Tractive GPS 2
Tractive GPS 2 is a re-release of an older, popular model - with some added features. I don't have experience with the first version, so I cannot draw any comparisons, but I'll do my best to objectively rate this one and all its features, having tested it in both my home country and abroad.
Note that Tractive has an initial cost plus a monthly subscription of about 4 euro - this is so that it remains available in any country at all times.
The device is a small black box, resembling a squished Pod in dimensions. It comes with two collar attachments - one for thicker and one for thinner collars...
... and a healthy sense of humor (notice how it comes with "0 x dogs" in the manual):
Apart from a power button, the box also has a visible speaker and a light, neither of which is very strong, but still useful when your pet is lost close enough to barely see / hear. More on these features later.
The build is robust and water-proof, but after about 3 weeks something did come loose inside that I can feel and hear when shaking the device:
Everything still works, though, so not sure what it could be.
The battery is non-removable, which unfortunately means taking the whole thing off when charging, and making sure it's always charged when going out. Fortunately, it's fairly easy to take off, and fully charges within 2 hours from 0%, so it's not a big issue.
The device lasts 2 days easily (with certain tweaks - see Clip Removal section below). As mentioned before, it charges fully within 2 hours with the included charger, but as it's non removable, the device has a built-in implied expiration date - all batteries lose capacity over time, and since it's not possible to replace this one, the device will become useless when this happens. However, given that they offer subscription plans that exceed 2 years in duration, I'm confident the batteries are of a sufficient quality to outlast that.
This unit does not have a Bluetooth connection option from within the accompanying GPS app, and it doesn't support WiFi in any way. I love the fact that both of these features are missing, because they were nothing but trouble with the Podtrackers device. Instead, this device relies solely on the 2G connection it has.
I don't like the fact that the device is locked into 2G for 2 reasons:
- 2G is being phased out in all parts of the world
- 2G uses less battery than 3G, but is incredibly slow to connect
3G as an option would have been the right choice to give users, even if it comes at the cost of battery life (with 2 days of battery, I could live with a single day but on 3G for faster connections).
Unfortunately, this 2G aspect was also the cause of many bugs - for example, sometimes when activating Live mode to find a pet (high precision mode, more on that later), the app kept loading and loading, only to stop without a notification. It never told me it gave up, and never notified me of a failed attempt. It just stopped trying. During the first 24 hours of use these bugs were incredibly common, but later seemed to go away for the most part. Right now, after about a month of use, the device takes up to 30 seconds to connect when sending commands to the device and seldom fails.
As far as GPS connectivity goes - that's pretty good. It sees much less interference than Podtrackers and is generally quite accurate, within 5-10 meters. The first 24 hours of using the device were neither here nor there (in the image below, the device reported Rita being in the streets 1km away and being on fire - more on the temperature sensor below).
Once the device warmed up, however, I started getting regular, reliable results. An added bonus of the device is that it detects movement, and modifies the sending frequency based on that. If the pet isn't moving much, there's not much point in reporting the location often. If it's moving around, then auto-reporting intervals speed up to 5-10 minutes.
Tractive decided to make a bunch of spin-off apps, each for a specific purpose:
- Tractive GPS App is the main one, for tracking your pet and defining a safe zone
- Tractive Motion tracks the pet's activity levels and pits them against others in the world on a global leaderboard. This is the only other app I'm using as it's quite fun to see these activity levels and collect pet points.
- Tractive Walk is there for tracking walks. Thing is, it doesn't use the Tractive device at all - only your phone. So it's basically a route tracking app (think Moves, Strava, Runkeeper, Edomondo, even the dead Google MyTracks) with a single added feature: you can mark on the map where the dog peed or pooped. This app is completely useless for all but the most hardcore Tractive fans.
- Tractive Photos is like Instagram/Pinterest for your pets only.
- Tractive Dognames is an app for generating pet names.
- Tractive Catnames is an app for generating pet names as well. The same one. But republished with a slightly different theme.
- Tractive PETNAMES Pro (I'm not kidding) is the same thing, but paid.
- Tractive Pet Battle is a Tinder for pets, where you swipe on the animal you think is cuter of the two on offer, and thereby rank them on a leaderboard. The only way to upload your own pet's photos to this app, however, is to also have Tractive Photos.
- Pet Remote lets you send vibration and sound commands to a remote device on your pet's collar, in order to teach them tricks on vibration patterns. A separate device is needed for this.
Pet Blabla, possibly the dumbest of the bunch, is an app which lets you animate static images of your pet to "speak" whatever you say. Here's Rita with a statement.
The problem here is that these apps have a hard time remembering user preferences, and if you're using a spam-protected email address and a secure password, repeatedly entering those on a mobile device for the apps that need a login is a nightmare. Add to that the fact that any communication with support from any of these apps requires a full re-entry of all personal data, including the username with which you are running the app from which you are trying to report a bug, and using these apps for anything past their very basic purpose quickly turns into a chore.
So what's the solution here? There are several:
- consolidate into one app with toggleable features.
- make a single "command center" app from which all others are launched, but which remembers the username/password/support details so you don't have to re-enter everything all the time.
While we're on the topic of activity tracking, I have to throw a little praise Tractive's way too. The Motion app is pretty cool once you get past the login procedure and ignore the support issues.
It will automatically track the activity level and ambient temperature of your pet, and display these values in nice graphs. It will also give the pet nicknames based on activity level in a given day, but that seemed mostly random, especially since the Android app showed a completely different nickname than the iOS version at the same point in time. Additionally, the Android version had a broken graph for some reason :(
There are achievements to collect (though some seem downright odd - why would I get a medal for leaving my dog in the cold for 3 hours?), and leaderboards to climb - both among friends and globally. All in all, the Motion app adds a nice bit of gamification to the everyday process of walking/playing with your pet, and I found it more entertaining to keep an eye on Rita's points than my own activity trackers.
We're currently in the sub-50 world rank, aiming to get to the top 20 :)
There is a Live tracking mode which can be activated directly from the app's UI. It takes up to 30 seconds to activate, or it will silently fail (see Connectivity section above). This is a high-precision mode which turns off automatically after 10 minutes to conserve battery.
While outside of Live mode, the device sends location updates every 5-10 minutes, depending on activity level. In Live, it sends them every 2 seconds or so. The tracking of live mode proved fairly accurate, and I was able to easily locate Rita in all instances when she ran off. One day during a walk through some untouched nature, she ran off after some deer and I was able to reliably keep an eye on her in the forest through the Live mode.
Additionally, there is a very handy compass and altitude meter in the UI which lets you know exactly in which direction she went, and whether or not she's on high ground. What's more, there is even an "augmented reality" mode which, when activated, turns on the camera, and as you look through your phone around you, the pet's icon will be shown on the screen in the direction the app thinks she went. This helped quite a bit with orientation, given that there's no directional arrow on the app's map when drawing your location, so you don't know which way you're facing when in the wild.
In urban environments, the device was just as handy and accurate. When the pack she was with decided to run off a stray, they all darted towards the main road. I immediately saw which way she went on the app, and was able to easily find her.
Tracking: Safe Zone
One of the most important features of any Pet GPS tracker, and the primary reason for my purchases, is the ability to define a safe zone border - an area which, if the pet leaves it, triggers an alert on my phone.
Tractive was, in general, very accurate (within 5-10 meters), so the Safe Zone worked phenomenally well. It was a bit weird to have to define a radius of 50m (which is HUGE - originally it spanned across my whole building, the road, the yards of neighbors, and more), given the accuracy of the app...
... but when I set it up so that its edge was at the edge of my garden, it all worked fine.
The app also has a "tolerance" built in where, if the dog is detected a little bit outside the area, it's discarded as a tracking error first. That way, you don't get false positives all the time.
Now, due to the technology stack used to build these apps, which resembles that of Podtrackers, the apps did have some bugs in regards to Safe Zone and feature toggles, just like Podtrackers. For example, the Safe Zone did stay on after I manually shut it off several times. However, this wasn't as much of a problem this time, because location is reported every 5-10 minutes anyway. Safe Zone doesn't drain the battery any more than default mode does - having it activated merely means the server will send you a notification if it finds that the last reported location is outside this zone. Furthermore, when the dog is outside the zone, that's it - you will not get another alert about it until she's back inside it. All this made it possible to keep Safe Zone on indefinitely with no downsides.
Additionally, a recent update to the app allows users to define up to FIVE safe zones, and added a rectangular shape as well. Each zone can now also be individually turned off and on, and have a different icon. Needless to say, that's a great addition.
Safe Zone tracking worked well abroad in high mountains, too - we went to Slovenia into high hills, and it was fairly easy to define an SZ, but I couldn't test the Live tracking since I didn't have a local SIM card in my phone.
The tracker comes with some unconventional features, too.
Clip Removal Notification
Useful for when a pet might lose the tracker in the bushes, or when it might be stolen. As soon as a loss of clip is detected, the tracker sends a notification. Unfortunately, this did not work at all, and only wasted my battery:
Eventually, I managed to turn this check off in the settings, and battery life sprang from 1 day to 2.5 days per charge. Still, it's a feature that's being listed as a selling point on the site, and it does not work at all, so Tractive loses points for that one - especially given that the only way to turn it off is in the web app, not in any of the mobile apps.
The device comes with a built in thermometer. The temperature it measures will always be a few degrees warmer than reality because it's so close to the pet's neck, but it still gives a nice estimation and looks interesting when seen on the graph - for example, how the dog's ambient temperature grew the longer she ran. Other than that it's not particularly useful, unless you have enemies who want to set your dog on fire:
Light and Sound
You can turn on light and sound from the app. The light option is accessible from the app's home screen:
... and it uses the white status LED. It's not particularly strong - in fact, not even strong enough to see it at night unless the LED is facing your way, but can still be handy if the tracker or pet get lost in the dark but remain close by. The sound alert is much better - a high pitched interrupted rhythmic noise which is sure to draw the attention of anyone within 50 meters, and maybe scare your pet to death. I imagine it would be a good deterrent if the pet ran off in a direction inaccessible to you.
The sound can only be activated from the device settings screen in the app.
In conclusion, Tractive GPS has proven to be a much better product than Podtrackers, by a very, very wide margin. With a relatively accurate safe zone and no WiFi shenanigans, it provides me with exactly what I need - the abilities to find my dog at will, to monitor her presence in the garden, and to send myself a signal if I lost her in the dark or distance.
In my opinion, here's what's missing:
- ability to issue commands via Bluetooth when tracker is close (bypassing 2G wait time)
- ability to extend Live tracking mode by clicking the button again while it's running (right now a re-click while on will only turn it off)
- ability to auto-activate Live Tracking mode when a safe zone departure is detected
- removable battery
- data export for both Live modes, last 24 hours of detection, and Motion activity data
The next tracker I will be testing is the Whistle 3 as soon as I get my hands on it, so stay tuned for that.