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An indispensible but flawed device but with excellent support to help you through any problems
on 21 April 2015
This is an example of the "internet of things." Mr Peanut Butter and I have been testing this device for 7 months. So this is not an off-the-cuff review but an account of our real-world experiences.
In summary, this is for me an indispensable but flawed product. Since if I lost my dog I would pay anything to get him back, the cost of the device and the small monthly subscription represents a valuable assurance policy, even if it is not always 100% dependable under exigent circumstances.
Some basic parameters must be understood. This device incorporates not one but two RF devices. 1, GPS receiver and 2, a mobile phone SMS transmitter.
The third RF-dependent element is the smart phone application. This is a good solid app, but to receive full data from the device you will need a robust 3G or 4G signal.
So, if you live in an area with a weak or non-existent mobile phone signal, this will not work for you. The device requires a steady connection to a GPRS mobile network to communicate its position.
If you live or take your dog into into a deeply forested area, it will not work because the GPS signal will be attenuated or non-existent, hence the device will be unable to geolocate the dog. This is worse in the summer due to the phenomenon of green leaf attenuation.
Then there is a physical issue. Or two, really. The first is charging the device. This can be fiddly and you must be very careful that the contacts on the charger make a good connection with the device. If your dog loves leaping into muddy water (as does Mr PB) then the device will become dirty and the contacts less effective. I have found cleaning the contacts with a toothpick is usually a good solution. But I hope they can come up with a contactless charger in the future.
More serious, if your dog is very active and dives into brush in search of any passing wildlife to assassinate, you need to be very careful that the device does not detach from the clip that fixes it to the collar. This is without doubt the weakest point of the design. If your dog is less bold or active, this might not be a problem. However, this is not the case with Mr Peanut Butter. On two occasions, the device became detached. Fortunately, both times I was able to locate it because it became detached in a position with a good mobile and GPS signal. I was lucky because if it had detached in a stream or under a tree, it might not have been possible to retrieve it.
We have tested the device in two locations. In rural Surrey, England, the most heavily wooded part of England, it is of limited value. The mobile signal is often feeble or non-existent and the GPS reception intermittent. The last position received may be nowhere close to where the dog has subsequently moved. This is assuming you can receive any information on your phone, which is likely to be similarly impaired by the environmental problems.
But in rural Hérault, France, with wide open skies and 4G everywhere, it works like a dream.
We are now on our third device. The first failed quickly and would not charge or indeed show any signs of life. It was promptly replaced at no charge. The second also failed, after several months, the GPS receiver having given up the ghost. This was also replaced. I found Tractive customer service to be impeccable, responding rapidly to my questions in an efficient and very courteous manner.
Let me return to the clip. Although Tractive insists that for most users this is not a problem, the fact that they sell spare clips suggests they are coming to realise this is an issue. In any case, this is apparently to be addressed in the second generation Tractive due to be released this summer.
However, there is a do-it-yourself fix for this. I suggest you super-glue the clip to the device or secure it with gaffers' tape. Then, after charging it every night, you must undo your dog's collar and thread the device onto the collar.
The battery is good for a couple of days but I prefer to go out with a full charge so I recharge nightly.
The device has proven durably waterproof. Mr PB is a labrador and loves streams, ponds and swimming pools. Obviously, he is only splashing around but it seems to emerge from its frequent immersions without a problem.
To return to customer service. They are immediately responsive to email and very courteous. This I think is an element that will make Tractive a long-term player in this market.
If you love your dog and you exercise him off the lead, or fear he might take himself out on an adventure through a gate inadvertently left open, then you absolutely should consider this device.
Mr PB is a very social creature with lots of friends. The Tractive attracts lots of interest from other dog owners. But I find it needs quite a bit of explanation so they understand how it works and the benefits and limitations.
They often ask: what is the range? Well, it doesn't work like that. The subscription covers all the mobile phone networks in Europe so your dog could be in Finland and Albania, and you will still get a fix. But you can be 50m away from your dog and if there is no GPS or GPRS, then it will not work, and if there is no 3G or 4G, then you will not get useful information on your phone.
I do not think the problems I have described should inhibit a dog owner from buying this device but be careful with the clip and understand that it is not Tractive that determines whether it works or not, it is the laws of physics and the quality of the mobile network.
I cannot imagine being without the Tractive, much as I have occasionally cursed it.