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How Samsung's SmartTag Bluetooth trackers work (and how to buy them)

The SmartTag and SmartTag Plus are brand-new Bluetooth trackers announced alongside the three new Galaxy S21 phones. Here's what you should know.

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The SmartTag is small enough it won't get in the way. 

James Martin/CNET
This story is part of CES, where our editors will bring you the latest news and the hottest gadgets of the entirely virtual CES 2021.

Samsung on Thursday held its first Unpacked event of the year, where in addition to a trio of new Galaxy S21 phones, the company also introduced the SmartTag and SmartTag Plus. The products are a direct competitors to Tile, the small Bluetooth trackers that help locate lost items like keys, your phone, pets and anything else you routinely misplace or would like to attach the tag to. Samsung is bundling a free SmartTag with Galaxy S21 preorders

Read more: Check out CNET's Galaxy S21 review and Galaxy S21 Ultra review

There are several things to know about the new product. For a start, SmartTags connect to SmartThings Find, a service that's already built directly into Samsung Galaxy phones -- SmartThings is Samsung's hub for smart home devices. There are also two different types of SmartTags, which makes things confusing right off the bat (don't worry, we'll explain below). 

Here's everything we know about Samsung's SmartTag so far (and what we don't), from the price and way it works, to how to figure out which SmartTag to buy.

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Samsung SmartTag: What does it do?

Samsung's SmartTag is a small, battery powered device that you can attach to things like a wallet, backpack or even your pet. It isn't clear what kind of battery SmartTag uses, what the battery life is, or how to replace it. We've asked Samsung for more details.

Once it's set up and linked to your Samsung account, the tag can be found using the SmartThings Find app on your phone. 

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How do you use a SmartTag to find a lost item?

After you realize you've lost an item, open the SmartThings Find app on your smartphone. Next, you'll tap on the Find card, pick the device you want to locate and wait for it to load. 

If you're close to the lost item, you use the gauge on the screen to show how far away the item is. The fuller the gauge gets, the closer you are. To help you find the tag, you can make it play a sound.

If the tag isn't close to you, don't worry, it can still be found. Other Samsung devices near the tag will anonymously locate it for you, and then let you know where it is, all without the owner of the device doing a thing. It's done in the background and is encrypted to ensure privacy. 

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SmartThings Find is the app you'll use to track down list items.

James Martin/CNET

Why are there two different types of SmartTags?

In a classic Samsung move, there are two different types of SmartTags. The first, which is available alongside the Galaxy S21 lineup, uses Bluetooth Low Energy as its connection standard. The other version, called SmartTag Plus, will use ultrawideband connectivity (UWB)

There are two versions of the SmartTags, because not all Samsung Galaxy phones support UWB, but they do all support BLE. Only the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, the Galaxy S21 Plus and S21 Ultra support UWB. 

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Samsung's Galaxy S21 is a good-looking phone, right? 

James Martin/CNET

What's the difference between the two SmartTags?

Using the SmartThings Find app to locate tags that are equipped with Bluetooth Low Energy, you won't be able to see a tag's exact location, but an estimate of how far away or close it is. It's the same kind of tech that's used to stream music from your phone to your wireless earbuds or allow your phone to act as a key with a smart lock. 

With ultrawideband, your phone and the tag are able to talk to each other and estimate a more precise location, within a few inches. Using a series of short pulses, a UWB device can communicate measuring how long it takes for one of the pulses to be received and answered by another UWB device. In short, UWB is far more precise than BLE. 

We're seeking more information about the expected range difference between the two. We have a far more detailed explanation here of what exactly UWB is, how it works and other ways it can be used. 

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All the color options for your Bluetooth Samsung SmartTag.

Samsung/Screenshot by Sarah Tew/CNET

Will both Bluetooth and UWB SmartTag models be available at the same time?

No. Samsung is launching the standard SmartTag first, with the UWB version SmartTag Plus launching later. The company didn't say when, just that it's coming. Since a SmartTag is being bundled with Galaxy S21 preorders, we assume the BLE version is what's included. 

How much do SmartTags cost?

The SmartTag that's available for the Galaxy S21 launch is $30 for one, $50 for two and $85 for a four-pack. The UWB version will launch at $40 for one and $65 for a two-pack.

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Samsung revealed two new SmartTags and their pricing.

Samsung/Screenshot by Sarah Tew/CNET

What is this bundle deal with a Galaxy S21?

If you preorder a Galaxy S21, you'll get one SmartTag for free, along with a credit that ranges from $100 to $200, depending on which S21 model you order. 

Will both tags work with every Galaxy phone?

No. Currently, the Galaxy S21 Plus, S21 Ultra and last year's Note 20 Ultra support the UWB SmartTag technology. All other Galaxy phones only support the BLE version of the SmartTag. 

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It's too bad you can't use a SmartTag to track down the new S Pen for the S21 Ultra. 

James Martin/CNET

What else should I know?

The extra features of UWB mean that you can use a dedicated augmented reality mode in the SmartThings Find app that will help you pinpoint a tag's location in the real world, instead of using a gauge that fills in as you get closer to it. 

Using AR, you'll be able to hold up your phone and view exactly where the tag is, using a combination of your phone's camera and a graphic in the app to see the world around you. 

Battery life is expected to last months, but it's unclear if the battery is replaceable. We've asked Samsung for more details and will update when we learn more. 

Once we get our hands on SmartTags and the S21, we'll update this post with more information. Until then, make sure to check out our initial impressions of the S21 Ultra. If you want to preorder an S21, here's everything you need to know. We also take a deep dive and look at the S Pen capabilities of the S21 Ultra