Move-in day is fast approaching for students across the country. And while a smartphone, tablet, and laptop are all must-haves, we have another item to add to your list: the Apple AirTag.
So let’s see why the AirTag is an essential gadget for students.
An excellent object tracker
The small object tracker can easily slip into a pocket or be attached to a backpack or keys. AirTags integrate with Find My on your iPhone (along with other Apple devices) so you can ping and track it with just the press of a button.
At $29, a single Apple AirTag is damn cheap and is the tech giant’s cheapest gadget. It’s an iPhone accessory at heart, and you’ll need this device to set it up. The main purpose is to locate the item it is attached to – it will show you the location on a map (live or last reported location) and play an audible sound for easy searching.
These features combined with extremely simple operation make the AirTag an invaluable resource in everyday life and one we wish we had in college. We can’t tell you the number of times we found ourselves locked out of our dorm or unable to eat a meal due to forgetting our keys or IDs. The AirTag would have sent a notification to let us know that we left something behind. It’s quite convenient and can save you from having to walk across campus to pick up whatever you left behind.
And here’s how it all works – the AirTag itself doesn’t have GPS inside. Apple only included Bluetooth, NFC, and ultra-wideband connectivity inside, along with a user-replaceable speaker and battery. It will take nearly a year to run out, and it’s a common CR2032 battery when the time comes. The AirTag uses Apple’s Find My network, made up of over a billion connected devices. That way, as you walk around, a random iPhone or iPad will spot your AirTag and safely locate it on a map. This location is only available to you or the person the AirTag is registered with.
This all happens behind the scenes so when you open the Find My app you can quickly see the AirTag on a map. In our testing it was a very accurate experience, and in denser places like New York you’ll get more frequent location updates on the AirTag, thanks to the large number of Apple devices that help locate the AirTag on a map. And our gut tells us it’s a perfect fit for a college campus, because it’s a place we imagine to be covered in a few layers of Find My coverage.
If you have an iPhone 11 or later, you’ll be able to take advantage of what Apple calls “Precision Search.” The iPhone provides you with visually appealing and accurate GPS for your AirTag (and, therefore, your item). Essentially, as you move, the iPhone vibrates and displays an arrow — along with the distance — to the AirTag itself. You can even ping the AirTag and make it emit an audible chime. All of this comes in handy when you’re late for an 8 a.m. class and can’t find your keys or, worse, your backpack.
And from a privacy perspective, Apple has addressed issues common to all smart trackers. You’ll be notified if you leave without an AirTag, which is helpful, as we noted above. But also, if someone attaches or places an AirTag on you that isn’t registered for you, your iPhone (running iOS 14.5 or later) will eventually spot it and send you a notification. Our colleagues at CNN Business also have reports on this.
Apple’s AirTag is an unassuming disc with a plain white front and shiny stainless steel back. It is quite small at around 1.3 inches in diameter. It’s smaller than a PopSocket but bigger than a Mento or checkers. It’s pretty simple, but it’s a visible tracker rather than a chip built into a device. And that’s a good thing since the AirTag can act as a visual deterrent to a would-be thief.
There’s no ultimate solution to not having an item stolen, but having an item tracker attached can potentially discourage someone who is considering taking your item. And if your item is stolen, you have a better chance of getting it back, thanks to the AirTag’s tracking capabilities. A third-party tracker like Tile even offers a premium plan that provides insurance to get your item back (you can read more about that here).
If someone is more likely to spot an attached AirTag and then ditch it before taking off with your items, it might even be a good idea to hide an AirTag in your backpack or purse pocket. And since the AirTag doesn’t come with an accessory in the box or even a built-in keychain hole, it’s also the most affordable way to attach it to something.
There’s no ultimate solution to not getting an item stolen, but having an item tracker attached or in it can help with recovery.
The Achilles heel of the AirTag is the design. Yes, it’s a small white disc, but Apple didn’t bother to include a small hole or even an accessory in the box. For $29 you get the AirTag and a battery – nothing else. To attach it to a backpack or even your keys, you will need an accessory.
One of the best options is Belkin’s Secure AirTag Holder, which clips around the AirTag and allows you to securely attach it to an item like a bag or backpack. It also comes in several colors to easily match your style. An AirTag plus this mount comes to just under $43, which isn’t too bad. It also dramatically discounts the Apple-made $35 Leather Keychain or the $29 Buckle.
And while we haven’t dabbled in these low-cost accessory options, there are literally thousands of simple silicone, plastic, or rubber cases for an AirTag on Amazon. Here are a few that caught our eye and got great reviews.
- Belongme AirTag Case ($3.99; amazon.com) — This AirTag case includes the silicone cover, a key ring and an anti-scratch protection. We’d ditch the latter, but for less than $4 you have a solution for attaching the AirTag to your keys. You can even get a four-pack for $9.99.
- Arae AirTag Cases, 2-Pack ($9.98; amazon.com) — This AirTag case wraps entirely around the tracker itself and should provide a bit more protection against scratches or scuffs. There are also cutouts so the speaker can still be heard when pinged.
Alternatively, you can also insert the AirTag into your backpack pocket. It’s a little less secure, as it could roll, but it will definitely do the job. We’ll also admit we’ve taped an AirTag inside a backpack and even used tape to attach it to a wallet. It may leave scratches, but ultimately it doesn’t stop the tracking capabilities.
The other Achilles’ heel – albeit expected – is that the AirTag only works with iPhone and Apple devices. Those who use Android, however, are not left behind. We recommend looking at a Tile or Chipolo tracker.
And here’s the clutch thing: these two work the same way, with an app you’ll download that uses a network of other Tile or Chipolo devices to locate your tracker. Tile and Chipolo offer several types of trackers — small circular ones with a built-in key fob hole or even one the size of a credit card — that might fit your lifestyle even better. Here are some options.