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Cat Trackers: Radio Frequency vs GPS

The Nomad Cats > Cat GPS Trackers > Cat Trackers: Radio Frequency vs GPS

If you read my last posts, you’ll know I prepared as much as possible before taking my cats on the road.

Or so I thought.

Milù completely vanished into thin air 2 weeks ago as of today, and all my efforts to find her so far have been vain.

I will write a detailed post about everything that’s happening later.

In the meantime, I wanted to write this report for everyone who is thinking about buying a tracker for their cats.

In this post, I explained why I thought that a radio frequency cat tracker was going to be the best solution for my cats.

GPS technology for cats is still relatively new, batteries don’t last nearly long enough, trackers are usually very bulky, and location reports tend to be not very accurate.

We spent hours and hours doing our research, but all of the GPS trackers we came across had similar (or worse) reviews:

The fact that I couldn’t find one single GPS tracker with a satisfactory amount of good reviews put me off from buy one.

Radio frequency trackers, on the other hand, are usually tiny and their batteries last for months.

There’s plenty of information online where (well-informed) people recommend a radio frequency tracker vs a GPS one.

Eventually, I opted for the radio frequency TabCat locator.

How Does A Radio Frequency Cat Tracker Work?

Radio frequency cat trackers use Radio Frequency technology (2.4ghz) to send and receive messages between the handset and the tag. The strength of the transmission from the tag received by the handset is used to indicate distance as well as direction.

https://mytabcat.com/why-radio-frequency-is-better-than-gps-cat-tracker/

A radio frequency locator usually comes with 1 remote and 1 (or more) tags.

It works like a compass: You need to be within a (claimed) distance of 130 meters to pick your cat’s location. A light and / or sound will then increase or decrease to indicate how close you are to your cat.

It has a one-off cost, which is what you pay when you purchase it, and that’s it.

Perhaps most importantly, the battery lasts up to one year. They’re usually very accurate and do not depend on a cellulare network to work.

Enter, the TabCat locator.

The internet was raving about it, and owners recommending it to people living in rural areas eventually sold it to me:

When I received the TabCat locator, I immediately tried it on my cats in the great outdoors of the Alps. It was quite hilarious, but it worked.

Because they never really ventured too far from home (or so I thought), I assumed that was going to be perfectly all right for the trip.

And, for the most part, it was!

How Does GPS Tracking Works?

GPS technology has been widely used in a vast range of applications for quite a while now.

Mostly used in cars and other vehicles, GPS will allow you to pinpoint your location and determine the correct direction in a matter of minutes.

In the last few years, the same technology has been worked into devices designed to be attached to pet collars and help owners to track their pets if they are lost or stolen.

Concretely, this is what happens:

1. The pet parent attaches a module (transmitter) to their pet’s collar.

2. The module has a GPS chip inside, which acquires the signal broadcasted by GPS satellites that orbit around Earth to determine the pet’s location.

3. Then, using cell coverage, the module sends the GPS coordinates to the pet parent’s smartphone. Usually an app is used to display the pet’s location on a map. In many cases, Wi-Fi is also used to determine the pet’s position –  Wi-Fi towers nearby are used as an alternative positional reference, increasing the positional accuracy.

There are two technologies being used here, each with a different purpose: GPS (to acquire the pet’s location) and cell coverage (so you can receive the coordinates and visualize the pet’s location on your smartphone). Without cell coverage, the module would still be able to acquire the GPS coordinates, but wouldn’t have a way to send them to the pet parent’s smartphone.

https://blog.getfindster.com/how-does-a-pet-tracker-work/


We checked EVERY GPS tracker out there, and all of them seemed to have some shortcomings and defects that wouldn’t justify the price or monthly subscription fee.

The most common issues with GPS cat trackers seemed to be:

  1. Battery drains too quickly (just a few hours with live tracking.
  2. Unusable off the grid due to poor or lack of cellular network
  3. Hefty subscription fees (which quickly pile up to lots of money for a product that doesn’t work well, especially if you have several pets)
  4. Some only work in the US or are limited to one specific country
  5. The product is too bulky (and oftentimes ugly!)
  6. Most devices on the market are just too heavy for the average pet cat and / or are designed for dogs.

Radio Frequency Cat Tracker VS GPS Cat Tracker In Real Life

When Milù went missing, I scouted the immediate and not-so-immediate surroundings day and night, pointing the TabCat remote into every direction, hoping to pick up her signal.

Nothing.

Nothing, for kilometres, and kilometres after that.

Because I had no idea into which direction she took off, the task was overwhelming.

On top of that, the amount of trees and other natural obstacles significantly decreased the distance the locator could cover.

And because we like to spice things up with as much bad luck as possible, the remote broke.

So there we were, with no idea whatsoever of where Milù could possibly be and a radio frequency locator that we couldn’t use.

Like every other cat tracker comparison website says, there are several factors that you need to consider to decide whether you should buy a radio tracker over a GPS cat tracker.

However, let me ask you:

In what situation could a radio frequency locator possibly be more useful than a GPS tracker?

If you live in a rural area, in a city, in a farm, or a traveling with your cat, a radio frequency cat tracker will be next to useless.

The wide, open spaces, and the natural or manmade obstacles will turn ‘130 meters’ of covered distance into maybe 20, if you’re lucky. And for how long do you want to walk around before you can hopefully pick up your cat’s location signal?

After many frustrating days spent out searching in every possible direction, I eventually gave up on the TabCat locator.

The only scenario where I see this device fit is if you want to attach it to a collar in addition to the GPS tracker, but I’m positive your cat won’t appreciate the extra weight.

Or, if you live in a house with an indoor-only cat, which hopefully means you don’t need a tracker in the first place. (Unless you live in one of these houses, in which case we should have a chat.)

During my search for Milù, I really started beating myself up for not thinking this whole scenario through before we left Italy.

Unfortunately, we can’t change the past. While I still spend day and night out looking for Milù, I also committed to NEVER letting this happen again.

And to help anyone out there to avoid ending up in a similar situation, I’ve committed to provide my unbiased opinion in the real life report you’re currently reading.

So: Once again, Fil and I scouted every single device on the market.

Eventually, we opted for the Tractive GPS Cat Tracker.

I bought two. One for Simba and one for Milù, that I hopefully can put on her when she turns up.

The Tractive GPS Cat Tracker

We were won over by this GPS cat tracker because it isn’t wasn’t as bulky as all of its competitors, battery life seemed decent, it came with a safety mechanism, allowed to share profile on multiple phones unlike others, and overall looked more solid than most GPS cat trackers.

What we initially found most worrying were the reviews left by other users.

Many complained that the tracker wasn’t accurate in pinpointing the cat’s location, that the battery drained extra fast, and that the collar was defect and would come unloose, thus being effectively useless.

We’ve been using it with Simba for over a week now. Here is our experience with the Tractive GPS Cat Tracker:

PURCHASE & DELIVERY:

The purchasing process was fast and easy. you can pick between several currencies, languages and markets and delivery options. Free, standard delivery takes 4 working days, or you can upgrade to 3 working days for (if I recollect correctly) 9.99 €.

The package arrived within 4 working days as promised.

SET UP & SUBSCRIPTION:

The set up was easy – you simply need to measure your cat’s neck conference size and set the collar properly. You lock the collar through the battery, and the safety mechanism (that undoes the collar if your cat gets stuck so s/he won’t choke) is on the other side of the battery.

The tracker already comes with a SIM card, so you don’t need to do anything but switch it on and go the manufacturer’s website to activate it.

BOOM, done.

In order to activate it, however, you need to pick a subscription plan. You have 2 choices:

If you travel a lot with your cats, the Premium package is the obvious answers.

SIZE & WEIGHT:

Simba isn’t the smallest of cats, but I still thought the collar looked a bit heavy.

We put it on his neck and… nothing. Nothing happened, at all. He didn’t seem to mind it–in fact, he didn’t even seem to have noticed!

TRACKING & THE APP:

The app is really cool. You can look at the map in satellite, standard or OSM mode.

You can create a virtual fence, i.e. a safe area that your cat should ideally stay within, and you get real time notifications when s/he leaves or enters it.

You can select the History button to see what your cat’s been up to within a specific time range (e.g. last night, or last week), and see the most visited spots with the Heat Map functionality.

It even tells you the average speed of your cat, his/her direction, the battery percentage, and the altimeter of his/her location.

In order to have the most accurate location possible, your Bluetooth should be activated.

You can also live track his/her movements, although I don’t really think it’s necessary 98% of the time, and that’s what really drains the battery.

Without using Live Tracking, the battery lasts up to 3/3.5 days (against the 5 the company claims on the website).

You can also purchase extra batteries and charge one while the other is in use, and simply keep replacing them every time they are nearly empty.

WHAT WE LIKE ABOUT THE TRACTIVE GPS CAT TRACKER:

Overall, the GPS is fairly accurate. Knowing where Simba is more or less in real time is great and I don’t know how I’ve lived without a GPS tracker until now.

Live Tracking isn’t really necessary, unless you’re actively chasing you cat.

The collar location updates automatically every 2-60 minutes depending on the activity of the cat, so if it looks like it hasn’t updated in 56 minutes it’s simply because he’s likely to be sleeping.

The collar itself seems a bit heavy at first, but Simba doesn’t seem to mind it all.

The app is intuitive and has some extra cool features, such as Pet Points and other charts (as you can see above).

The delivery was prompt, the collar is easy to set up and use, the batteries are quickly and easily replaced.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE ABOUT THE TRACTIVE GPS CAT TRACKER:

One of the collars seems to be defect, just like online reviews said.

In order to take it off, you are supposed to press the two side buttons simultaneously, but on the defect collar, only pressing one will let it loose.

Simba rolls on the floor A LOT, and his collar got loose twice within 24 hours. We had to walk left and right to locate it because, once the battery comes apart, the GPS signal disconnects and you can only see where it was last reported.

For now, we have resorted to taping the battery together and sticking it on Simba’s neck through the safety mechanism, which isn’t ideal.

What we also don’t like is the support that we receive (or the lack thereof) with the Premium package.

Good things don’t come for free and we don’t have anything to say about the yearly subscription. 60 € year (or so) are a price I’m happy to pay for peace of mind and my cat’s safety.

However, if we purchase a Support package on top of the Premium plan, we would expect to receive prompt support.

The only way to contact Tractive is by opening a ‘Ticket Case’ on their website, to which they aim at replying within 24 hours – but, more realistically, it takes them about 48.

Tickets are the second most hated contact means after chat bots that loop you in without ever solving your problem or putting you in touch with a human.

As Premium and Support customers, we would appreciate a hotline or an instant chat option on the website.

THE VERDICT

All in all, I warmly recommend the Tractive GPS Cat Tracker. Its pros far outweighs its cons.

(Unfortunately 😂) I’m not getting compensated for this review, which is a spontaneous one.

I want to make sure that all adventure cat owners know of my horror story with a radio frequency locator and can make a conscious decision when it comes to tracking technology for their cats.

The only reason why I’m bringing the Tractive GPS Cat Tracker forward is that it’s the one that has come out as a winner for my own cats after many hours spent researching the market.

I would love to know if you have any experience with other GPS cat trackers or even the Tractive GPS Cat Tracker, or if you’ve tried a radio frequency locator, and what you think of it.

Drop your comments below 👇🏻

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3 Responses
  1. Lilian

    we use tractive collar on our maine coon out in the countryside. Travels miles every day and
    couple of times a wconnecting not always accurate to find collar easily. Bought tabcat rf tracker and Tacat tracker
    for the last few feet to find the collar to a couple of inches even when you cannot see it,
    The best of both worlds, I find Tabcat range is shorter than advertised but it does not matter.
    We always fit the collar using the magnetic catch after connecting the battery and checking it is secure B4 fitting. today I found the collar1/2 mile away in the middle of a thick thorn hedge
    easily. Another time under roof overhang with no gps.
    I would stronly recommend using both, I do not think the RF tab transmits asignal until RF tracker used so does not interfere with GPS

    1. thenomadcats

      Thank you for your comment, Lilian! Thatt’s actually a very good point, the GPS sometimes isn’t 100% accurate as the signal might be absent or bouncing between towers (we’ve had a couple of instances where Simba was right next to us, and suddenly we’d get a notification on our phones that Simba was out of the fence). I’ve considered buying a small RF tracker like Tile to attach to the GPS so we get both systems as a back up. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. There are a few options of which Radio Frequency Cat Trackers or GPS Cat Trackers are the most popular. As we have considerable experience of both technologies, we thought that it would be very useful for our customers, to explain which is best for tracking cats and why. But let s start by explaining the difference between the two technologies.

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