Bluetooth vs GPS Trackers: Which Should You Choose for Tracking Items?

January 3, 2024

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Tracking down misplaced belongings can be a huge hassle. You frantically search everywhere, overturning cushions and digging through drawers trying to find your keys, wallet or other important items.

Thankfully, tracker devices using Bluetooth and GPS technology offer an easy solution to help locate lost items quickly. But what’s the difference between Bluetooth and GPS trackers, and which type is better for your needs?

This comprehensive guide will compare Bluetooth and GPS trackers to help you decide which technology fits your tracking purposes.

What is Bluetooth Tracking and How Does it Work?

Bluetooth Tracking

Bluetooth technology allows devices to wirelessly connect over short distances using radio waves. It’s commonly used for wireless headphones, speakers, smartphones and more.

Bluetooth tracker devices utilize a form of Bluetooth called Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). As the name suggests, BLE uses less power allowing the trackers to be smaller and have longer battery life.

Here’s a quick rundown of how Bluetooth trackers pinpoint lost items:

  • The tracker connects via BLE to a smartphone app.
  • When activated, it sends out a Bluetooth signal.
  • If the tagged item is within Bluetooth range (usually ~30ft/10m), the tracker and smartphone connect.
  • The app displays the item’s last known location on a map.
  • You can also make the tracker emit a sound to help find it.

Because Bluetooth is limited by short transmission ranges, Bluetooth trackers work best for finding items nearby like keys, wallets, remote controls or pets that tend to wander around the house.

Pros of Bluetooth Trackers

Long battery life – Since they only connect occasionally to check location, Bluetooth trackers last 6 months to 2 years before needing battery replacement.

Small and lightweight – Bluetooth trackers are compact and portable, easily attaching to keychains, collars, bags. Popular models are about 1.5 inches square and a 1/4 inch thick.

Inexpensive – Bluetooth trackers cost between $15-$50 making them affordable to use for tracking multiple items. There are no monthly fees.

Help finding nearby items – Effective for locating commonly misplaced items like keys or wallets in the home, office or car.

Item specific alerts – Get notified when you leave an item behind. Know immediately if you accidentally leave your purse somewhere.

Works through walls – Bluetooth can penetrate through walls, floors, furniture and other obstacles to locate items in drawers or between couch cushions.

Item tracking history – View where an item has been which is handy for finding frequently misplaced things.

Works underwater – Bluetooth works even when submerged allowing you to attach a tracker to items that may get wet.

Community search – If your tracker goes missing out of Bluetooth range, other users can help anonymously detect it if they come within range.

Cons of Bluetooth Trackers

Limited range – The maximum Bluetooth range is 30ft-100ft. If your tracked item goes beyond this range, you won’t be able to connect to or locate it.

No real-time tracking – You only get the last known location info, not constant real-time tracking.

Possible interference – Bluetooth signals can be impacted by obstacles, walls and interference from other devices. Connectivity may be spotty.

Bluetooth required – The system relies on Bluetooth being enabled on your phone to work. If Bluetooth is off, the tracker won’t connect.

Battery replacement – Although they last over a year, eventually batteries need replacing which adds costs over time.

Not ideal for moving objects – Bluetooth pings location intermittently making it less than ideal for tracking moving people, pets or objects.

Ideal Uses for Bluetooth Trackers

Because of the short connectivity range, Bluetooth trackers work best for items you tend to use daily that get frequently misplaced within your home or office.

Here are some of the most common and effective uses for Bluetooth tracking technology:

  • Keys
  • Wallets, purses, bags
  • Luggage bags
  • Laptops, tablets, headphones
  • TV remotes
  • Tools
  • Important documents
  • Pet collars (for pets that stay nearby)
  • School backpacks
  • Lanyards, badges
  • Bicycles (for local area tracking)

Bluetooth trackers slide easily onto keychains, zipper pulls, collar tags allowing you to quickly track down and find day-to-day items when they go missing nearby.

Popular Bluetooth tracker models include:

What is GPS Tracking and How Does it Work?

Gps Tracking

GPS stands for Global Positioning System. GPS tracking utilizes a network of satellites orbiting the Earth to pinpoint locations anywhere on the planet.

GPS tracking devices use a receiver to pick up signals from overhead satellites to work out the precise position of the tracker. The coordinates are then transmitted via cellular networks to the tracker company servers where the location can be viewed on a map app on your phone or computer.

Let’s break down what happens:

  • GPS signals from satellites determine the tracker’s location coordinates.
  • The device sends this data over cellular networks to company servers.
  • You see your tracker’s exact location in real-time on a map on your phone app or account dashboard.
  • Advanced trackers allow setting geofences and alerts if your tracker enters or leaves set areas.

Because GPS uses satellites, it offers unlimited range for keeping track of items, vehicles or people anywhere in the world.

GPS tracking is commonly used for:

  • Vehicles
  • Equipment
  • Shipping containers
  • Valuables
  • Luggage
  • Pets
  • People
  • Fleet management

Pros of GPS Trackers

Unlimited range – As long as there’s a GPS signal, you can track items globally, no matter the distance.

Real-time tracking – GPS updates location data regularly allowing you to view tracked items on a live map.

Precision tracking – GPS provides more precise location tracking, accurate to within 10-30 feet.

Ideal for moving objects – Frequent location pings make GPS suitable for tracking pets, vehicles, people.

Historical location data – Store and view the history of locations your tracker has been.

Geofencing and alerts – Create virtual boundaries and get alerts when a tracker enters or leaves certain areas.

Item recovery – If stolen, you can pinpoint a GPS tracker’s location to recover your item.

Speed alerts – Some GPS trackers detect excessive speed and alert you if preset limits are exceeded.

Cons of GPS Trackers

More expensive – GPS trackers cost between $50-$200 plus potential monthly subscription fees making them pricier than Bluetooth.

Larger and heavier – GPS trackers need larger batteries requiring bulkier hardware with an average size of 2.5 x 1.5 x 0.75 inches.

Shorter battery life – Batteries can last weeks to a few months but need recharging more frequently than Bluetooth.

Potential connectivity issues – Problems with cellular signals in remote areas can cause temporary tracking blackouts.

Monthly fees – Most GPS trackers require an ongoing subscription to cover cellular data costs, typically $5-$20/month.

Delayed tracking – There can be a lag of 2-5 minutes between location ping and viewing on the app.

Ideal Uses for GPS Trackers

The unlimited range of GPS trackers make them most effective for tracking valuables, equipment, vehicles, pets and people that are prone to moving long distances.

Here are the most common and useful applications for GPS tracking:

  • Pet collars
  • Luggage bags
  • Backpacks
  • Vehicles
  • Trucks
  • RVs
  • Boat trailers
  • Construction equipment
  • Farm equipment
  • Power tools
  • Generators
  • Child location monitoring
  • Elderly loved one monitoring
  • Hikers/campers
  • Bicycles
  • Watercraft
  • Shipping containers
  • Valuables like cameras, computers, guns
  • Stolen item recovery

Popular GPS tracker models include:

Key Differences Between Bluetooth and GPS Trackers

Now that we’ve covered how Bluetooth and GPS tracking works along with their advantages, let’s recap the main differences:

Bluetooth TrackersGPS Trackers
TechnologyBluetoothGlobal positioning satellites
Range30-100 ftUnlimited worldwide
Tracking TypeLast known locationReal-time location
Battery Life6 months-2 years1 week-1 year
SizeSmall, thin, lightweightLarger and bulkier
Cost$15-$50$50-$200+ monthly fees
Ideal ForWallets, keys, remote controls, bikes, nearby petsVehicles, equipment, pets, people, luggage, valuables

Direct Comparison of Features:

FeatureBluetooth TrackerGPS Tracker
Precision TrackingYesYes
Real-time TrackingNoYes
Unlimited RangeNoYes
Location HistoryYesYes
Item Specific AlertsYesNo
Community SearchYesNo
Works UnderwaterYesSome models
Speed AlertsNoSome models
Small SizeYesNo
Long BatteryYesNo
Ideal for VehiclesNoYes
Ideal for ValuablesNoYes
Ideal for PeopleNoYes
Ideal for PetsLimitedYes

As shown in the table above, Bluetooth and GPS trackers each have strengths making them better suited for specific tracking needs.

Bluetooth provides an affordable way to keep track of frequently misplaced personal items around your home. The compact size and long battery life give you a maintenance free way to tag and locate daily essentials.

GPS trackers really shine when you need to keep track of more valuable items like luggage when traveling, pets who roam far from home, vehicles vulnerable to theft, or loved ones you want to help keep safe like children or elderly relatives. Though more expensive upfront, the unlimited range, real-time tracking, and advanced alerts GPS offers justify the cost for many users.

How to Choose the Right Tracker Type for Your Needs

Choosing between a Bluetooth or GPS tracker comes down to weighing your specific tracking wants and needs.

Here are key questions to help choose the right tech for your purposes:

Do you need to track valuable items or vehicles that may be stolen or moved far distances?

If yes, a GPS tracker is likely the best fit to help recover stolen objects thanks to unlimited range and real-time tracking.

Do you want to monitor the real-time location of moving objects like pets, elderly relatives, children or shipments?

If you need real-time oversight of people or objects on the move, a GPS tracker is required to stream locations from afar and provide live tracking.

Do you want to keep tabs on everyday items around your home or office that tend to get misplaced or lost frequently?

For tracking daily items like keys or remote controls that go missing in the house or office, a short range Bluetooth tracker is likely all you need.

Is size, weight and convenience important for attaching a tracker unobtrusively to keychains, collars, bags, etc?

If it’s essential to have a compact and lightweight tracker, lean towards a Bluetooth tracker. Their tiny size makes them easy to attach to key rings, dog collars, purses.

Is your budget limited and you want an affordable way to tag multiple items?

If budget is a concern, Bluetooth trackers that cost $15-$50 and have free use without monthly fees are the cheapest option for tracking several objects.

Do you need location alerts if a tracker leaves or enters specific set areas?

For capabilities like location alerts and geofencing, a GPS tracker is required as Bluetooth trackers lack these advanced options.

Key Takeaways

  • Bluetooth trackers utilize Bluetooth connectivity to find nearby lost items using a phone app.
  • GPS trackers use advanced satellite technology to pinpoint locations anywhere in the world.
  • Bluetooth trackers are affordable at $15-$50 but have limited ~30ft range.
  • GPS trackers are $50-$200 and offer unlimited worldwide range and real-time tracking.
  • Bluetooth excels at finding daily items like keys or wallets conveniently around the home.
  • GPS is ideal for recovering stolen valuables or monitoring pets, vehicles, equipment and people remotely.
  • Leading GPS models include WhistleLandAirSea, and Tractive.
  • The Optimus GPS tracker is one of the most affordable starting at $99.95. It offers advanced tracking in a compact device.
  • Top Bluetooth models include Tile Pro 2022, Chipolo One Spot and Esky Key Finder. Go with Chipolo or Esky for budget options under $30.

Bluetooth and GPS Tracker Buying Tips

  • Buy at least 2-3 Bluetooth trackers to tag keys, wallet, remote, bags, etc.
  • Opt for a waterproof Bluetooth tracker model to attach to outdoor gear.
  • Look for long 2-3 year battery life when selecting a Bluetooth tracker.
  • Check if your Bluetooth tracker offers community help finding items outside Bluetooth range.
  • For GPS, pick a compact, lightweight model for carrying in bags and luggage when traveling.
  • Ensure your GPS tracker has the cellular bands and frequencies needed for your country/carrier.
  • Battery life for GPS can vary greatly so opt for the longest runtime you can afford.
  • Select a GPS tracker with detailed tracking history and location data storage.
  • Compare GPS tracker monthly fees. Many offer different subscription plan levels.
  • Pick a GPS tracker with smartphone app and web dashboard for maximum monitoring flexibility.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the range of Bluetooth trackers?

Most Bluetooth trackers have a range of around 30ft to 100ft depending on conditions. Obstacles and interference can further reduce effective range.

Do Bluetooth trackers use GPS?

No, Bluetooth trackers do not have built-in GPS capabilities. They rely solely on connecting to your phone via Bluetooth.

What happens if my Bluetooth tracker goes out of range?

Bluetooth trackers can only detect the location of your tagged item if it’s within Bluetooth range. If a tagged item goes too far away, you lose the ability to track it.

How accurate are GPS trackers?

GPS tracking is very accurate, usually within a range of 10-33 feet thanks to advanced satellite and triangulation technology.

Do GPS trackers work indoors?

GPS trackers need a view of the sky to connect with satellites, so performance may suffer indoors. However, some work indoors by supplementing GPS with wifi and cellular tower triangulation when satellite signals are poor.

Do GPS trackers work abroad?

As long as your GPS tracker has global cellular compatibility, it will work internationally. But if it’s tied to a single domestic carrier, international roaming charges will apply.

What is the best GPS tracker?

The “best” GPS tracker depends on your specific needs. Key factors include upfront cost, monthly fees, battery life, size, tracking features and app.

What is the most affordable GPS tracker option?

The Optimus GPS tracker is one of the most affordable at $99.95 upfront and with flexible monthly plans starting at $8.95/month. It offers advanced tracking in a compact device.

What is the best Bluetooth tracker?

Top Bluetooth tracker models include the Tile Pro 2022, Chipolo One Spot and Esky Key Finder. All provide precise tracking of daily items. Go with Chipolo or Esky for budget models under $30.

Can you track a phone with a Bluetooth tracker?

Yes, most Bluetooth trackers like Tile allow you to make your phone ring even when it’s on silent by pressing the button on the tracker. This helps you find a lost phone if it’s within Bluetooth range.

Can you track a car with a Bluetooth tracker?

Bluetooth trackers are not ideal for tracking cars as they have a limited 30ft range. For tracking vehicles long distances, a dedicated GPS tracker designed for automotive use would be better.

Do Bluetooth trackers work without internet?

Bluetooth trackers connect directly to your phone via Bluetooth rather than relying on internet access. So they can track items as long as your phone has Bluetooth enabled and battery, even without an internet connection.

Can you track a phone without them knowing?

Tracking a phone without consent is unethical and illegal in most cases. However, child safety GPS trackers do legally allow parents to monitor the location of kids. But it should be done transparently with the child’s knowledge.

How long does a Bluetooth tracker battery last?

Most Bluetooth trackers last 1-2 years before the battery needs replacing. Battery life can be shortened by frequent use of the tracker to ring phones and make noises. Factors like temperature also impact battery life.

Do I need a subscription for Bluetooth trackers?

No, Bluetooth trackers do not require an ongoing subscription. You simply buy the device outright with no monthly fees. However, some offer subscription plans that provide added features like smart alerts.

Can you track luggage with Bluetooth or GPS?

You can track luggage with either Bluetooth or GPS. For short trips, Bluetooth may be sufficient to retrieve bags that were left behind nearby. But for long distances, GPS is better to recover lost or delayed checked bags.

What’s the best luggage tracker?

The LandAirSea 54 is a top-rated GPS tracker for luggage. It has a long-life battery and utilizes global cellular and GPS tracking to locate bags anywhere.