Looking to keep better track of your valuables? Wondering whether an AirTag or a GPS tracker is right for you?
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll compare AirTags and GPS trackers to help you decide which is the best tracking device for your needs.
- How AirTags and GPS trackers work
- Key differences between the two devices
- Pros and cons of AirTag vs GPS tracker
- Features comparison
- Real-world use cases for each device
- Price considerations
- Expert advice for choosing the right tracker
By the end, you’ll know exactly which option to choose for tracking devices, bags, keys, pets, vehicles and more in 2024.
How Do AirTags and GPS Trackers Work?
To understand the key differences between Apple’s AirTag and a GPS tracker, it’s helpful to first learn how each technology works.
How AirTags Work
Apple AirTags are small, round tracking devices that you can attach to important items like keys, wallets and more.
AirTags connect via Bluetooth to Apple’s Find My network. This network consists of hundreds of millions of Apple devices that can detect Bluetooth signals from lost AirTags and relay their approximate location back to the owner.
So if your AirTagged keys go missing, any nearby Apple devices will “see” your AirTag’s Bluetooth signal and anonymously send its location to Apple’s servers. You can then check the Find My app and see the AirTag’s last known or current general location on a map.
If you’re within Bluetooth range, you can play a sound on the AirTag’s built-in speaker to help track it down. For extra precision when searching, Precision Finding uses audible and haptic feedback to guide you directly to the AirTag.
How GPS Trackers Work
GPS trackers use global positioning satellites and cellular data networks to pinpoint the real-time or historical location of people, vehicles and animals.
A GPS tracking device contains a cellular chipset that can connect to mobile networks, as well as a GPS chipset to communicate with satellites in orbit around the earth.
The GPS satellites send signals down to the tracker about their precise orbital location. By calculating its distance from multiple satellites, the tracker can triangulate and determine its own geographic coordinates.
This location data then gets sent over the cellular network back to the owner. You can log in on a phone app or website and view the tracker’s live location on a map from anywhere, as long as it has cellular service.
Some GPS trackers contain extra features like geofencing to receive alerts when something leaves a designated area. Others have long battery life, weather resistance or real-time tracking.
Key Differences Between AirTags and GPS Trackers
Now that you know how each technology works, let’s compare some of the main differences between Apple AirTags and GPS trackers:
- Tracking technology – AirTag uses Bluetooth and crowdsourced location, while GPS trackers use cellular data and satellites.
- Range – AirTags rely on being near Apple devices to work, while GPS has unlimited range.
- Real-time tracking – GPS trackers offer live location updates, AirTags only show the last known location.
- Works indoors – AirTags can be located inside, most GPS trackers need outdoor signals.
- Battery life – AirTags last over a year on a replaceable battery. GPS battery life ranges from weeks to over a year depending on power-saving modes.
- Water resistance – AirTags are splash and water resistant. Some GPS trackers are weatherproof and even underwater capable.
- Alerts and notifications – GPS trackers can send custom alerts like speeding, geofencing or SOS notifications. AirTags don’t have smart notifications.
- Accessories – AirTags have limited accessories. GPS trackers have mounts, harnesses, cases and more for versatile use.
- Pet safety – AirTags have small parts that can be bitten or swallowed by pets. GPS trackers designed for animals are bite-proof and safer.
- Price – AirTags cost $29 each. GPS trackers range from $25 to $200+ depending on features.
As you can see, both technologies have unique advantages and limitations depending on your use cases. Keep reading to learn more about how these differences apply in real-world tracking scenarios.
AirTag vs GPS Tracker Pros and Cons
To help summarize the key points so far, here is an at-a-glance comparison of the main pros and cons of using an AirTag versus a GPS tracker:
- Long battery life
- Compact, discreet
- Easy to use
- Integrates with Find My app
- Can be located indoors
- Limited range relies on Find My network
- Imprecise location tracking
- No real-time location updates
- No custom notifications or alerts
- Not designed for pets
- Small parts can be choking hazard
GPS Tracker Pros
- Unlimited range
- Works globally
- Real-time precise tracking
- Customizable notifications and alerts
- Rugged, weatherproof designs
- Made for tracking pets, cars, cargo
- Unlimited range, works globally
GPS Tracker Cons
- Requires cellular plan
- Battery must be recharged
- Larger size than AirTags
- Most don’t work well indoors
- More expensive than AirTags
Feature Comparison: AirTag vs GPS Tracker
|Bluetooth, Ultra Wideband
|Limited by Find My network
|Works without cellular data
|Weeks to 1+ year
|Splash and water resistant
|Varies, up to fully waterproof
|Ideal for pets
*Some GPS trackers work indoors using WiFi positioning or Bluetooth enhancement
As shown in the table, GPS trackers tend to offer more robust features, versatility and range – but for a higher price. AirTags excel at the basics for a budget price point.
Real World Use Cases: When to Choose AirTag vs GPS Tracker
Whether an AirTag or GPS tracker is better suited depends significantly on your intended use case.
Here are some common scenarios and expert recommendations for when an AirTag or GPS tracker is the best choice.
AirTag Use Cases
Keys – The compact AirTag is perfect for attaching to a key ring to help find lost keys. Its tapping features help you locate keys nearby.
Wallets and bags – Slip an AirTag in a wallet or purse to keep tabs on frequently lost items. Knowing the last place you used them helps retrace your steps.
Luggage – Discreetly track your checked bags on trips in case they get lost by the airline. Monitor them through the Find My network.
Belongings – Stick AirTags on TV remotes, cameras, laptops and more. You can check their last known location if misplaced at home.
Items that stay close – AirTags work great for items that are always with you or stay within Bluetooth range. Their limited range makes them less ideal for tracking things farther away.
GPS Tracker Use Cases
Cars – Hide a real-time GPS tracker on a vehicle to recover it if stolen. Advanced trackers have GPS and accelerometers to detect towing or movement.
Valuables – Conceal a GPS tracker in a suitcase, safe, or collectible to track across states or countries. Monitor remotely even when far away.
Pets – Attach a pet-safe GPS collar or tracker to monitor dogs, cats, elderly pets who may wander off. See their location and get alerts if they leave a safe zone.
Children – Keep tabs on kids’ location with a GPS tracker watch or clip. Features like geofencing and speed alerts help ensure their safety.
Supplies – Use a heavy-duty, waterproof GPS tracker in shipments, crates, trailers and containers across long distances.
Outdoor gear – Strap real-time GPS units on backpacks, snowmobiles, ATVs and other equipment for backcountry adventures.
Fleet vehicles – Outfit company cars, trucks, heavy machinery with GPS to monitor locations, routes, speed, unauthorized usage and more.
High value assets – Track vehicles, boats, equipment anywhere globally with satellite GPS tracking for added security and logistics monitoring.
As you can see, GPS trackers are ideal for outdoor use cases where unlimited range, real-time tracking and location history are important.
AirTag vs GPS Tracker: Price Considerations
One of the main purchasing considerations is cost, so let’s break down what to expect:
- AirTag: $29 for 1, $99 for a 4 pack
- GPS tracker: $25-$200+
There are a wide variety of GPS trackers at different price points:
- Basic GPS trackers – $25-$80
- Advanced real-time trackers – $80-$150
- Premium trackers with extensive features – $150-$200+
Other costs to factor in:
- AirTags require an iPhone or other Apple device
- Most GPS trackers need a paid cellular data plan ($5-$20/month)
- Advanced tracker features like crash detection may increase service fees
AirTags are affordable, but have limited functionality. GPS trackers cost more upfront but provide robust tracking features. Focus first on matching the tracker to your use case rather than cost alone.
Expert Tips for Choosing AirTag vs GPS Tracker
When deciding between an AirTag vs GPS tracker, keep the following expert tips in mind:
- AirTags excel at tracking items close by, especially when combined with Precision Finding. Choose a GPS tracker for out of range use cases.
- If real-time location monitoring is essential, a GPS tracker is the only option. AirTags only provide last known locations.
- AirTags are not designed for tracking pets – opt for a bite-proof, waterproof GPS pet tracker like the Halo collar instead to avoid injury.
- For indoor tracking of small items like wallets or remote controls, an AirTag is likely the better choice.
- Install Apple’s Tracker Detect app to get notified if an unknown AirTag is moving with you and avoid unwanted tracking.
- Purchase a GPS tracker bundle that includes the hardware, apps, SIM card and service plan for straightforward setup.
- Ensure the GPS tracker you choose matches the environment it will be used in – waterproof, rugged and extreme models are available.
- Opt for a GPS tracker with multiple locating options (cell towers, WiFi, Bluetooth) for better coverage across different locations.
- When choosing a pet GPS tracker, read Whistle and Fi collar reviews to compare features.
- For setup complexity, check out this SportDog fence review.
- Compare models like Wagz vs Halo when selecting the right pet GPS tracker.
- See Garmin vs SportDog and SportDog vs Dogtra for feature comparisons.