Hands on: Samsung Galaxy SmartTags shine most within the SmartThings ecosystem

They make the most sense within the Samsung ecosystem.

galaxy smarttag
Michael Simon/IDG

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Samsung Galaxy SmartTags have entered a market already dominated by the third-party Tile tracker, and possibly about to be disrupted by the rumored circular AirTags from Apple. Can Samsung use the strength of its own Smart Things ecosystem to become a player? We tried them with a Samsung Galaxy S21 to find out.

Similar to Tile Bluetooth trackers, Samsung Galaxy SmartTags work by attaching to a keychain and using Bluetooth and the larger Galaxy Find Network to locate lost items, whether they fell under the couch or were left in your last Lyft driver’s car.

The $30 tag itself is very Tile-like, with a somewhat thick, black “squircle” design, and a small hole in the corner for a keychain or clip. It almost seems like Samsung went out of its way to make it unremarkable.

Setup is extremely easy. You’ll need the SmartThings app to pair the tracker, and the SmartThings Find extension to activate location tracking. After a couple of quick taps and a toggle flip, your SmartTag will be up and running.

galaxy smarttags app IDG

The Galaxy Smart Things app has everything you need to control your SmartTag.

If you’re using SmartTag only as a beacon to find lost things, there isn’t much else to do. Attaching a SmartTag to the item you want to track might be tricky—there’s no sticker or keytag included—but the hole is big enough to fit most loops.

The SmartTags cover all the basic features of Bluetooth trackers. To find your phone nearby, you can double-press the middle button to cause your phone to ring, even if the phone is set to vibrate or mute. The SmartTag can also be customized to do a number of tasks, such as turning on a light or running a Bixby automation when either pressed or held. Clearly if you’re invested in the wider Samsung SmartThings ecosystem, SmartTags can be powerful.

Like Tile trackers, the SmartThings app will show you if the item is nearby (up to 130 feet away) or if it’s lost, or the last time it was near your phone. You can also tap into the Galaxy network to find things that are truly lost: If someone using a Galaxy phone walks by, it’ll ping you with its location. However, SmartThings won’t alert you when you accidentally leave something behind until you realize it’s gone.

Wait for the ‘Plus’ model

SmartTags have one notable limitation with the latest Samsung phones. Because they use Bluetooth for tracking purposes, you won’t get the benefits of the ultra-wideband (UWB) chip that’s in Samsung’s more recent premium phones, including the S21+ and S21 Ultra. To take advantage of that technology, you’ll need to buy one of the SmartTag+ devices ($40), which won’t be available until later this year.

s21 ultra screen Michael Simon/IDG

The Galaxy S21 Ultra will unlock much better features when the Galaxy SmartTag+ launches later this year.

Samsung hasn’t released much information about those upcoming devices. They look identical to the SmartTags, but they will presumably allow for extremely precise location tracking. So where the SmartTag will tell you if the item it’s attached to is “nearby,” the SmartTag+ combined with a UWB phone will be able to tell you if it’s in your office or bedroom. It will extend tracking to nearly 400 feet, and it will use AR to create a virtual image of wherever the tracker is hiding.

Those features will give SmartTag+ devices an edge other Bluetooth trackers, although you will need a UWB phone (currently only the S21+ or S21 Ultra) to enjoy them. If you have an older Samsung phone, using a SmartTag will give you competitive features compared to Tile and other Bluetooth trackers, with further advantages if you're invested in the Samsung SmartThings ecosystem. If you have an S21+ or S21 Ultra, it will be worth it to wait for SmartTag+.

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