AirTags early hands-on roundup: Smart, tiny and … scuffable?

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AirTags could become a big hit for Apple
AirTags could be a big hit for Apple.
Photo: Apple

The first AirTags reviews and unboxing videos paint a pretty positive picture of Apple’s new tracking tags. After a short time using AirTags, reviewers praise the tiny trackers’ design as “classic Apple” and their precise finding capabilities as “utility-driven augmented reality.”

However, they also point out some limitations — including surprising scuffability!

AirTags, unveiled during Apple’s “Spring Loaded” event Tuesday, will compete with Tile and other Bluetooth trackers. But thanks to Apple’s U1 chip and a network of more than 1 billion iPhone users, AirTags could leap to the top of the heap.

The trackers go up for preorder this Friday, so today’s flurry of first impressions offers potential buyers a chance to kick the AirTag’s virtual tires. Apple will charge $29 for one AirTag or $99 for a pack of four.

AirTags first impressions

One of the most notable hands-on reports, from Dieter Bohn at The Verge, involves taking AirTags on an “elaborate game of hide-and-seek” to put the technology through its paces. Bohn’s conclusion? That the AirPods are “smart” and “capable” gadgets — although they’re also prone to scuffing.

Bohn writes:

“From a design perspective, an AirTag is classic Apple. It’s a white and shiny silver little button, and you can have custom emoji or letters printed on the plastic. They are as cute as the buttons they resemble.

However, you’ll soon find the plastic is scuffed and the chrome on the back is scratched. Sincerely, do not expect these to stay looking pristine for long — not since the weird early days of the iPod nano has an Apple product gotten scuffed this easily.”

All about that U1 chip

The report notes that the AirTags, unsurprisingly, work seamlessly with iPhones that have a U1 chip inside. (That’s the iPhone 11 and newer.) When said iPhone gets close to an AirTag, the phone can show an arrow on-screen to help you identify and locate the AirTag.

Bohn also points out that the AirTag’s plastic body vibrates to make a chirping sound that helps you find the tracker. That’s a pretty neat touch, although he notes that squeezing or compressing the AirTag will dampen how loud it is.

He additionally writes that there’s no hole in the AirTags for a lanyard loop. That means that, if you want to attach it to something, you must purchase an accessory. Finally, he notes that the standard CR2032 battery can be easily replaced. That’s not something that can be taken for granted with Apple devices.

How AirTags work

Meanwhile, TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino explains how AirTags work and points out some limitations:

“The precision finding feature enabled by the U1 chip works as a solid example of utility-driven augmented reality, popping up a virtual arrow and other visual identifiers on the screen to make finding a tag quicker.

The basic way that AirTags work, if you’re not familiar, is that they use Bluetooth beaconing technology to announce their presence to any nearby devices running iOS 14.5 and above. These quiet pings are encrypted and invisible (usually) to any passer by, especially if they are with their owners. This means that no one ever knows what device actually ‘located’ your AirTag, not even Apple.

With you, by the way, means in relative proximity to a device signed in to the iCloud account that the AirTags are registered to. Bluetooth range is typically in the ~40 foot range depending on local conditions and signal bounce.

In my very limited testing so far, AirTag location range fits in with that basic Bluetooth expectation. Which means that it can be foiled by a lot of obstructions or walls or an unflattering signal bounce. It often took 30 seconds or more to get an initial location from an AirTag in another room, for instance. Once the location was received, however, the instructions to locate the device seemed to update quickly and were extremely accurate down to a few inches.

Just another Bluetooth tracker?

Mashable’s headline, meanwhile, says AirTags are “actually pretty boring.”

Brenda Stolyar elaborates:

Bluetooth trackers aren’t new. Companies like Tile, Chipolo, and Orbit have been pumping them out for years — but leave it to Apple to turn them into a must-have accessory.

Sure, for iPhone users it means seamless connectivity that works with Apple’s Find My app. And yes, the AirTags do work super well — I didn’t have any issues with connectivity or while using any of the features. But at its core, it’s still nothing more than a Bluetooth tracker.

AirTags unboxing videos

A few other lucky users got early access to AirTags. I’ve compiled some of the notable unboxings below. There are some interesting tidbits and reminders along the way — such as that the AirTags can survive being submerged in water for up to 30 minutes, details about the trackers’ privacy features, and more.

One common refrain is just how tiny and lightweight the AirTags actually are. They weigh, as one early user points out, about the same as a couple of quarters — and they’re about the size of spare change as well. It’s quite easy to see these becoming a big hit for Apple.