTags are great; I think some improvements would benefit them in the future, especially with showing me directional guidance further away, but overall do what they say they can do. If they weren’t so cheap, though, I don’t know if I would have gotten them the very first day. So the price, functionality, and deep integration are all the best things about it but did Apple really need to make them?

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My passion is in technology. I write reviews about gadgets that interest me but also provide some kind of value in my toolset to achieve my goals. Most of my writing is surrounded by technology and how it plays a role as a tool, help with productivity, and also provide mindfulness for a more fulfilled life.

Turlock, CA
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