Cobra Tag finds your keys, finds your phone (hands-on)

A Bluetooth key fob and a smartphone app keep one forgetful CNET editor from losing his marbles.

Cobra Tag
The Cobra Tag helps keep track of lost keys with a smartphone app (and vice versa). Antuan Goodwin/CNET

For me, nothing is more annoying than not being able to find my keys when I'm rushing out the door. Nothing. I suppose that I could just put my keys in the same place every time I return home, but why would I do that when I could just solve my problems with technology? Enter the Cobra Tag.

What is it?
This Bluetooth-enabled key fob promises to help scatterbrains like me keep track of their keys and Android or BlackBerry smartphone by notifying us when the two are separated. I use the example of keys, because that's how I tested it, but you could use the Cobra Tag to keep track of anything that you can affix it to, whether that's a backpack, a purse, a laptop case, or an infant. It measures 2.25 inches tall by 1 inch wide and is only 0.375 inch thick. At one end is a large metal rig for attaching the Tag to whatever needs locating, and on the face of the unit is a single Location button and a battery/charge LED. At the bottom of the Cobra Tag is a Micro-USB port for charging.

We found the Cobra Tag to be easily pocketable when attached to our keys, as well as being easy to set up. Simply charge the Cobra Tag up using the included Micro-USB cable, install the Cobra Tag app from BlackBerry App World or the Android Market, and pair the device with your Android or BlackBerry phone using a four-digit PIN, and it becomes that much harder to walk out of the door without your keys.

What does it do?
The Cobra Tag app runs in the background on your smartphone and monitors the connection between the phone and the tag. From the app, you can monitor the distance (with descriptors like "very close," "close," and "far") and the battery level of up to seven individual Cobra Tags. You can assign names to each Tag for easier monitoring and can turn monitoring of Tags on and off from the app.

Cobra Tag app
The Cobra Tag app for Android and BlackBerry is a free download. The Tag itself is about 70 bucks. Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

If the Tag and the smartphone ever lose Bluetooth contact, both devices will sound audible alarms (and, in the case of the phone, vibrate) to let you know to stop and find the missing article. There is also a Tag finder function built into the app that causes the Cobra Tag to constantly beep if separated from the smartphone, making it easier to locate. It works both ways: you can find a lost smartphone by holding the finder button on the Cobra Tag, which causes the phone to beep and vibrate. Vibration is good, because if you lose the phone with the headphones plugged in you won't be able to hear the beeps.

When the Tag and phone are separated, the phone logs the GPS position of the event on a Google Map, which can be accessed from within the app. With a setting in the menu, you can also program the Cobra Tag app to lock the phone with a PIN and a personalized message when it gets out of range of the Cobra Tag device, a useful feature for those who want add a small measure of protection for their private data on a lost or stolen phone.

A group of notification settings enables the app on a lost phone to send e-mail updates to preselected contacts. It can even post Facebook and Twitter updates of the time and place that it lost connection with the Cobra Tag, enabling users to get their social networks in on the hunt. Use those social options wisely; you wouldn't want one of those "friends" beating you to your lost laptop case.

Cobra Tag example tweet
You can broadcast the location of your lost item via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter. Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Battery life on a full charge is listed as up to seven days. However, after an overnight charge, I was only able to eke three days out of the Tag. I'm already accustomed to charging our phone daily, so I don't think that plugging the Cobra Tag in every few days would be too much of an inconvenience. If the idea of charging your keys rubs you the wrong way, then maybe a nice valet or wall hook would work better for you.

What doesn't it do?
The Cobra Tag isn't a GPS tracker. The unit itself does not include a GPS receiver and does not connect to the Internet in any way. It relies on the app and the smartphone to provide that info. So unlike with devices such as the Garmin GTU 10 , you won't be able to track the location of a lost Cobra Tag, just the point at which the connection with the smartphone was severed, so the best that you can expect is about a 20-30-foot accuracy on the Map function if you lose the Tag outdoors. Lose the Tag indoors, where the smartphone's positioning isn't so good, and the accuracy drops to within a few blocks.

The point of the Cobra Tag isn't tracking, it's prevention. By beeping when the connection between the phone and Tag is severed and helping to locate items in the vicinity, the Cobra Tag attempts to grab your attention before you get too far from your tagged items. Unlike connected tracking devices, the Cobra Tag doesn't require an annual fee to operate, and for many users, pinpoint accuracy isn't required if you just want to know whether you've left your keys at the office or at the bowling alley.

Is it any good?
At an MSRP of $59.95, the Cobra Tag is not cheap. On one hand, the price can become an issue if you're interested in picking up multiple Tags to track multiple items (for example, a backpack and a set of keys). On the other hand, if the device keeps you from walking out of a bar without your phone just once, it'll have paid for itself a few times over. (Unfortunately, an iPhone version of the Cobra Tag app is not available.)

Over the long weekend, the Cobra Tag helped me find my lost keys in the war zone that is my messy bedroom, kept me from returning a Car Tech review vehicle with my phone in the console, and--as a nice bonus--entertained my cat with a fun game of Find the Beeping Keys. At the end of the day, I like both the idea of the Cobra Tag and the execution.

 

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