Review: Findster Duo Plus offers fee-free GPS pet-tracking
If your dog has ever taken off on you at an off-leash park, then you'll know the frustration of trying to figure out where they've gone. And while there are already pet-tracking devices that can help, they definitely have some shortcomings. The Findster Duo+ system takes a unique approach to getting around those limitations.
Existing pet-tracking devices tend to fall into one of two categories: Bluetooth and GPS. The less-expensive Bluetooth devices are attached to the dog's collar, with an app subsequently showing the user which direction to go in order to find the animal. Unfortunately, though, these devices have quite a short range – usually no more than about 200 ft (61 m).
GPS pet-trackers also get attached to the collar, then proceed to continuously acquire and transmit their geographical coordinates via a cellular signal. Utilizing an app, users can track the location of their dog from anywhere there's coverage. The downside, however, is that monthly data fees are required.
The Findster system is likewise GPS-based, although it requires no cellular service. Along with an iOS/Android app, it consists of a collar-worn Pet module, and a Guardian module which the user carries with them. Utilizing the company's MAZE technology, the Pet module independently acquires its GPS coordinates, but then uses an ISM-band radio signal to continuously transmit that data to the Guardian. That module in turn uses Bluetooth to relay the information to the app.
On that app, users see the relative locations of the Guardian and the Pet modules on a satellite map of the area – in other words, the locations of themselves and their dog. They can then set out to reclaim their critter, with the positions of the modules being updated on the map as both parties move around.
In order to test the system, we put the Pet module on a dog who was then repeatedly led off into the woods at different locations. To make a long story short, yes, Findster did allow us to find him. There are a few user tips to keep in mind, though.
For one thing, there's often a substantial lag as the app updates the two modules' locations. This can be frustrating if you're hurrying to catch up with a dog that's on the run, and that could frequently be changing direction. More than once, by the time that the app updated our positions, it turned out that we were no longer heading toward the dog. Fortunately, hitting the GPS button on the display (arrow in lower right corner) allows you to manually update the locations.
Speaking of that button, we also discovered that if you want the map to automatically swivel around on the screen (so that north on the map is always pointing north in real life), you need to tap that button twice – you tap it once to center the Guardian on the map, and then tap it again. This is important to know, as it makes tracking the dog much easier. If the map shows that the Pet module is screen-left of the Guardian, for instance, you know to simply walk to your left.
Additionally, although constant internet access is not required, you do need to get online for about 20 seconds when first starting out on your walk – this is necessary for the system to acquire the initial GPS data. If you're still out and about two hours later, you'll be required to do an update for optimum accuracy. It should also be noted that if you want to minimize internet usage once you've left home, you'll need to preload a satellite map of the off-leash park (or wherever it is that you're going) before heading out.
Along with the map, the app also offers a Radar display. Not unlike some Bluetooth-based tracking apps, this simply shows the Guardian at the bottom of the screen, with the Pet module out in front of it. The idea is that by turning their phone from side to side, users can figure out what direction their dog is in, and how far away it is. In practise, though, we found that the Pet icon moved around quite erratically, and couldn't really be relied upon to locate the dog – we were told that the average GPS error was likely to blame.
There are, however, some other useful app features that did certainly work for us. One of these, Virtual Leash, alerts users if the dog wanders a given distance away from them at any time during the walk. Safe Zone, on the other hand, tells them if the pooch has left a given area that they've predefined on the map. Danger Zone is similar, although it alerts users if the dog enters a predetermined "forbidden area."
As an added bonus, the Pet module is equipped with an inertial measurement unit (an accelerometer/gyroscope combo), allowing it to function as a canine fitness tracker. On the app, this lets users track daily/weekly data such as time and distance walked, time spent resting on walks, and number of steps taken.
Battery life for the two modules is claimed to be up to 12 hours per charge, and they certainly had plenty of juice left after we used them for about two continuous hours in sub-freezing temperatures – the iPhone 5c we were using needed a recharge long before they did. It should also be noted that they're both IP67 waterproof, meaning that they can withstand being submerged to a depth of one meter (3.3 feet) for half an hour.
Finally, we should mention the connectivity range. Although much better than what's possible with Bluetooth, Findster's radio signal is rated to a maximum of 3 miles (4.8 km) in "open, outdoor environments." While that should likely be enough to keep tabs on your dog at the off-leash park, you might want to think about a more traditional cellular GPS system for scenarios where dogs could really get some distance.
Findster Duo+ is available now, priced at US$150 for a setup that includes one of each module – up to three Pet modules can be tracked simultaneously. If you do pick up a system, we strongly advise initially trying it out under controlled conditions, just to get the hang of it.
Product page: Findster