As an absent-minded writer, the idea of a tracking device to help me find everyday things like my phone, car keys, and wallet is immeasurably reassuring. In fact, I've had my items tagged with Tile trackers for the past two years. Because they only work some of the time, I was excited when the opportunity to try out new trackers called Pixies came my way. But were they really better?

The short answer to that question is: sort of.

Like Tiles, Pixies – which we first wrote about in 2015 – are small Bluetooth tracking devices. Shaped like large guitar picks, the Pixies are thinner than Tiles, which makes them better for slipping into wallet or attaching to a laptop or tablet. They're also completely waterproof. The Pixies come with an adhesive backer that lets you stick them to a surface or inside the included keychain fob. There is also an iPhone case into which one of the trackers snaps. The case is especially handy because, unlike other Bluetooth trackers, you need to have a Pixie attached to your phone in order for the system to work, as all the Pixies network with each other to help you find your lost items.

Setting up the Pixies was extremely straightforward. After downloading the app, you simply put a Pixie by your iPhone, tap "add a new point" and the phone finds it and asks you to assign it a name like "My Keys" or "My Wife" (yes, I'm almost that bad at losing things). Once the Pixies are entered into the app, you can track your items in a novel way that resembles playing a game of Pokemon Go.

If something is lost, you simply tap it in the app and an augmented reality screen pops up. You are instructed to hold your phone in front of you and turn clockwise or counterclockwise (sometimes one followed by the other) until the app finds the device. When it does, it overlays a shimmering group of dots the company calls "Pixie Dust" over the item's location. As you walk closer to the dust, the app switches to a compass-like pointer and then as you get even closer, it turns into what the company calls a metal detector, which is a gauge that emits a series of tones, Geiger-counter-like, until your phone is right next to the item.

While this location method certainly is creative, I found it a bit tedious. Plus, it only worked part of the time. Even when my keys were hidden a few feet away in another room, the AR screen couldn't find them and instead had me turning back and forth in circles for a full minute before I gave up and switched to the range-finder functionality. Using that method, the app provides the distance from your item which you can use as though you were playing the "hotter/colder" game. It also occasionally and seemingly randomly puts up an arrow telling you where to find the item. Again it only half worked. The arrow that pointed to my item was often wrong and it took a long time to figure out which direction I should walk to shorten the distance between me and my keys.

I found them eventually, but it took an unreasonable amount of effort and there was nothing to tell me on which floor of my house I should search. I certainly found myself missing the fact that you can't make your Pixies emit a noise like you can a Tile. Although the functionality of Tiles leaves a lot to be desired, when the system does work, it's a whole lot easier to just follow your ears to the missing item than it is to go through the somewhat gimmicky and unreliable Pixie system. That being said, having the tracker right in your hand rather than running around your house listening for a tone also has its appeal.

The company claims that the phone can locate Pixies from about 30-150 ft (9-45 m) away. In my house, I found a range of 30 ft was the maximum I could get, while outside with no walls or floors in the way, that doubled to about 60 ft.

When it comes to using the system in reverse, if you lose your phone, you have to boot up another iOS device, put another Pixie next to it and then walk through a process to find it. It's fine in a pinch, but if you're going to go through all that trouble, using Apple's "find my iPhone" functionality seems a lot easier. Tile, on the other hand, says you can simply double-press a button on the tracker to ring your phone – but this too is functionality that rarely works, in my experience.

In the end, I found Pixie's slim form factor its most redeeming quality. Beyond that, choosing it over a sound-based tracker like Tile will be a personal decision. If Tile has improved its reliability over the years, it could have the edge. However, you'll have to decide for yourself if you'd rather hunt for your missing stuff using a game-like app on your phone, or by following your ears. For this scatterbrain, I've now got one of each tracker on all my important gear. Being that the reliability of neither was stellar, perhaps the combination will work.

Pixies come in a set of four with two key fobs and the iPhone case for US$99, but remember, one of those trackers needs to go on your phone. The company plans to release Android versions of the trackers later this year.

Product page: Pixie

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