Last updated: August 9, 2021

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A GPS tracker allows you to monitor various objects or people. You can easily use it to secure your car against theft or your bicycle. Even if you have relatives with dementia, the GPS tracker is a great device to protect them from danger. You can be at home or in the office with a clear conscience and find out where the tracker is with a quick glance at your smartphone. This takes away a lot of worries and fears and you can enjoy your everyday life a bit better.

Many GPS trackers have various functions, including the geo-fence, motion detector, speed detector, SOS button and much more. You won't necessarily need every function and not every tracker will necessarily fit your purpose. That's why we have listed all these functions in our big GPS tracker test 2021 and want to help you buy a suitable technical device. You will find explanations of all the features and functions, as well as the different types of GPS trackers and useful tips for use.




Summary

The best GPS Tracker: Our Picks

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a GPS tracker

What is a GPS tracker?

A GPS tracker is an electronic device that works with a Global Position System (GPS). Through this GPS, the device communicates its position. In this way, a GPS tracker allows you to know its exact location. The GPS tracker consists of three parts, the GSM module, the GPS receiver and a processor unit.

These interact with a satellite and can thus be located. As the name suggests, the GPS tracker needs the GPS to function. This GPS is officially called NAVSTAR GPS and is a navigation satellite system for determining positions. It was developed in the 1970s by the US Department of Defence and was put into operation in 1985.

GPS Tracker-1

The GPS was designed by the US Department of Defence and requires satellite contact for positioning.
(Image source: unsplash.com/Mael Balland)

The GPS has now become the world's best and most well-known tracking system, used in navigation systems, smartphones and GPS trackers.

How does a GPS tracker work?

For the GPS tracker to work, it needs signals from satellites in space. When it receives these signals, it calculates its position. This position data is then usually sent to a GPS server via a mobile phone network. The server processes the data, evaluates it and shows you the location of the tracker. The display is usually done via an app.

We have simplified the four most important steps for you:

  1. Locating the device by satellite signal
  2. Sending the data to the server via the telephone network
  3. Processing and preparing the data
  4. Displaying the data on your device via an app

As you have already learned, the GPS tracker needs access to the telephone network in order to communicate its position. However, there are also GPS trackers that simply use another satellite instead of the telephone network. The principle of operation remains the same, but the cost is higher because a satellite tracker allows tracking to the remotest regions of the earth.

How long does a GPS tracker run?

A GPS tracker sends signals for as long as it has power. Most GPS trackers work with a rechargeable battery, which of course has to be charged beforehand. How long the GPS tracker will ultimately run depends, of course, on the type of battery. Two battery values are important for you: the cell voltage and the amount of charge.

This allows you to determine how long your GPS Tracker will last. The voltage is always displayed in volts and the amount of charge in milliamps (mAh). The rule of thumb is that the higher the milliampere, the longer the battery can be used. Then, of course, there are factors such as the frequency of the location query and how long the tracker collects data. If it does these two factors frequently, then it needs more power.

There is a linear relationship between battery life and capacity. A tracker with 500 mAh normally transmits for 16 days, if it has twice the capacity, it transmits for 32 days and so on. So if you are looking for a GPS tracker for a long period of time, you should look for a very high battery capacity.

Now you're thinking, what if I need a GPS tracker for continuous use? For the car, for example, there is a GPS tracker that connects directly to the car battery, so it is permanently connected to a power source and does not need to be charged. Portable devices almost always have a rechargeable battery or batteries, so you should find out in advance how long you want to use the device.

What types of GPS trackers are available?

As you have already learned, GPS trackers need the telephone network to transmit their data. This means that they also need a sim card with which they can log into the network. This is also the main difference in the types of GPS trackers.

Different GPS trackers accept different networks

There are some with an external sim card, which can be a normal prepaid sim card, but you should check the user manual to see which network is accepted. There are differences from model to model.

Of course, the sim card has to be topped up every month, you cannot use it without credit.

Then there are those with an integrated sim card, which use open, low-frequency networks such as Sigfox or Lora. These open networks consume much less data and battery than a normal telephone network. This makes them very suitable for the use of tracking devices.

Since the sim card is already integrated, you only have to register online and pay an annual flat rate for use. In most cases, the flat rate is cheaper and you are spared high roaming costs.

As already mentioned, there are also GPS trackers that work completely without a sim card; these are often used on container ships because they are very reliable. We will go into more detail on the subject of types of tracking devices in the decision section. But now you have a rough overview of the different GPS trackers.

How accurate is a GPS tracker?

The accuracy of a GPS tracker depends on several factors. In order for a device to be able to locate you precisely within 5-10 metres, it needs to be in contact with as many satellites as possible. The more satellites that correspond with the tracker, the more precise the location. This is especially the case when the sky is open and the view is unobstructed.

Especially in tunnels and caves, it is very difficult to determine a position. However, there can also be problems in garages, cars or buildings. Here, the location can be determined, but it is not accurate to 5-10 metres. So you can remember that wherever there is no good GSM signal, it is difficult to determine the position.

Here is a small article for you about GPS trackers and theft, so you can get a better idea of the accuracy:

If the tracker cannot receive a sufficient satellite signal, it switches to Wifi. This means it searches for a signal from GMS masts installed nearby. This localisation is inaccurate, but it allows a rough localisation. Even in large cities, the location can become inaccurate due to the many buildings. A radius of 30-50 metres is not uncommon here.

Which GPS tracker for which purpose?

GPS trackers are used for various purposes, whether they are professional or private. All trackers work according to the system already described. However, the designs differ depending on the area of application.

If you are looking for a GPS tracker to track people or pets, then it is obvious that the construction will be much lighter than one for freight or cars. Many GPS trackers for people have an emergency call integrated, which the person can use to call for help in an emergency situation. For people, the GPS tracker often takes the form of a watch, or a key fob.

GPS trackers for pets are often very robustly built and waterproof, so they can still locate you if your dog runs through a stream. The tracking devices for pets are also very light and are often attached to the collar so that they do not disturb the animal.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B_MUha3gpJT/

A tracker for a vehicle is usually in the form of a box, this is slightly larger and has a direct power connection. Of course, a vehicle tracker does not require an emergency call, but it has other features such as speed measurements and route mapping. This can be very useful in case of theft.

GPS trackers for bicycles or motorbikes are often very small or camouflaged. They cannot be hidden in the bonnet like a car. Thus, in the best case, they are not noticed at all and can still send signals in the event of unlawful theft. On bicycles, the tracker is often hidden in the handlebars.

As you can see, there is no end to the variations of GPS trackers; there is a suitable model for every purpose. Depending on how long you want to use it, you should pay attention to the battery life.

What does a GPS tracker cost?

Depending on the purpose and functions, the cost of a GPS tracker varies enormously. The price range also determines the battery life and additional functions. The more money you invest, the more performance you get, but you must be aware that even an expensive GPS tracker will not provide reliable tracking if the signal is poor. The increase in performance is only expressed in battery life and additional functions and workmanship.

In principle, you can say that GPS trackers for vehicles, especially cars or trucks, are very expensive. Then come trackers that locate people or pets. These are available from an affordable 30 euros, but they can also cost several 100 euros. Here we have compiled a table with the different price segments for you.

Type Price range
Vehicle tracker 30-500 euros
Pet tracker 30-100 euros
Person tracker 30-100 euros

Decision: What types of GPS trackers are there and which one is right for you?

As already mentioned, GPS trackers come in three different designs. The following types are known:

  • GPS tracker with integrated sim card
  • GPS tracker with external SIM card
  • GPS Tracker without sim card

Depending on the type of GPS tracker, there are different advantages and disadvantages, which we will explain in the following sections. In the end, you will have a good overview of which model is right for you.

What distinguishes a GPS tracker with an integrated sim card and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

The GPS tracker with integrated SIM card uses the telephone network to transmit the data to your app. You can then track the location of your tracking device. GPS trackers with an integrated SIM card use open networks that you can register with.

This means you don't have a monthly flat rate like with a prepaid provider. Also, the costs for annual use are often very low. Such trackers are preferably used for pets. The sim card is permanently installed and therefore cannot be damaged, even if your four-legged friend runs through the forest, it cannot happen that the sim card moves.

Advantages
  • Low annual flat rate
  • Sim card cannot slip
  • No constant charging of the Sim card
Disadvantages
  • Cannot be cancelled monthly
  • Provider lock-in
  • High costs in case of defective sim card, as it is permanently installed

The disadvantage, however, is that in most cases you pay for an annual subscription, so the tracker is intended for permanent use; for occasional tracking for hobby purposes such as hiking, a monthly recharge is better. This way you only have to pay when you actually use the GPS tracker.

What distinguishes a GPS tracker with an external sim card and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

The GPS tracker with an external sim card works according to the same principle as the one with an external sim card. The only difference is that you have to find a suitable pre-paid provider. Please make sure that the card is suitable for the device; some GPS trackers only accept SIM cards that support a D1 network.

Otherwise, you can determine the location of the transmitter very reliably with this model. You don't have to send an SMS to the tracking device beforehand to request the location; you can determine the location live in your app.

Advantages
  • Can be cancelled monthly
  • Provider can be changed
  • Sim card can be replaced without great effort
Disadvantages
  • Sim card can be damaged more easily
  • monthly recharge of the sim card
  • not all networks are accepted

As the SIM card is inserted externally, it is less suitable for animals, as they wear the tracking device on their necks, so the SIM card slot is constantly exposed to dirt. Nevertheless, there are also some trackers for pets with an external sim card, but the main use is in vehicles and for people.

What distinguishes a GPS tracker without a sim card and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

The GPS tracker without a sim card is the most powerful variant, in which the mobile phone network is replaced by a satellite connection. A satellite card is required for use, and the costs for such a card are usually much higher than for the sim card. However, positioning is possible even in the presence of obstacles.

This type of GPS tracker is mainly used on container ships, so tracking can also take place on the high seas. Sometimes these powerful trackers are also used in extreme sports where there is no telephone mast nearby. This means that the athlete can also be found in remote regions of the world in the event of an accident.

Advantages
  • Very accurate location
  • Does not require network coverage
  • Location possible even in the most remote regions
Disadvantages
  • Requires satellite map
  • device is very expensive
  • difficult to find in retail stores

This tracker is almost exclusively for professional use and is very hard to find in retail stores. However, if you need it for professional or sporting purposes, it is best to contact the manufacturer directly.

Buying criteria: These are the factors you can use to compare and evaluate a GPS tracker

In the following section, we will show you what to look for when buying a GPS tracker. When making your purchase decision, you should consider the following points in order to buy a suitable product:

The exact explanations of the criteria come now, we hope this will make your decision easier.

Accuracy

As already mentioned, most trackers are accurate to 5-10 metres, but buildings or trees can interfere with the satellite signal, in which case the tracker works with the transmission masts mounted on the ground. This also allows tracking, but it is less accurate.

Since all GPS trackers work with the same satellites and similar technology, they should all show you a location within a radius of 5-10 metres if there is no interference.

With free reception, the GPS tracker is accurate to 5-10 metres

Nevertheless, you should read customer reviews before you buy, as this is the only way to find out whether the product really performs. But normally there shouldn't be too many discrepancies.

Battery life

Unlike accuracy, battery life varies greatly from model to model. There are enormous differences in the number of milliamps depending on the size and purpose of the tracking device. A car tracker is much larger than a personal tracker and therefore has room for a larger battery.

Among the car trackers, we have not found one with less than 5000 mAh; at this capacity, the battery should have a runtime of around 90 days. Of course, there are also models with much more runtime if you don't want to charge your tracker that often. The maximum milliampere we could find was 20000. This battery lasts about 400 days.

The personal trackers are much smaller and therefore have a smaller battery. As a result, the runtime is also shorter, starting at 2 days and ending at 100 days. Depending on the model and design, the differences are enormous. However, these small batteries can also be charged more quickly.

For pets, the models also differ greatly because the sizes also vary; you cannot attach a GPS tracker for a German shepherd to a cat. The model for a German shepherd is much larger and has more battery capacity. The range here is between 2 days and 42 days.

Here we have prepared a table for you so that you have a better overview.

Type Battery life
Vehicle tracker 90-400 days
Person tracker 2-100 days
Pet tracker 2-42 days

The better the battery life, the more expensive the tracking device usually is. For cars, there is often the alternative of direct power operation via the car battery. Such models have the advantage that you don't have to worry about charging.

Size

As you have already learned, size has a huge impact on battery life, as a larger battery simply takes up more space. If you need a tracker for the car, size will probably not matter as you will find a suitable hiding place.

Of course, you shouldn't buy a huge tracker if you drive a Smart car. Most car trackers have dimensions of 90x70x20, there are always variations, but this is not a bad thing.

The trackers for people are usually much smaller, they have the shape of a keychain or a watch. The watch trackers are about the size of a slightly thicker smartwatch, the key fobs are about the thickness of a thumb with an average size of 80 mm.

For animals, the trackers are usually attached to the collar, and the size varies depending on the type of animal. The dimensions for cat trackers are approximately 7.5x2x1.5 cm, this size is optimal for a normal domestic cat weighing 4 kg or more.

The trackers for dogs differ in size, as there are significantly more breeds and size differences here. For large dogs, the average dimensions are 3x5x8 cm, this size is intended for pets over 20 kg. For smaller dogs, the sizes are roughly based on the cat trackers.

Weight

Due to the different sizes, the GPS trackers also vary in weight. For vehicle GPS trackers, the weight should not be too important, as the weight should not be a real ballast for a car. However, there is also a wide range here, starting at 100 g and ending at 1 kg.

The bigger the battery, the heavier the locator, so if you need a locator with a long battery life, you won't get around a heavy unit. For a motorbike, you should look for a lighter transmitter so that the magnet will hold, here a heavy transmitter is a disadvantage.

The people trackers are a bit lighter anyway, as they are not very big, but there are huge differences in weight here too. This is because there are also trackers for the pocket, and these can weigh as much as 200 grams. Otherwise, the range for the keychain and watch models is between 30 and 69 g.

With the models for pets, it is logical that the trackers for larger animals are heavier. For dogs weighing 20 kg or more, the average is around 150 g, while smaller models for medium-sized and smaller pets weigh around 40 g. There is a huge difference in weight here. There is a huge difference in weight here, you should definitely pay attention to this when buying, as a tracker that is too heavy can harm your pet in the long run.

SOS button

Many GPS trackers for people have an integrated SOS button that alerts all stored emergency numbers when pressed. This way, you and all other numbers receive a push notification via the app that the person is in trouble. The SOS button must be pressed for three seconds to be activated.

This function is especially good for seniors who are at risk of falling, in case they go for a walk outdoors alone and fall down. This way, if no one is around, they can contact their relatives who will rush to their aid.

This function is also a good alternative for schoolchildren, as they do not have to reach directly for the mobile phone in case of harassment or other incidents. The child can discreetly press the button and thus get help. An SOS button has many advantages, so if this function seems important to you for a personal tracker, you should pay attention to it in the article description.

Geo fence

Another popular feature of GPS trackers is the geo-fence function, where you can define an area on the app. If this area is exceeded, you will receive a push notification on your mobile phone. This function is especially good for theft prevention.

You will know immediately if someone steals your car or motorbike and can alert the police directly. This function is not only useful for vehicles, but also for children or pets. This way you can make sure that the cat is at home without having to check its location all the time.

GPS Tracker-2

With the geo-fence, you will know immediately if your object leaves the radius unintentionally.
(Image source: unsplash.com/ Markus Winkler)

The geo-fence is also good for children. If your children are a bit older and just want to go to the playground around the corner, you can monitor from home if they leave the prescribed radius. This sounds quite supervising, but children often come up with quite unreasonable ideas that can get them into big trouble.

The geo-fencing feature as you can see can be very useful, if it is useful for your purposes you should look out for it when buying, however most GPS trackers nowadays have such a feature built in.

Speed Alert

The speed alert is only for vehicle trackers, here you can set a maximum speed in your app. If this speed is exceeded, you will receive a notification via SMS or push. This way you know immediately that you need to take your foot off the gas.

This can help you if you have problems keeping to the speed limit and you have already been flashed several times. But also if you are transporting particularly fragile cargo, or your car has reached its load limit and is not allowed to exceed a speed, this function is useful for safe transport.

The speed alert can also help you minimise your fuel costs, so you can drive longer distances at a constant speed without having to press the accelerator hard. A speed alarm is installed in most GPS trackers, but you should check if your chosen product has one if you need it.

Motion alarm

You may be asking yourself, why do I need the motion alarm when I have the geo-fence? Well, quite simply, the motion alarm is there to warn you if someone wants to remove the GPS tracker. Many car thieves are of course well informed about GPS trackers and naturally look for them.

To prevent it from being removed, there is the motion alarm, which notifies you immediately if someone removes the GPS tracker from its storage location. In this way, you are also protected against more sophisticated theft attempts.

Here too, most models have such a motion alarm already integrated, which has the advantage for you that you have a greater choice. However, you should always read carefully whether the function is available.

Battery alarm

The battery alarm has the task of warning you before the battery is empty. This way you don't run the risk of having a useless, empty tracking device in operation. The battery alarm is present in almost all vehicle trackers, as these are not taken out of the car so often, this function is very important here. Most of the time, the warning comes at a battery level of 20%.

If you don't want a GPS tracker with a battery, you can buy one with a direct power supply. Here is a video for you on how to mount the tracker on the car battery:

Not all pet trackers have a battery alarm built in, but you can check the battery level on the indicator light. However, if you think a battery alarm is useful, you should choose a model with this feature.

There are also many models of personal trackers without a battery alarm. A battery alarm is useful here if you do not see your elderly relatives every day, so you are informed in good time when the battery is low and can prevent the tracker from switching off.

Material/waterproofness

Almost all GPS trackers are made of plastic, some also have a rubber coating. If you want to use your tracking device in nature, you should make sure that it is waterproof.

This is especially important for dog and cat trackers, as they can come into contact with water. Whether the dog runs through a stream or it starts to rain. It would be annoying if you could no longer locate your pet because the tracker was damaged by the water.

GPS Tracker-3

Dogs get wet quickly, so the tracker should be waterproof.
(Image source: unsplash.com/Laula Co)

Waterproofness is also important for tracking devices for motorbikes, as you usually attach the tracker to the outer fairing with a magnet. Here, a waterproof model is also extremely important, because otherwise the GPS tracker will break in the rain. If you have your tracker in the car, waterproofness is not particularly important, but if the GPS tracker is in the engine, you should buy a waterproof one.

You should also pay attention to the waterproofness of personal trackers, as GPS trackers are sensitive technical devices. Moisture can quickly cause it to stop working properly. Since it can often be rainy during a walk in Germany, you are on the safe side with a water-repellent device.

Facts worth knowing about GPS trackers

How do I set up a GPS tracker correctly?

Before you can use your GPS tracker, you should first charge the battery. If you have an external sim card, you need to register it so that you can use it. You can do this using the Post-Ident procedure or via video chat. For both options, you need a valid identity document.

After the sim card has been registered, insert it into your device and start it. Make sure that the pin is deactivated on the sim card and that the mailbox is deactivated. Otherwise, you may incur additional costs for tracking.

Here are the steps again:

  1. Charge battery
  2. Register sim card before use via Post-Ident or video chat
  3. Deactivate mailbox and pin on sim card
  4. Insert sim card into device and switch on

These steps are very easy to do, in order for you to deactivate the mailbox and the pin, you must insert the sim card into a mobile phone beforehand and do this in the settings.

Which sim card is accepted by my GPS Tracker?

If you have a model with an external SIM card, you must make sure that it supports your SIM card provider. You have to read the description carefully, some GPS trackers cannot work with a D2 network and others cannot track with a D1 network.

Providers that use the D1 network are Telekom, Congstar, freenetmobile and Klarmobil. The D2 network is also a premium network and is used by Vodafone, 1&1, otelo and Klarmobil. If you are unsure which network your device needs, it is best to use a provider that serves both networks.

Most providers have a pre-loaded credit on the sim card when you buy it. Some providers have a starting credit of up to 20 euros. It's worth making a comparison here, because you can use your GPS Tracker for a few months free of charge.

Where can I attach a GPS tracker inconspicuously to my car/motorbike, etc.?

GPS trackers are very small nowadays, which makes them very easy to hide. Although the trackers are very small, you should not make it easy for a thief. Don't just put the GPS tracker in the glove compartment, anyone can look in there without much effort.

You can be creative when choosing a hiding place, under the seats, in the engine compartment, or in the boot are always good places. If your car has any cavities, they are of course ideal. The crazier the hiding place, the harder it is for a potential thief.

With a motorbike, hiding is a bit more difficult. On a motorbike you have less space and therefore fewer places to hide. However, good places are the centre console, the fuse box, the back of the radio. If you want to be very careful, you can buy a dummy tracker and hide it in an easy-to-find place. This will make the thieves think they are safe until you track them.

How can I locate my GPS tracker?

The tracking display works similarly for all trackers, first you call the number of your tracker's sim card. The GPS Tracker will then send you an SMS with its location. If you receive an empty text message, the tracker is searching for a GPS signal. As soon as it finds one, it will send you its location.

GPS Tracker-4

You can request the location of your GPS tracker via SMS.
(Image source: unsplash.com/Annie Spratt)

If you have called your tracker via smartphone, you can open the link directly via Google Maps. This allows you to view your tracker on the map. There are also many trackers with a special app that gives you a live location.

How can I synchronise my GPS tracker with my mobile phone?

If your tracker has an app, you can install this app on your smartphone and have a better overview. All you have to do is open the app and the location of your tracker will be displayed. You can also programme all the settings for the various functions in the mobile phone app.

Here you can set the functions described above, such as geo-fence, speedometer, etc. Some models even have a digital display of the tracker's position. Some models even have a digital display of the battery level via the app.

In addition to the manual query, the app allows you to better handle your GPS tracker. This means that you can check if everything is OK at any time with a quick glance at your smartphone.

What can I do with a GPS tracker?

Here it is quite clear that you are not allowed to monitor anyone without their consent. If you want to monitor your parents with dementia, talk to them first and explain why it is right for them. In most cases, if your loved ones are still reasonably lucid, they will understand your concerns.

The same applies to vehicles, you can monitor your vehicle without any problems, but you should inform your partner if you have installed a tracking device in their car.

There are severe penalties for the unauthorised use of GPS trackers. The penalties start with fines and can end in prison sentences for breaches of data protection laws. Therefore, you should always make sure you are legally protected beforehand and talk to the person you want to monitor.

Image source: Antic/ 123rf.com

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