The top performers in our review are the Amber Alert GPS, the Gold Award winner; the PocketFinder, the Silver Award winner; and the Trackimo, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a product to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.
GPS trackers are transmitters that allow you to keep track of your children or possessions. They come with dedicated apps or computer programs that allow you to see the location of the tracker on a map. They're small and come in several forms, such as watches and tag-like plastic discs.
GPS technology is integrated into several different systems. Perhaps the most common application is the turn-by-turn directions of car GPS units. GPS receivers are also present in most smartphones, but of course using your smartphone for navigation decreases your battery and your data allowance.
GPS trackers are small, tough devices with two main parts: built-in GPS receivers and cellular radio transmitters. They pinpoint their positions from the GPS satellite system and then transmit location data to a server using a cellular provider's network. This means that they require a SIM card and cellular service in order to work.
While some GPS trackers have the cost of service as part of their initial price, the overwhelming majority requires a service plan from AT&T or T-Mobile. Monthly subscriptions typically cost between $10 and $40 per month, and the GPS trackers we reviewed range in price from $80 to about $250. For further reading, we offer articles about GPS trackers.
All modern smartphones have GPS receivers built into them. You can purchase apps that can track the location of your smartphone.
However, there are several reasons to buy a dedicated GPS tracker over a smartphone. For one, smartphone data plans are more expensive than even the most expensive GPS tracker data plan. So, if you want to track your child who isn't yet old enough for a smartphone, then GPS trackers are a more affordable way to do it.
Second, they typically have better battery life than smartphones. This means that in an emergency you can rely on a more dependable battery. Third, they are more discreet than smartphones. In a worst-case abduction situation, a GPS tracker is far more likely to go unnoticed than a smartphone.
Ease of Use
All the GPS trackers we reviewed can automatically track their movements and send that information to your phone. One of the biggest differentiators between trackers, then, is how easy it is to use them.
In our testing, we used each tracker extensively. We set zones, checked history and took them on over 30 car rides. (Zones, sometimes called geofences, are defined by preset boundaries that trigger an alert to your smartphone.) Because of this extensive use, we were able to assign each tracker's application or web interface a score for its ease of use. The score was based on several factors, including ease of activation, tracking, setting zones and checking movement history.
Battery Life: Closely Related to Update Intervals
We tested battery life by charging each of the 10 trackers to their full capacities and then setting their intervals, when possible, to update their locations once every 10 minutes. Several of the trackers have motion-activated tracking intervals, so we made sure to move the trackers at least 2 miles four times per day. All the trackers were kept in a box together to ensure identical testing conditions.
Perhaps not surprisingly, we found that the motion-activated trackers tended to have two and sometimes three times the battery life of the trackers that work solely on update intervals. Also, the larger the tracker, the longer the battery life. The battery life varied wildly, from the Trax's 30.75 hours to the BrickHouse Security Spark Nano's incredible 161 hours. All the devices we tested lasted well over 24 hours.
We assigned a hardware quality score that takes into account the quality of the materials used, projected ability to withstand damage, portability, versatility of the form factor, operator ease of use, button quality, charging port quality and port cover quality.
We did this to quantify small things. For example, watches are less versatile than a small box, so the two watches we reviewed received a small demerit for that. It was also rather easy to tell which products were made more solidly and with higher-quality materials. Another thing we looked at was charging ports and chargers. The PocketFinder received a significant credit for having a cradle charger that is simple to use.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the units in our comparison on loan from the companies or through retail purchase. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
Voice-to-Voice Calling & Panic Buttons
Some GPS trackers include voice-to-voice calling. This enables the bearer to call a preselected number by pressing a button on the device. Other trackers have panic buttons that trigger a text message and email alert to preselected phone numbers and email addresses. These features are especially useful if the bearer does not have a cell phone.
Many GPS trackers allow you to set speed-limit alerts. If the tracker travels over a certain speed, it will send you a text message or email alert. This is useful for tracking a teenage driver, so you can keep them accountable for their driving habits. In more serious scenarios, it can show you when your child has entered a stranger's car.
One of a GPS tracker's most important uses is making sure you don't lose track of a loved one, and one of the easiest places for that to happen is in an unfamiliar country. The Trax, one of the better GPS trackers we reviewed, comes with free international use, so it's the best choice if you do a lot of traveling.
The best GPS tracker on the market is the Amber Alert GPS. This is mostly because of its lengthy feature list, which includes voice-to-voice calling, a panic button and an above-average app. It also is made of extremely high-quality material. It's not perfect, however. It has relatively poor battery life, lasting 42 hours in our tests. It also only can track in five-minute timed intervals.
If you don't need voice-to-voice or a panic button, the PocketFinder is the best option for you. Its build quality is the best of any tracker we reviewed, and it has an intuitive app. It's the ultimate "set it and forget it" GPS tracker. It also has truly exceptional battery life. In our tests it lasted over 100 hours.
The best value is the Trackimo. Its two-year ownership cost is the second lowest of any tracker we reviewed, at just under $200. It's motion-activated, so even with its diminutive size, it still has excellent battery life. It has a panic button and an easy-to-use, well-designed app.