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Duet by PROTAG: The Bluetooth tracker evolves

Duet by PROTAG

If there's one product category that seems to be getting a lot of attention lately, it's Bluetooth trackers. These are the little devices that you drop into a bag or attach to a camera that link with an app on your iPhone and then tell you when the two are separated by a certain distance. I've tried a ton of Bluetooth trackers, and frankly all of them have had one fault or another: no replaceable battery, inability to connect more than one tracker to an app, and so on. That's why I was interested in trying out the Duet by PROTAG (US$19), billed as a third-generation Bluetooth device for keeping an eye on your valuables.

This product is actually an Indiegogo-funded project that is well on its way -- 1,244 percent of funding with 11 days to go. The Duet is a tiny 2.8 cm square object that is made out of bright plastic (orange, yellow, green, blue, or white -- there is a "founder's black" version available, too), just big enough to hold a standard replaceable CR2016 battery. Innova Technology -- the product developers -- includes two batteries in the package, each lasting about eight months before needing replacement. The replaceable battery is a great idea -- you don't have to throw out the device once the battery dies, nor do you have to plug in the Duet to recharge it.

Setting up the Duet is a piece of cake. You open it up with a fingernail, drop the battery in, and three red LEDs begin to flash. Open the PROTAG app (free), set up a free account (either with your email address or Facebook), and follow some simple instructions, and the next thing you know the app and tag are talking to one another.

Walk more than 10 meters (32 feet) away from the tag, and your iPhone will start buzzing to notify you that you're leaving something valuable behind. And if you have the Duet in your hand and can't find your iPhone, just push the single button on the device and your iPhone will start buzzing so you can find it. You can also force a search for the Duet from your iPhone by opening the app and tapping "buzz".

If you've misplaced your valuable item somewhere and need to figure out where it is, the app has a "Radar" mode you can use to tell when you're getting "warmer" or "cooler" walking around the house. This could be a fun game to play, having the kids hide your Duet and then searching for it...

Compared to most of the Bluetooth trackers I've written about, the Duet by PROTAG has about the best app I've seen -- and the product is still in beta. There's a reason for that -- PROTAG has been making two other products, the Elite and G1, for about two years, so the company definitely has a track record in this business.

One more thing -- PROTAG plans to introduce a crowd tracking feature soon. If you lose your device or iPhone, other Duet users will get a notification if they happen to walk by your lost item, and that information will be passed to the owners.

Problems? Well, as with other Bluetooth trackers I do have concerns that the constant Bluetooth connection with my iPhone will draw down my battery faster. This shouldn't be too much of an issue given that the device communicates using Bluetooth 4.0 Smart LE, but I'd love to see some figures from PROTAG on how that constant connection affects iPhone battery life.

I also ran into an annoyance with the Duet that I've seen with other Bluetooth devices -- every once in a while, even when the iPhone and Duet were within a foot or so of each other, the Bluetooth connection would drop and the Duet would start beeping. I'd hate to have that happen in the middle of the night...

If you happen to drop the Duet or iPhone somewhere and need to find out where you lost either one of the devices, you can visit trace.theprotag.com, log in with your account, and then check a map for the last known location where both devices were in contact with each other. For some odd reason (once again, remember that the app and service are in beta), my iPhone and Duet appear to be in the ocean somewhere near Howland and Baker Islands... I'm hopeful that will be fixed soon.

One other issue I have with the Duet is that the single button on the device is quite easy to press, and I think if you had this inside of a crowded computer bag or purse it would constantly be inadvertently pressed, making you think you've just lost something. Having a recessed button that would require a press with a pen tip or paperclip might resolve that issue.

Given that this is still a pre-production device, I think Duet is going to do well if the few remaining issues are ironed out. At this point, I give it a better-than-average rating based on the replaceable battery, the "just loud enough" built-in beeper, and the well-executed app. Duet's the only Bluetooth tracking device that I feel confident enough about to actually recommend, and the price is definitely right.

Rating: 3 stars out of 4 stars possible

Three out of four stars

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