Ask Adrian: Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problems
Question 1: I'm looking for information on what the best kind of tracker is to buy for my husband who has Alzheimer's. He has only gone missing for a short time once, but l do not want to stop the little freedom he has until l absolutely have to. He has an old iPhone but forgets to take it with him. I have tried to get information myself about this but when you do not know much about tech to start with, it's very hard. Thank you for any help you can provide.
- Joan R (via email)
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My adult daughter, who has special needs, recently got lost for five hours on holidays. I'm looking for a tracking device that might give us peace of mind in case the same thing ever happens again. She does have a phone but we don't think we can rely on that to always be with her, or for her to answer it.
- Mary, via telephone enquiry
Hi Joan and Mary, forgive me for combining your questions into one column, but they're similar enough to benefit from a common answer.
The short answer is that you most likely want a 'wearable' device rather than relying on a phone, which might be discarded, forgotten, lost or run out of battery.
There are a few on the market, although most are aimed at parents who want to know where their kids are.
Because of their child-focused audience, the majority are styled in bright colours and might be considered a little patronising for an adult.
But technically, these are pretty reliable and can be quite geographically accurate through a combination of GPS and cellular location tracking.
The bad news is that you generally need to pay a (small) monthly fee for them because they need to use a built-in SIM card to connect back to your phone through the mobile network.
One of the quickest, least fiddly gadgets out there to match this need is Vodafone's V-SOS band (€60 from Vodafone retail stores). It's a very simple device that looks like a Fitbit exercise smartwatch.
Once out of the box, you just download a free companion app (V-SOS) for your own smartphone and pair the two. You can then see where the band is at any time via the app on your phone. If the wearer is outside - or has any sight of the sky by being close to a window - you'll get an exact location reading (to the nearest metre or two) because of the band's GPS satellite compatibility. Otherwise, you'll still get a decent location pointer because the band has built-in mobile network positioning via a 'soft' SIM card. The advantage to this kind of network connectivity is that you don't need to worry about organising your own SIM card or setting that end of it up. But because it's a SIM card connecting to the mobile network, there's a monthly charge. Thankfully in this case, it's very modest - €3 per month.
It has a battery life of up to 30 days, which is a big advantage over some rival devices (which sometimes need to be recharged every three or four days). And the person wearing it doesn't need to know how to reset or operate it, if needs be: you can simply put it on them and you'll have visibility of where they are.
However, it does have an 'SOS' button in case they really need help with something. And it can be worn in the shower or the bath, as it has IP67 water resistance certification.
There are a few other advantages to the newest generation of tracking bands like this. One is that most now have sensors that also detect things like a person falling. This is now a mainstream feature although it is still most associated with pricier 'wearables' like Apple's Watch Series 4. It's not foolproof, but will generally detect a fall and alert whoever needs to know.
But as a starting point for an easy, relatively cheap way of making sure you know where the wearer is, this isn't a bad option.
There are a multitude of other tracking devices you can find online (or, occasionally, in electronics stores like Currys or Harvey Norman) but they tend to be small standalone gadgets that you have place inside a zipped jacket or physically attach to a bag or piece of clothing.
The problem there is that bags and jackets are sometimes discarded by those you're seeking to help. This is a prime reason why phones can be an unreliable way to stay up to date on the exact whereabouts of vulnerable categories of people, as the handsets simply get lost or put down somewhere. Or they run out of battery.
If this isn't the case, and you feel you can give your loved one a phone as part of this solution, it's relatively straightforward to set up a location-tracking relationship between your own phone and theirs. Both iPhones and Android phones allow you to do this for free, either through Apple's 'Find My iPhone' (iCloud) feature or Google's 'Where's My Device' system. (Even Samsung has a similar standalone system.)
Recommendation: Vodafone V-SOS (€60 from Vodafone stores) plus €3 per month for network SIM charge
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