Tracking collars for dogs have been around for a long time but with recent advances in technology they’re getting better, smaller and offer more features than ever before. The Fi Smart Dog Collar joins the growing number of devises in our daily life that utilize the IoT (Internet of Things). Things like your smart-watch, smart-phone, smart-lights, – why not a smart-collar?
It’s reasonably priced at $149 (plus optional subscription). In my view there is definitely $149 worth of fun, useful information and utility built into this tiny package.
I’ll admit I like gadgets. When I wake up in the morning I say, “Hey Siri, Good Morning” and select lights in my house come on at a predetermined level that help me ease into the morning before my first cup of coffee. So it seems fitting that Lucy would have a collar that has many of the same features as the smart watch on my wrist.
The Fi tracks the number of steps Lucy takes each day so I can know if she’s getting enough activity to stay healthy. And if she ever decides to run off and explore the neighborhood I’d be able to find her quickly. My wife is able to be home with Lucy most of the time, but If you can’t be home during the day and use a doggy daycare, or dog-walking service, you’d have confirmation that your dog is getting the benefit of the services you’re paying for.
Lucy isn’t a “runner,” she’s pretty good about staying in our yard. Some hunting dogs use tracking collars but even though Great Danes were originally bred to hunt wild bore, Lucy has never been much of a hunter (the squirrels in our back yard are pretty safe). So I’ve never considered a tracking collar for Lucy. But when I first saw the Fi Smart Collar with it’s app and step tracking I was intrigued. The nice people at Fi were kind enough to let Lucy try one out for a while and here’s what we found.
Rated “excellent” by PC Magazine
Form & Function
As soon as I opened the box I could tell design mattered to this company. I’ve been a designer for more years than I’d like to admit which means I recognize and appreciate good design when I see it. I felt an immediate connection.
The plain brown box that it shipped in used minimal recyclable packaging material. The packaging was well laid out and was lined on the inside with some cool graphics. (Sorry, I notice these things.) The packaging told me this device was going to be elegant and well designed. I wasn’t disappointed.
The Fi Collar is sleek and stylish, although I wish it offered more color options than yellow or grey (I hear from FI that more choices are in the works). The collar is made of tough ballistic nylon and the tracker element is a small, slim brushed metal package no bigger than a box of matches and is emblazoned with a sleek embossed Fi logo.
Other trackers I’ve seen are either enormous collar attachments or, worse yet, bulky units that dangle from a collar like an oversized dog tag, reminding me of a St. Bernard with a barrel of whisky strapped to its neck. The FI collar’s slim design gives little indication of the amount of technology packed into this tiny package.
Ok, so it has the form, but does it have the function? Yes, I was equally impressed by how the FI performed starting with the App.
I use an iPhone and after downloading the app from the App Store It walked me through a few steps to set it up to Lucy’s name, breed, and gender.
I was surprised that the app didn’t ask for height and weight. Since Lucy is taller and heavier than many other breeds it seemed like this data would’ve been useful for the health tracking features. (More about this feature to come – keep reading…)
Monthly Subscription, If you want…
The App then prompted me to open an account with FI. There is no cost to set up the account but if you choose the monthly subscription service it will cost you $99 per year, $186 for two years, or $248 for three years. . The collar is fully functional without a subscription and will give you daily summary of steps and map tracks of walks. The subscription service however, will store your data so you can compare daily data and more accurately track trends. Without the subscription you only see the current day’s data.
The full subscription has a 30-day free trial period so you can try it out to see if you like it before buying. You can also cancel at any time.
After starting my free trial subscription I received a series of emails from Fi, one every couple days highlighting one of the features and making sure I understood how to use it. I thought this was a nice touch.
Safe Zones – Where’s Lucy?
Using the app I connected the charging base to my home wifi. This established the charging base as the wifi hub allowing me to set up a “safe zone” around my home and yard that alerts me if Lucy leaves this zone.
I was able to adjust the size and position of the zone but I couldn’t adjust the shape of it. Apps for other collars may let you draw a shape around the contour of your yard but don’t be fooled—the active area will still be a circle radius from the base unit.
The App is Elegant
The App itself is clean and uncluttered. Immediately upon opening it presents me with a map showing Lucy’s current location and her daily step total. The important emergency “Lost Dog” button is clearly visible in the upper right-hand corner (more on this later).
The App is very intuitive. With the full subscription I can swipe left to see maps of Lucy’s recent logged walks.
In the Main Menu there’s a very useful “Help Center” with Q&A about the collar and the App and anything else I could think of. It’s nice to have this info at my fingertips.
I can change the map view from line drawing to satellite view and when I click the yellow “Lucy’s Steps” button I can see an hourly breakdown of her activity throughout the day. Since I’m not home with her during the day it was fun to open the app while at work and see if she was being a couch potato (you know she was).
Like a “Fitbit” for your dog
I’ll be honest, at first I rolled my eyes at this feature but it didn’t take long for me to become more conscious of how little activity Lucy was getting on some days.
This information encouraged me to be more intentional about taking her out for walks, which had the unexpected side-benefit of getting ME out on walks. It’s no secret that I could use some more activity, too.
The 10,000 step goal gave us a reason to take longer walks. The App sets an arbitrary goal of 10,000 steps per day. I’m sure the optimal number of steps would be different for dogs of different size and age.
I know it’s not polite to ask a lady her age or weight but this information might be useful in suggesting a step goal. I’m guessing that future upgrades to the app may capture age and weight data to give a more customized step goal.
Lost Dog, won’t be lost for long…
As I mentioned earlier Lucy doesn’t stray too far from home, so this feature isn’t something that appealed to us directly, but there’s peace-of-mind knowing that if she did run off I’d be able to find her.
However, if you have a dog that is a runner this feature would be indispensable. While on a walk at a local forest preserve with my wife and Lucy we gave it a try. I stayed on the trail with my phone functioning as the mobile “safe-zone” while my wife continued with Lucy up to our car.
About 30 seconds after they left I received a text notification that Lucy was on the loose! Of course she was actually with my wife but since I didn’t set my wife’s phone up as a safe-zone the FI Collar did its job and sent out the alarm.
I immediately activated the “Lost Dog” mode on the app which illuminated the light on the collar and started showing me Lucy’s location on the adapted Google Map in the App. This function didn’t give me real-time pin-point location like we might be used to with apps that use phones to locate friends and family, but it gives all the information you’d need to zero in on a lost dog.
Besides the functionality, sleek physical design and intuitive app, the feature that sets the FI Smart Collar apart from any other collar on the market today by far is the battery life.
Battery life is the feature that truly sets the Fi Smart Collar apart
Unmatched Battery Life
While some trackers need to be charged every 24 hours and others will last up to a week, the FI easily lasts over 30 days on a charge. It was five weeks before I received a text message telling me that Lucy’s collar was at 20% and would need to be charged soon (the text was another nice feature). How does FI make their battery last so much longer than the competition!?
WARNING: Technical jargon ahead. If you just like the fact that the battery lasts over 3x longer than it’s closest competitor and don’t care how it does that, just skip the next section and read on.
How does it do that!?
Most units on the market today rely heavily a combination of GPS and cellular signals, both of which eat up a lot of battery. The FI Collar is the first device of its kind to use the latest LTE-M network. This new technology was designed specifically for the Internet-of-Things and devices like the FI Smart Collar. It provides global coverage that reaches more places than the typical cellular LTE/3G that your phone uses. It also provides better indoor coverage and, of course, lower power consumption than either GPS or 3G.
When Lucy’s collar finally needed to be charged, I chose to charge it overnight so I didn’t lose any of her actiivty tracking.
The collar draws the least power when your dog is at home and within range of your home WiFi. If you leave home and go for a walk, the FI will use BlueTooth to leverage your phone’s tracking ability along with the collars connection to LTE-M. If you’re on an IOS device the app must be open and running in the background to take full advantage of your phone’s location service.
If you take your dog on a hike off-leash and they get out in front of you, the GPS will also kick-in.
If you need to activate the “Lost Dog” mode GPS will activate and ping the collar more often creating the most power draw. But even with “Lost Dog” mode active the FI Smart Collar will last up to 2 whole days!
Smart Collar – Not a Strong Collar
The only issue we had with Lucy’s collar was the strength of the collar it’s self. There’s a saying that a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link, and well, we discovered the truth in that saying.
When I fitted Lucy with the Fi Smart Collar I left it on her 24/7. I installed her dog tags on it and it became her daily wear. I clipped a leash directly to it for walks and since Lucy is trained to not pull hard on the leash this was not a problem. Until…
We have a next door neighbor with a small Husky named Layla. Layla is a very sweet but high spirited pup. One day I let Lucy out to the back yard when Layla in her yard and Lucy bolted over to play. I immediately gave chase and grabbed her by the collar. I then began to “guide” Lucy back to our yard – perhaps pulling a bit too vigorously on the collar, and it broke at the point where the collar clips to the transponder unit. I had found the weakest link.
Granted, I was likely twisting on the collar in a manner unlike the way a leash would when clipped to the loop, but after that incident I simply added a standard slip chain to which I clipped the leash for taking walks. Simple fix.
We got an XL collar for Lucy but even when adjusted as small as it would go it was still too loose. Unless your Dane as an unusually thick neck, I’d suggest a LG size for a 16″–22.5″ neck.
Should You Buy It?
The FI Smart Collar sets a new bar in dog tech! It’s a new product from a young company utilizing the latest in technology. It’s not perfect, but like all technology, it will only get better over time.
I’m certain that the FI Smart Collar isn’t for everyone, but…
If you have a dog that is a runner and you’ve found yourself slowly driving through the streets of your neighborhood calling your dog’s name at the top of your lungs, you should buy the FI Smart Collar!
If you use a dog walking service or doggie daycare and want to be sure your dog is getting the service you’re paying for or if you want to know where your dog is at any time when you’re away, you should buy the FI Smart Collar.
If you’re concerned about your dog’s fitness and want to know how much exercise your pup is getting in a day or if you think both you and your dog could use more exercise, you should buy the FI Smart Collar.
If you like gadgets and turning on the lights in your house starts by you saying, “Hey Siri” or “Alexa” and you have a smart phone and smart watch and want your dog to have the equivalent, you, too, should buy the FI Smart Collar!
If you fit any of these descriptions then the Fi Smart Collar is well worth the money.
I don’t think you’ll find a device with a better combination of features, battery life, and performance.
Give it a try! There’s a 2 week trial period that allows you to send it back for a full refund if you don’t love it. Lucy and I have definitely enjoyed ours!
Unit Weight: 1.3 oz.
SM: 11.5″–13.5″ neck
MED: 13″–16.5″ neck
LG: 16″–22.5″ neck
XL: 22″–34.5″ neck
Colors: Gray or Bright Yellow (more options to come)
Trial Period: Two-weeks for full refund