Every once in a while, I come across gadgets that sound promising, because they serve a specific purpose that I have needs for. When browsing the web last July, I came across a post on a popular site that praised a smart tracker called ANKR. The post started out by talking about stolen gear and how unfortunate the incidents were. Then it went on to introduce ANKR and how amazing of a find it was to be able to “geolocate” (those were the words used) items such as the camera bag in case it got stolen. It all sounded really good, because it seemed to address my particular fear of getting my gear stolen, especially when traveling overseas.
ANKR’s promotional video sounded very convincing as well. With a young lady quickly setting a unit up, it showed her walking away without a purse, then getting an alert on her phone. In another instance, it showed the same model hanging out in a park, then dropping her keys on grass and walking away. She gets alerted, looks at her phone, tracks the device on a map, then goes back to find it on the grass where she left it. After watching the video, it really sounds like the device is a godsend:
Why didn’t I hear about such a device, I thought to myself. I went online and started looking up information on the ANKR to see what it was. Since the device was too new, there was nothing available – only ANKR’s website, which promoted the same video as above and didn’t have any useful information aside from the pretty-looking animations and big slogans like “Kiss Losing Stuff Goodbye”. At first, I wondered if someone somehow managed to stuff a GPS tracker on a tiny device. Being able to geolocate an item based on GPS data would be super cool! But at this tiny size and a price of $25, I already knew that it would not be possible. A GPS device can find its coordinates using satellite trilateration and it is a one way communication. For any device to be able to communicate its coordinates, it requires some sort of data connection, such as 4G or LTE connection you can find on mobile phones and tablets. Even if someone could make a small device that could do both, it would surely not be priced at $25.
After a bit of research, I found out that ANKR works via Bluetooth and its tracker is only useful when a mobile phone has Bluetooth turned on. As soon as the device goes out of the Bluetooth range, the ANKR app issues an alert. This was already enough to tick me off, because I realized that the article I read on the site about the device is basically an utter lie and its promotional video is very misleading, because it hints on being able to find the lost item on a real map. If your stuff gets stolen, you might get an alert that it is not in close proximity anymore, but good luck trying to actually find it! Once it is outside the Bluetooth range, you are done, end of story.
Here is how the ANKR and many other similar trackers really work. ANKR is simply a Bluetooth chip with a battery. Aside from being able to communicate with your phone via Bluetooth, it is just a dumb device. The tracking of individual devices is all done by an app that sits on your phone. If you disable Bluetooth on your phone, or you cannot find your phone in the first place, ANKR is basically useless, as it is tied only to your phone. So in the case of theft, if your camera bag is gone outside the Bluetooth range, the most you are going to get is an alert on your phone. If a thief has got your camera bag and is already 30 something feet away from you, good luck trying to find your bag. And the map locator would only work if your phone had correct GPS coordinates at the time you lost your item. If GPS data is incorrect or unavailable for some reason, or you have no data connection, the map feature is also pretty useless. These things are obviously completely omitted from the above video or ANKR’s website. All you get is nice marketing bluff like “Say goodbye to losing your $#!*, once and for all. Grab an ANKR or three…and the next time you lose your mind, it won’t be over losing your stuff” and other convincing messages about how cool and easy ANKR is to use and how helpful it can be for peace of mind.
Still, after thinking about it for a little, I decided to go ahead and buy a few of these devices. At $25, ANKR still sounded like a great idea and I thought of particular situations where it could be useful. I thought about attaching one to my camera bag and one to my car keys. Even getting alerted when the items move from my proximity range would be still useful, I thought, because I would at least know that I left them somewhere or lost them. It is easier to find an item within 30-40 feet range, than after many hours and potentially many more miles.
I ordered four via ANKR’s website.
Packaging and Installation
Since I was one of the early adopters, it took a while for the package to ship. After about 20 days, I received a shipping confirmation and received the item about a week afterwards. I opened the medium-sized box that had four ANKRs in it and I had a moment of excitement when I saw the individual packages. Each one was neatly designed and packed, with a large text on the front stating “Kiss Losing Stuff Goodbye”:
I opened the first one, attached it to my key chain and began the setup process. I downloaded the ANKR app from the App store on my iPhone, then touched the + sign next to Stuff. Although I was a bit annoyed by the scrolling text during the setup process, finding the activated ANKR (which can be done by pressing the half-button on the back) was quick.
Once the ANKR was connected, the app asked me what I would like to keep track of. There were a bunch of readily available options such as “keys”, “laptop bag” and “wallet”, so I went ahead and selected “keys”. I saw some green bars right next to “keys”, which indicated that things were setup and good to go. Interestingly, with about half a meter of space between my phone and the ANKR, my device was showing 3 bars out of 4. I moved the ANKR right next to my phone, thinking it would improve the signal, only to find that the bar went down even further, all the way to 1. Whoops, not good! And I have not even started using the device yet.
ANKR App (iOS)
Oh well, I thought why not connect another ANKR to my phone and put one in a camera bag? I set another one up and from the list of options selected “backpack”. Right after the device was added, I realized that I did not like the name and thought about renaming it to “camera bag”. As I navigated through the app, I realized that there was no place to actually do it from! Wait a second, what? How can an app not have the capability to rename a device after it is added? I searched through ANKR’s knowledgebase, only to find this article, which states that the device basically needs to be deleted and re-added if one wants to change its name. It also said “We are planning to add that feature to the ANKR details screen in an upcoming release”. That was last July. It is February of 2016 now, so after 7 months, the app still does not have this capability…
In fact, I found the ANKR app to be too simple and not as useful overall. Aside from the list of devices, safe zones and four options (tracking On/Off, get more ANKRs, help and owner information), this app does not have anything else:
Initially, selecting a device from the list only provided a map with limited and useless options, but overtime, the app developers updated the screen to include battery information, signal strength, ability to ping the device and provide firmware updates:
So it was even more frustrating to use the device at first, because it was clearly shipped in a very raw, beta stage. I could not even find a way to delete a device that was already added – I had to search the knowledgebase for that (turned out that I had to swipe the device to reveal the “Delete” option). Why not add an option to delete a device from its options page? Also, if you open the ANKR app on the iPhone, it will never allow the phone to sleep. It is simple stuff like this that has been plain annoying.
And if you are an Android user, you are completely left out. Back in July the ANKR website stated “At the moment, ANKR is iOS only. But fear not, Andriod users, your app is on the way. Launching Winter 2015” and that message is still there! It is mid-February of 2016 already, so perhaps it is time to update that message at least?
If you have a chance to visit the general forum, you will see a long trail of messages demanding Android support. Apparently, people bought these things without realizing that there was no support for Android. Another whoops.
My frustrations with the app were just the start – the hell really started to break loose after I started actually using the device. I had three of them active – two on key chains and one in my camera bag. When driving, my phone would constantly issue connection alerts and that’s with my phone literally being within a foot of distance from the car keys:
This happened a lot to my wife as well – she got so sick and tired of false alerts, that she ended up deleting the app from her phone. I was not willing to give up on ANKR quite yet, so I kept mine active until the batteries started to die…
ANKR’s marketing material, along with this knowledgebase article state that the battery should be good for 6 months. That turned out to be false advertisement as well – my car key ANKR batteries died in less than three months, while the battery in my camera gear died in less than two months. All I did was take my camera bag out in the cold. In fact, it was not that cold either – just around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Perhaps it has nothing to do with the cold, perhaps I did not have my camera bag in proximity as much as I had the car keys, but still, that’s not even close to ANKR’s 6 month estimate.
Beeper / Ping Feature
Initially, I was pretty annoyed by the inaccurate signal strength bars – that was the only way to try to locate an ANKR device. As I have already stated above, the signal bars were so bad, that you could be right next to the ANKR and it would show a weak signal. Thankfully, ANKR introduced a “ping” feature on the latter versions of the app that allowed one to get the device to beep. I don’t understand how ANKR even started selling these devices without this feature, but oh well, such is the cost of the early adopter I guess.
Still, I found the ping / beep feature to be only slightly useful. Unfortunately, the beep sound is too low. If ANKR sits in the open and it is pretty quiet, you can probably use this feature to find whatever you lost. However, if there is any noise, or the ANKR is sitting under an object, the beep sound is too low and won’t be of any help. Another annoyance is the fact that you have to keep on tapping on “ring” to keep ANKR beeping. The darn thing will only beep twice and will stop, until you tap “ring” again.
I am not sure if other Bluetooth trackers are as bad, but ANKR definitely left a bad taste in my month to the level where I will probably never consider another tracker like this. Terrible iOS app, lack of Android support, poor connection resulting in constant false alerts, poor battery life – I wonder what else could go wrong with this useless “gadget”. I wish I could return all the trackers I have and get my money back, but it ain’t happening. Last time I emailed ANKR support, I was told that I could get my money back only if there was a defect with the product. I did not bother dealing with ANKR any further after that. Funny how all the glowing reviews on Amazon are from people who received their sample for free, in exchange for a review. Shows how useless user reviews on such sites have gotten lately…
Don’t waste your money on ANKR. It is a piece of junk, nothing more.
ANKR Smart Tracker
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