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Fi Smart Collar and Activity Tracker

What is a Fi Collar?

Fi is probably the best-known pet tech right now on the market. The tracker is connected to an app on your phone, which lets you know your dog's location even from far away. The Fi tracker is well-designed, elegant and the Armored Aluminium Faceplate has a much more streamlined design than most of its competitors.

The tracker was designed for active dogs, so it's sturdy, and even the tracker unit is waterproof (IP68 Waterproof Rating), dirtproof, and supposedly resistant to bites as well, so you have nothing to worry about on your adventures.

How does it work?

To save you some time right at the beginning: if you are reading this from outside of the US (with maybe the exception of some parts of Canada), the Fi tracker will not work for you!

The Fi Tracker is using satellites to monitor your dog's location continually. This was the first tracker to communicate the location to the app through AT&T's LTE-M cellular network, which makes it possible to have the (so far) unbeatable battery life. The LTE-M signal can also reach 30% farther than the 3G/4G/5G/LTE networks providing better coverage. Sidenote that this has nothing to do with your phone's network. Your phone doesn't have to be on the AT&T network to communicate with the tracker.

You can use this map to check the coverage in your area. If you have 4G LTE coverage, you will also have LTE-M since LTE-M reaches 20-30% farther but keep in mind that geographical features like mountains can block the signal. Just taking a quick look at the map shows perfect 4G LTE coverage for the White Mountains area in New Hampshire, while we know from experience that there isn't cell phone coverage between those mountains.

If you have been wondering, the tracker complies with FCC's regulations on radio frequency (RF) electromagnetic fields for humans and does not have significant emission - only 1/100th of a cell phone's energy - so it's safe for both you and your dog.

Battery life

As we mentioned above, using the LTE-M network pushes out the battery life significantly. The other improvement on this collar is that it recognizes when GPS or cellular connection is poor and will make less “effort” to connect to save battery life until the dog reaches an area with better coverage. In case the dog is lost somewhere with spotty connection, this could save days of battery life.

The Fi collar also comes with a “Home Base” that you keep plugged in at home and connect it to your wifi. When the collar is within reach of the Base, it is in “Wifi Mode” and saves battery by communicating to the Base.

The table below is from the Fi website and shows the different battery times compared to other brands. We actively tested this collar for two months and probably had to charge it twice. During this time, we spent days away from home (our Fi Base) and also tested the “Lost Dog Mode” a few times, which were mainly responsible for the “more frequent” charges.

Lost Dog Mode

If your dog gets loose, you can toggle “Lost Dog Mode” by clicking on the “Lost” icon on the map in your app. This mode gives you location updates every minute and turns on the red light on the collar to make it more visible.

Creating safe zones is another useful feature if you are worried about your dog running away. You can set multiple zones in the app and get a notification when the app recognized that your dog left the perimeters of your home, your favorite dog park, or your parent's yard.

LED Light

The collar has a built-in LED-light that even has different color options! You can turn the light on and off from the app's main page, even if your dog is far away from you.

We wouldn't say that setting the different colors for the collar is intuitive: you have to open the side menu, go to “Collars,” tap on the name of the collar, and set the color from there. You can pick between red, green, blue, purple, yellow, cyan, and white!

The light is visible from farther away but isn't bright enough to light up the environment around the dog. Therefore you don't really see the LED light if it's on the other side of the dog's collar unless in pitch-dark. The light is slowly blinking - more like brightening up and fading periodically, which looks very neat.

The Fi collar band

The tracker comes with a few different collar colors that you can also get as a flat collar or a martingale. Something to keep in mind for a smaller dog is that the aluminum tracker and buckle make the collar a little heavier than expected. Our medium collar is around 130 grams, which isn't much for Mia but can be heavy for a dog on the smaller end of the size range. The collar band is broad and sturdy looking, but it did get dirty and visibly worn even over the first weeks of using it.

If your collar gets damaged for any reason, you can order a band from Fi separately and just replace them following the instructions on this page.

Complaints about the Fi collar opening up

We heard and read many complaints about the Fi collars opening up and dogs getting loose. We haven't had any such problems so far but have a few thoughts on the topic.

Some complained that simply the buckle opened up on the collar. Honestly, no buckle is life insurance, but these aluminum buckles are stronger and more durable than most other ones we have seen so far. We noticed, though, that the buckle tends to only click-in halfway sometimes, so you want to double-check that it safely “clicked” before heading out.

We can also imagine that the problem isn't the buckle but the lock/plastic-looking connector piece that secures the tracker to the collar band. E.g., if you open it to replace the collar band, you want to be sure you set it back correctly, which can be tricky when you use it for the first time.

The most significant risk we see with this beautiful design is that the collar band isn't going all the way around the neck. Therefore the tracker and its connector pieces have to handle the dog's weight when they pull. While the tracker and the collar seem to be strong, we are less confident about the two connector pieces, which looks like the collar's weakest point.

We also know that Fi recently replaced its D-ring to a much stronger one, since some had trouble with the much thinner original version breaking off, so this shouldn't be a problem anymore.

Third-party collar bands

The recent, exciting news is that Fi started to work with third-party collar makers to create unique and custom collar designs for their trackers. Most of the time, you have to order the tracker from Fi and contact the vendors separately regarding your dream collar, but some of them also sell the tracker now, so check out your options before placing your order! They have every color, design, and material option that you can possibly have in mind, and you can just switch the tracker to a new collar if you want to change things up!

To connect back to the complaints above: some Fi Makers offer designs with the collar band going all the way around, and the tracker sits on top of it. This way, the tracker and the connector pieces aren't under pressure, which sounds like a safer solution.

The photo below is from the Sexy Beast Dog Collars’ website as an example for having the collar behind the tracker unit. The list of approved Fi Makers are available on the Fi website.

The App

The app that you download to your phone is very easy to use. The UI is user friendly and mostly intuitive.

On the main tab, you have the history with all the activities and other notifications. You can also turn on the LED light from here with the icon in the right bottom corner.

The “Discover” and the “Rank” pages are the social aspects of this app where you can find other Fi users around you or see how your dog compares to others. All your achievements are easily shareable on social media if that excites you (and your friends). The 4th tab with the charts shows the dog's steps and miles per day, week, and months and shows how that compares to your goals.

Fi Collar review

First, let's talk about the visible features of the Fi Collar. When opening the cool looking package, you already have a feeling that this is a high-quality product. The Aluminium Faceplate and the buckle are very nice compared to most other collars and trackers that use plastic. It definitely feels like a high-end product.

We soon faced the problem that the stainless steel D-ring on the collar is right next to the tracker to allow a big range of adjustment of the other side of the collar band. The problem with this setup is that the leash's carabiner or any nametag/rabies tag that you would hang on the D-ring will continuously scratch the aluminum surface as the dog moves around. The scratches look worse in real life than on the photo below, and it is annoying since we loved the beautiful plate.

Let's move to the most critical part of this review - the functionality of the collar!

One of the most exciting features for us was to see how the Fi tracker logging in walks and hikes. The app logged very accurately on our walks if we started or ended the walk at home (where the Fi Base is plugged in). The app uses an algorithm to combine your track with Google maps, so if you had your phone with you, it would figure out which roads or trails you took instead of just plotting a few locations along your walk and connecting them with a straight line. This is helpful on the one hand to make the distance measurement more accurate, but if you decided to cut across a park, it would still assume you took one of the trails and will project your track on that.

Another issue we faced sometimes is an inaccurately tracked walk even in our neighborhood with the text “This walk tracking is inaccurate,” even though we had our phone on us with mobile data and Bluetooth on. This sometimes happens if you haven't opened the app for a while, and it's not running in the background while you are walking. Fi's suggestion is to click on the app when you start the walk to ensure it is running. This approach worked well at the beginning when we were super excited to see how the app is doing, but it's less realistic after a while that you will always remember to open the app when you head out for a walk. To be fair, this doesn't mean the location tracking wouldn't work if you pull up the app mid-walk and check on your dog's location; it's just messing up your stats.

We had less luck with tracking walks/hikes, which required driving in-between. Even when we had good cell-coverage, the tracker usually just put down a few location dots and connected them with a straight line - many times only recording half of the walk. This will, of course, be the most visible when you just had a short walk. The app often sent a notification that “Mia is at XY location” but haven't even shown that we walked there even if it was a 45-60 minutes walk.

We had only one walk during testing the tracker for two months, which did not start/end at home and was logged in correctly (see below). All these walks were at locations where we should have good AT&T coverage.

We also want to mention that while many complain about their slow customer support, they have a great support website where you can find answers to almost every question you might have. Sometimes it's hard to navigate on this page, but if you enter any related problem to Google, it will bring you right back to this site where you will find a detailed explanation or a step by step guide on how to fix your problem.

The biggest weakness of Fi in our eye is that while the LTE-M network provides better coverage compared to other LTE/3G trackers, it still needs the cellular network to communicate. This means that the tracker will not work AT ALL if you do not have cell coverage or run out of mobile data. Not only that the tracking will not work, but you cannot even open the app at all without data and cell coverage.

Like every other tracker that uses cellular, Fi also requires a subscription plan to work outside your wifi range. Another thing to keep in mind is that they only have annual subscription plans; you cannot sign up monthly or try it out for the first few months before locking in for a year. The good news is that you have a 30-day trial period to return it and get a full refund if you have coverage issues in your area.

Functionality review

We keep pointing out that no gear or product would work perfectly for every need in every situation. With trackers, it all depends on your primary use-case for the product. Let's see if the Fi collar knows what you want from a tracker!

• Is Fi a good option if I'm worried about my dog getting loose and running away?

Yes and no.

Let's start with the yes! The best thing about this collar is that it tracks your dog continuously, and you can see their real-time location at any time when they are outside of the wifi zone. You can just open up the app to see where they are and while in “Lost Dog Mode”, it will give you a location in every minute. Just as with other GPS products, the accuracy will be around 7 feet on an open field and even more in a forest or between hills. As discussed above, you can also set up safe zones to get notifications when your dog leaves the current zone.

While these are great sounding features, you shouldn't have unrealistic expectations. Keep in mind that the tracker will not work all the time correctly, so if your dog is regularly running away from your yard, you still want to keep an eye on them. GPS and LTE signals are inconsistent, and coverage can be interrupted by many environmental factors. Depending on the collar mode, you get a location every 2-5-15 minutes, which can mean that in the worst-case scenario, your dog left the safe zone a while ago by the time you get a notification. If you have wifi issues, coverage issues, or an older phone that isn't working well in general, you will probably also experience issues with the Fi app.

So, in short, it's beneficial for emergencies - like when the dog runs through the door next to you or get loose from the leash and run away on a walk. It works very well when you actively look for your dog with the app open on your phone. You will find it less useful if you want to leave your dog in your yard without supervision and watch a movie, hoping that the app will keep an eye on the dog for you.

• Is Fi a good option for tracking how much my dog is running around while we are hiking?

Since you only get a location every 2-5-15 minutes, the dog's track will be highly inaccurate. It's also not useful if you hike in the backcountry where you have spotty or no cell coverage.

We couldn't figure out how their algorithm calculates the steps exactly, but supposedly that should log in your dog's activity as long as you have good network coverage. E.g., let's say you are playing fetch on the same spot for 10 minutes. Our experience is that it will not count as miles walked, but it shows up as a higher activity period on the steps chart.

• Is Fi a good option to track my dog's overall activity level?

You can set the step goal for your dog and monitor how those goals are reached monthly, weekly, daily! It's important to know that the collar calculates steps with an algorithm; the “Miles walked” is not the sum of the steps. Our understanding is that the collar is tracking the steps even when the collar is in the wifi zone, while only logs in miles if you go for a walk (leave the wifi zone). We also experienced that miles will not be logged in if you have a spotty network in an area, but the collar will sync the steps with your phone at the end of the day. Sometimes. Sometimes not. Honestly, both the steps and the miles will be somewhat inaccurate, and it's hard to tell how they are calculated. These stats are still a good way to track your dog's activity and trends in their exercise - even when you are not home.

There is also a social aspect of the app where you can check how your dog's activity compares to other dogs’ stats based on location or breed to keep you motivated. There is also a “Discover” tab where other owners share photos of their dogs that you can like if you are into these things.

• Is Fi a good option to check on my dog while they are with a dog sitter or at the doggie daycare?

You can see a screenshot below about the activity logs of a day. My phone is added to the collar as “Dog Gear Review,” so the app used my nickname as “Dog” lol. As you see, the app logs who is with the dog at any given moment and send you a notification if the dog is too far away from the owners. In real life, you would see who walked the dog and when.

We have to mention one more time not solely to rely on these notifications. Since the connectivity can be inconsistent and inaccurate, it often puts the dog farther away from you. It sends you a push notification that “The dog is without an owner,” even when you are standing right next to them. In general, the app sends many notifications about everything, making it hard to take in seriously when you get one regarding an emergency. You can set each notification category and choose not to be notified about some and even get a text message about others.

We wouldn't recommend spying on your dog walker and complain about the lengths of walks based on the Fi stats. As we mentioned before, it often missed half of our walk or did not log in the walk at all if we didn't open the app while walking.

Fi is excellent to give you peace of mind when someone else is walking your dog and to be sure they can find them if something happens. You can add your dog walker/family members to the app with different permission levels so they can use the app and toggle the “Lost Dog Mode” when needed. Keep in mind that depending on the permission level, the person might also have access to all your walks and see where you are with the dog later.

Fi Review Summary

Altogether this is a very well made collar with smart features!

We feel it is mostly targeted towards people who are afraid their dog would run away and not come when called. The impressive battery life is definitely one of the best features of the collar! We have never had issues with the battery life as long as the Base is plugged in. To be fair, we haven't used the tracker for long yet, and the battery life might decrease over time.

It can also be the perfect choice if you have to trust someone else with your dog. It gives you a peace of mind that the person can track the dog's location if your usually obedient pup decides to ignore the other person and start chasing squirrels in the forest.

It can be used to track hiking/walking stats and general activity levels, but we feel these are not the fields the Fi excels in.

If you have a bigger dog who pulls or lunges, we also recommend using either another collar for the leash or replace the Fi collar band with one from the “Fi Makers” that doesn't put the pressure on the tracker to stay on the safe side.

We can't push enough that connectivity to wifi/Bluetooth and the cellular network itself can be spotty or interrupted by the environment and can cause problems outside of Fi's responsibility. It also relies on your phone providing accurate GPS location - which is better for some phones and worse for others. When reading disappointing experiences that others had, it's hard to distinguish if it is an actual failure of the product or something to do with the environment or network. In general, this is still a relatively new product that continuously improves, and we are sure they will come up with more features and better accuracy later.

Fi is a good backup and can be a life-saver in emergencies, but any electronics can and will have blind spots. I see many people getting lazy with recall training or keeping an eye on the dog because they have a tracker on. Please don't expect a smart collar to keep your dog safe because only you can do that. Knowing their location or getting a notification that they left the safe zone will not keep them from being run over by a car before you get there.

To summarize, this is a cool gadget that gives you peace of mind, especially when someone else is taking care of your dog or if you have a new dog who is still learning the basics of recall. It's always good to know that you can get their more or less accurate location if something unexpected would happen.

Where to buy

You can buy the Fi collar in four colors and four sizes on their website. The Fi Makers are also listed on the website, along with the subscription options and everything else you might want to know about the collar!

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