Apple AirTag vs Samsung SmartTag — The best smart tracker for finding stolen items in South Africa

The world’s two biggest smartphone manufacturers, Samsung and Apple, recently launched their own smart trackers.

Samsung’s Galaxy SmartTag and Apple’s AirTag are small devices you can attach to valuable possessions, particularly those which you might be prone to misplacing, such as car or house keys, wallets, handbags, or backpacks.

These trackers can then be connected to your smartphone to transmit their location via low power Bluetooth.

While within range, you can keep an eye on their whereabouts using Samsung’s SmartThings Find app, or Apple’s Find My app.

If you have lost one of the items to which your tracker is attached, you can navigate to it using visual guides on the apps or by playing a sound that will emit from the tags’ built-in speakers.

There is one significant limitation to this tracking capability, however.

The direct link to your device only works when the tag is within Bluetooth range, which is only up to 100m.

This is because, unlike the location-tracking devices used in vehicles, neither of these smart trackers have built-in GPS modules.

The reason is obvious — GPS would drain the battery much faster, requiring that you replace or recharge them more often.

Fortunately, it does not mean they are completely untraceable if they are not in your immediate vicinity.

Instead of GPS, the SmartTag and AirTag can use the network of devices from their respective manufacturers to be located.

The AirTag can be picked up by iPhones, iPads, and iPad Touch devices that are logged in with an Apple ID, and who have not opted out of the Find My network.

The SmartTag can be tracked by Galaxy smartphones and tablets that are logged into a Samsung account and have opted into the SmartThings Find feature.

Both of these apps also work for tracking other smart devices on their networks connected via Bluetooth, like wireless earbuds and smartwatches.

We decided to see which of the manufacturers’ networks were best represented in South Africa, and would therefore be more likely to reveal the location of a tag connected to a stolen item.

To see if it was possible to track the movements of the trackers while they were out of range of their user devices, we gave them to a tester to travel with around Pretoria and Centurion on various errands.

This included visits to areas with high concentrations of people – including a school, shopping complex, and fuel stations – between 6:30 and 11:30 in the morning.

We ensured that none of the devices they were carrying themselves would be able to communicate and ping the locations of the trackers.

Our Apple AirTag was connected to an iPhone X, while the SmartTag was linked to a Galaxy S20.

Once our tester was off, we activated Lost Mode on the iPhone’s Find My app, which alerts other devices on the Find My network to look out for the tag and ping locations where the tracker was picked up.

On the Galaxy S20, we selected the “Notify me when it’s found” option to do the same for Galaxy devices.

The table below shows how many times we were alerted of the trackers’ locations throughout the day.

Times smart tracker was picked up by other phones
Apple AirTag Galaxy SmartTag
Enroute to location 1 1 2
Location 1 – School 0 3
Enroute to location 2 1 3
Location 2 – Shopping complex At least 5 At least 5
Enroute to location 3 1 1
Location 3 – Fuel station 1 2
Enroute to location 4 1 0
Location 3 – Home 1 1
Total  11 17

Our tests found that the Galaxy SmartTag was located more often by other Galaxy devices than the AirTag was detected by iPhones.

During the tester’s movements, the SmartTag was pinged at 17 locations, while the AirTag transferred 11 locations.

This is likely down to the fact that there are far more Galaxy smartphones in use by South Africans than there are iPhones.

Impressively, both were detected not only in the congested locations but also on the roads between them.

Notably, the AirTag seemed to be more accurate when relaying changes in its exact location at the shopping complex.

This could be attributed to its support for Ultra Wide Band (UWB) connectivity, which allows for more precise location tracking.

This feature is only supported on Samsung’s SmartTag+, a more expensive option than the basic SmartTag.

The screenshots below show some of the locations in which the tags were located.

Both smart trackers are priced at R499 and are powered by replaceable CR2032 batteries, which will last for around a year.

When it comes to features, there are a few key differences between the two devices.

The Samsung SmartTag comes with a programmable button that can be used to control various smart devices on your SmartThings network and for locating your smartphone, similar to a smartwatch.

The Apple AirTag does not have any buttons.

The SmartTag also comes with a hole for a keyring, while those who wish to attach their AirTag in this way will have to buy an additional accessory.

The AirTag, has NFC capability, which allows users to tap their phones against it to identify who it belongs to.

The addition of UWB also means AirTags can be found with precision using an augmented reality feature on the Find My app.

The table below outlines the specifications, features, and pricing of these smart trackers.

Apple AirTag vs Samsung Galaxy SmartTag
Specification Apple AirTag Galaxy SmartTag
Colour While and silver Black
Shape Round Rounded square
Size 32 x 32 x 8mm 39 x 39 x 10mm
Weight 11g 13g
Battery Replaceable CR2032
1 year life
Replaceable CR2032
1 year life
Keychain hole No Yes
Button No Yes
Tracking technology Bluetooth Low Energy Bluetooth Low Energy
Ultra-wide band (UWB) Yes No
NFC Yes No
Maximum theoretical connection distance 100m 100m
Compatible devices iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch Samsung Galaxy devices
App Find My SmartThings Find
Requirements for using and locating Users must be logged with Apple ID Users must be logged into Samsung account
Price R499 R499

Apple AirTag

Galaxy SmartTag

Now read: Best security measures to protect your home against criminals

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Apple AirTag vs Samsung SmartTag — The best smart tracker for finding stolen items in South Africa