Spy technology for everyone

We all have someone around us who has had a car, motorcycle, scooter or even a bicycle stolen. In such cases, we can only rely on the authorities to find what has been stolen. However, there are simple solutions to find a vehicle by hiding a GPS tracker in it. Of course this kind of object can also be used to track people or animals but what you do with it is up to you, I’ll just test the technology.

Feel free to ask your questions in the comments section for the benefit of everyone.

How does it work?

There are all kinds of GPS trackers available today but they often work on the same principle. The GPS tracker has of course a GPS sensor for object positioning but it is usually supported by a SIM card or a more modern technology designed for object-to-object communications (e. g. LoRa, Sigfox,…). Information on positioning, battery status and other information can therefore be viewed by an external device (computer, smartphone,…).

To meet the demand for discretion, manufacturers have embarked on a race to miniaturize devices, there are now GPS sensors the size of a USB stick (or even smaller than that). Size will matter for battery range, the battery will always need a minimum of space to keep the distance.

GPS tracker price

You probably imagine that you have to rob a bank to pay for this kind of object only available in a James Bond movie, you are wrong, you cannalready find GPS trackers for about ten euros in China. So for this price you obviously have an entry-level model that may not meet your needs. You should not neglect potential additional costs like communication costs between your tracker and other devices (computer, smartphone,…)

For my test I bought two different types of trackers:
– Model using a SIM card: Hangang TK901 Mini Tracker (59€)
– Model using the LoRa network: Invoxia Tracker (99€)

Prices coming from other currencies may be slightly different because conversion is only done once a day.
57.28 USD - tkstar GPS PT 3 mesi Standby Real Time GPS Tracker (Amazon.it - IT)
60.6 USD - hangang Mini GPS Tracker Anti Thief Mini en temps (Amazon France - FR)
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I didn’t take the cheapest trackers because I wanted to find a good product. I will check cheaper devices later when I have finished testing these two devices. The 99€ model seems a little expensive but it includes 3 years of subscription to the service, so you don’t pay for any communication. It is very likely that SIM card models are more expensive to use.

Test date: December 2018

Invoxia – test & / review

Built quality
Invoxia’s GPS tracker has an unusual shape for this kind of object. It is not super discreet, it is about twice as big as a USB key. If we are talking about a large vehicle like a car, hiding the Invoxia will not be a problem. On the other hand, for a two-wheeler, it’s already getting more complicated.

How it works
As I mentioned earlier, the Invoxia GPS tracker uses the LoRA network and you don’t pay for data traffic for 3 years, after that it will cost you 9.99€ per year. This choice is a choice for peace of mind because for three years you do not have to pay for a anything else or think about recharging a prepaid card. After 3 years, the cost is very limited, it is very unlikely that you can find a prepaid card at 9.99€ per year that will cover the object’s data needs.

Before you can use the tracker, you must charge it and this is done through a USB port. It takes a little over than an hour for the first charge. Once loaded, you must download the Invoxia GPS application available for Android and iOS. I downloaded it on my Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 and it worked without problems. You must then associate the tracker with your smartphone, this is done via Bluetooth.

This first association allows you to configure the GPS tracker, so you won’t have to do it again later. You can associate several trackers to your phone, the application is designed for that. After the initial configuration of the tracker, you can place it where you want and start tracking it directly from your smartphone. The association with Bluetooth is based on a code, someone else will not be able to regain control over the device without this code. I also think that the device must be charging to be found by another device.

Battery range
The announced autonomy of the tracer is between one and eight months. The gap between minimum and maximum autonomy is huge, but I suppose network coverage and your use will play a role. I haven’t had the object for 8 months yet, so I can’t comment on it yet. After 2 weeks of use, the battery was still full, so I guess I’ll go past the one-month limit without too many problems.

Update: after more than a month and a connection interval of 10 minutes, the battery is still at more than 80%.

Network capture/Positioning
The main function of this type of object is to locate something or someone, so the reliability of this location is essential. The positioning of the Invoxia tracker is quite good. Inside a house with thick walls, the object is located in the garden 10-15 meters from its real position. In the open street, the positioning is more precise, it is about a few meters. So don’t expect to find a small object, the location is not precise enough for that.

To limit data and battery consumption, you can choose the interval between 2 location updates, from a few minutes to a few hours. If the tracked object enters an area not covered by the network, you will keep the last recorded position. The positioning system therefore works by jumps and not in real time. If you then look at a map, you will see that the route does not follow the roads, the application only links the points where the location update has been done. For short trips you may not see much.

Android/iOS app
I was surprised to find that the application is quite good and user friendly, it is not a semi-official application developed by amateurs. In any case, it inspires more confidence than what I have seen on Chinese sites.

The application displays a basic map with the last positioning of the object, here we find Google maps with a point where the object is located. The map is mainly for illustrative purposes because the GPS does not take into account the route to locate an object. The map will give you an approximate indication of the nearest address.

From the map you can create an alert area (drag the screen up to create an alert or press the current position), a radius and a direction of passage. With an alert zone you can define a perimeter around the vehicle and receive an alert if the vehicle leaves the zone, if the vehicle enters the zone or both. This function is essential, so you can define a perimeter around your home or workplace and be notified if your vehicle leaves these areas. The notification is a normal application notification, so it is rather discreet, perhaps a little too much.

I have set up an area around the parking lot where I park my car every day and I have left the area active so that I don’t have to wait for someone to steal my car to test the application. As the positioning is done every 10 minutes and the zone is 200m long, I don’t receive a notification right away but I suppose a thief is not going to stay in the area and will take more than 10 minutes to hide the vehicle.

I’m quite happy with the application, I had to go through the menus a little bit to understand its finesse, but it doesn’t present a particular difficulty, it’s accessible to everyone.

I’ve had the gps tracker for two weeks and I’m still testing it. For the moment I have tested the basic functionalities to check the quality of the positioning, the functioning of the application, the autonomy and the communication between the two devices. The whole thing works pretty well but I’m waiting to receive the other GPS tracker before I can compare it.

Hangang TK901 test & review

I finally found the time to test this second GPS tracker, it is a product of a totally different type from the previous one and it is clearly not aimed at any audience. The packaging says a lot about the commercial maturity of the product, the tracker is delivered in a plastic bag with instruction papers. The tracker is very small and much more discreet than the Invoxia tracker, so it must be able to slide almost anywhere. The bag also contains enough to attach it where you want. This model works with a sim card, so you will need to insert one before you start.

Built quality
A GPS tracker does not have to be beautiful, this Hangang model is very simple and very small. It has a small drawer to insert a SIM card (full size). Once the SIM card is inserted, a small light flashes to indicate that everything is working (GPS signal and mobile network). The small case is equipped with a USB port to allow the battery to be charged when necessary.

The operation of this GPS tracker is more rudimentary than that of Invoxia but this does not prevent its use, this tracker is simply intended for a more informed public. To start the tracker, you must place the SIM card in the device. To start using the device you must configure it by SMS. If you want to use SMS commands, you have a series of commands to send to the device to receive SMS messages in return. If you want to use the application or track your tracker with your computer, you will have to activate the data on the device by sending it an SMS instruction containing your network provider’s settings.

I tested both options starting with the SMS. So I sent the instruction G123456# to the number in the device and I didn’t receive an answer immediately, it took me about ten minutes to receive an SMS with the GPS position even if the device was within network coverage. I then activated the data by SMS to be able to use the application and the website. The activation was immediate. The application is available for Android and iOS, the website is accessible from mytkstar.net.

On the second day, I tried to compare the position by SMS with the one coming from the data connection and despite my many attempts, I never received an answer by SMS. I suspect that the problem comes from the account configuration because once the application is installed, the device considers that the communication is done by data and not by SMS (that’s what I think anyway).

Battery range
The Hangang tracker has a small battery and therefore a smaller range. Charging up to 100% is fast (via USB) and only 24 hours later, the device was already at 70% while I didn’t use it much. The autonomy is therefore much lower than that of the Invoxia tracker and this alone will undoubtedly tip it in favour of it for many users. A GPS tracker should have a good battery range so that you don’t need to charge it every week.

Network capture/Positioning
I drove a little over 100km yesterday with both track markers in my car. In both cases, only the steps are recorded, the positioning is very similar between the two devices. I just had a bad starting position for the Hangang but I didn’t notice any difference between the two devices. So don’t imagine seeing the tracking street by street, you will only see points connected to each other by a line that will cross the entire map.

Android/iOS app
The Hangang application is simple and efficient, it has the same features as the Invoxia application, it may even be a little easier to use because you don’t have to guess that menus are hidden at the bottom of the screen. The application allows you to configure the device, monitor its positioning, see the history of movements, receive alerts, establish a monitoring perimeter,… Hangang also offers web access to the tracker and this is very convenient for tracking on a large screen.

Daily use
Hangang’s small tracker can really slip anywhere and even if you hide it inside your car, the signal will still be sufficient to allow tracking. This signal is equivalent to your operator’s signal with a phone, so where you have a signal you can track the tracker. The device works with a SIM card, which means that you will have to pay for calls one way or another. You can choose the SMS mode and pay for each SMS sent by the tracker or choose the data option where you will pass through the data network. The choice depends on what suits you best, but if you have the possibility of having an SMS or data plan you will probably avoid a bad surprise. I installed a prepaid card in the tracker and in one day it was reduced by a few euros.

Update 19/01/19

The Invoxia has finally ran out of battery after two months and one week, we’re far away from the 8 months claimed by the manufacturer. The TKstar held a bit more than a month, the battery indicator remained at 10% for a while which makes me believe that the indicator is not very reliable.

Hangang vs Invoxia: who is the winner?

The two products offer the same functionalities but operate according to different principles. Battery range is in my opinion an essential criterion for this type of device and Invoxia goes far beyond what Hangang can offer. After autonomy, the user cost can also play a role and here with Invoxia the cost is fixed for 3 years, so you have no risk. With Hangang the cost will depend on the type of offer on your SIM card, if you have a cheap data bundle you may be able to stay below the cost of the Invoxia device but you will need to consider reloading/paying the card. So I have a clear preference for the Invoxia tracker but this tracker will not be suitable for users who are looking for a discreet device or one small enough to be inserted anywhere.

I bought my Invoxia device at 99€ on Amazon, from there Invoxia started sending me advertising without my consent and a week after my purchase they sent me an offer to buy the same device at 79€! It’s really stupid and even pretty borderline!

In summary for Invoxia

Positive points:
* battery life
* cost control
* well designed application
Negative points:
* format not very discreet
* no real-time tracking
* much more expensive to buy
* no access through a computer

In summary for Hangang TK901

Positive points:
* Very discreet format
* real-time position (on demand)
* price
* tracking through a computer is possible

Negative points:
* bad battery life
* cost of data / sms not included in the package