I recently had the opportunity to spend some time hands-on with the Fi smart dog collar and decided to write up a full review based upon my testing. While smart collars have been around for several years, the limiting factor in my opinion was always their short battery life. Thankfully, the technology has greatly improved on this front as you see in my review below.
As a consumer, you should expect any modern smart dog collar to include features like GPS tracking and activity monitoring. However, the real-world application and use is what really sets them apart. While I can’t say that I’m an expert on every smart dog collar on the market, I can say that I was thoroughly impressed with the Fi smart dog collar.
To be completely up front – the Fi team loaned me a collar for testing purposes. I was not paid to write a review or given free product in exchange for writing this article.
Now that the boring disclaimer is out of the way, let’s jump in and take a look at the categories that I included for my evaluation of the Fi collar. I’ll use a one to five scale, with five being the best possible rating.
Initial Setup and Use
The first thing that I noticed after receiving the Fi collar in the mail was it’s simple but effective packaging. Like an Apple product, the collar was packaged in a concise small box that provided adequate protection while minimizing waste. Unlike certain products where it feels like you’re breaking into Fort Knox to open them, this one was easy and straightforward.
Inside the box, I found the collar, base/charging station, and instructions for setup. Because testing the collar’s battery life was crucial to my evaluation, I decided to charge the collar before going any further. After roughly a two hour charge, I saw the solid blue light indicating that its charge was complete and started the setup.
The first setup step involved downloading the Fi mobile application from the Apple App or Google Play store. Once the application was downloaded, I was prompted to create an account, allow the app to access GPS, enter a few details about my dog (Gus), and connect to my home WiFi.
All in all, this setup took a whopping two minutes to get the collar fully setup (not including the initial charge time). Talk about a speedy and painless setup 🙂
At that point the collar was fully setup and ready for use!
One thing I should point out that hung up me up at first is that you need to accept the request for allowing location access when prompted. When you’re away from home with your, the collar connects to your phone via Bluetooth for location information as part of it’s battery saving approach (which I’ll cover in more detail later).
Out of habit I had clicked “not allow” when first prompted, so make sure that you enable this setting!
As I previously stated, the battery life (or lack thereof) was going to one of the primary make or break factors for me. While charging a collar every few days certainly isn’t an insurmountable task, it’s just one more thing to add (and more likely forget) in an already busy life that most of us lead. In my mind, if I needed to charge the collar every few days then it probably wasn’t going to feel worthwhile to me.
Based on reviews that I’ve read of other top dog smart collars like the AKC Link or Whistle 3, their battery life ranges from three days to a week on the high end. That type of battery life just wasn’t going to cut it for me.
Thankfully – the Fi smart collar didn’t let me down when it came to battery life. I’ll admit that I came into the testing very skeptical of their claimed “up to 3 months usage under typical conditions”. My Kindle doesn’t even last that long, and it’s a battery life champ!
At the time of writing this article, Gus has been wearing the Fi smart collar for 29 days straight and the battery life still has an incredible 59% charge left!
Since I couldn’t borrow the collar indefinitely, I’ll have to extrapolate out to calculate that the battery’s expected life. Since the battery was 41% depleted in my 29 days, that means that it should take approximately 70 days to run out. Frankly, that’s mind boggling considering that my initial charge time was 2-hours!
Just taking a look at the collar that the Fi team loaned me, it clearly had a little bit of wear from previous testers and certainly did not have a fresh battery. It goes to show that they had confidence in their product’s battery life and weren’t afraid to send me one for testing that had its fair share of use already.
Battery life testing conditions
The most important factor impacting battery life will be its usage conditions. While within range of the base or your phone, the collar is able to connect via bluetooth and avoid using the GPS function. This allows it to save battery during normal day-to-day use.
Luckily, Gus exhibits what I would consider pretty typical behavior for a family dog. She spends most of the day roaming around the house/yard or sleeping (that’s the Dane for ya ;)).
We also take her on walks, hikes, and trips to the dog park, but generally I’d say that her activity level is pretty moderate. She doesn’t need a ton of exercise, but definitely enjoys getting out to stretch her legs (as do I).
With the exception of nighttime, Gus wore the collar all day everyday during testing. Before testing the Fi collar, our practice had always been to remove her collar at night so we continued doing so with the Fi collar.
While Gus is usually at home or around our family, I did take the opportunity to activate “lost dog mode” while she was away from the house with my wife on three occasions. This allowed me to safely test how the mode performed, and also simulate how its use would impact battery life.
Clearly, activating this mode more frequently would lead to decreased battery life. However, I felt that using it three time in less than a month was already more than an average user should expect to need it.
Before testing the collar my impression was that the GPS tracking would be the most critical feature. However, what I found was that it’s not something that you should need to use very often (or at least that’s the hope). What surprised me with its usefulness were the activity tracking features.
Using accelerometers, the collar is able to detect when the dog is moving and how many steps that they take. This data is aggregated into bar graphs that can show activity by the hour, day, or month (as shown below).
In this example, you can see in the far left hourly view where Gus was very active just before 9 am and then took it easy for the next hour 🙂 For the middle weekly view, a longer hike on Saturday lead to an increase in her activity for the day. The month view appears incomplete simply because I’m writing this article having not yet completed the month yet.
Step counts for the day, week, and month, are shown in the large bold font at the top of each screenshot. With her daily goal of 10,000 steps, I found myself checking throughout the day to make sure that she was on pace to meet the goal. I’d even proactively take her out on an extra walk to make sure she met it!
While this may seem silly, this little bit of gamification is a great way to ensure that your dog gets enough exercise. For giant breeds, like Great Danes, weight management is a critical factor for their long term health. Dane are already notorious for hip-related issues, so keeping their weight in a healthy range greatly helps to reduce strain on the joint.
While having all of this data is fantastic, my one critique is that accessing historical activity data is only available once you’ve signed up for the GPS Plan. The plan is a subscription service that enables GPS tracking functionality as well as enables access to the historical activity tracking data which I’ll cover in more detail next. Without the plan, you are only able to see data for the current day.
As can be expected from most modern smart collars, the Fi collar also supports the ability to track your dog using a variety of methods. However, unlike other “smart” dog collars, they’ve made a few critical enhancements that allow you to track your dog without ruining the collars battery life!
Let’s take a look at the various ways that the collar is able to collect its location data.
- Around the home – Let’s face it, most dogs spend spend the majority of their time around the house. For this reason, the Fi team smartly designed the base station to connect to the collar using bluetooth and use WiFi to determine the dog’s location. It’s with this WiFi-only usage that they estimate that the collar will last up to 3 months on a single charge.
- Owner guided outings – Whether it be walks, hikes, or trips to the dog park, it’s expected that you’ll be accompanying your dog on most of these outings. For this reason, the collar is also able to connect to your mobile phone using bluetooth. It then leverages your mobile phone’s connection to pull location data rather relying solely on the collar. In this mixed mode, they estimate that the collar will last up to two months on a single charge. In my testing, I found it to actually exceed this estimate 🙂
- Non-accompanied outings – Think of this as any outing in which your dog is away from home but not with you e.g. daycare, or on trips when you may be with them but not have you mobile phone. Since there’s nothing for the collar to connect to, it relies solely on GPS. Depending on your dog’s activity, it will generate a new GPS location every 2-5 minutes leading to a battery life of up to three weeks.
As you can see, the Fi team took many intelligent approaches to maximize battery life will still providing the necessary data. From bluetooth pairing to using accelerometers to modulate GPS ping frequency they’ve built a very “smart” collar.
Last but far from least, some of their best choices also involved the choice of very specific technologies. In particular, the selection of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and LTE-M are key contributors. While many companies have jumped on board with BLE, very few have made the transition to LTE-M.
When it comes to smart devices like collars, LTE-M is like 3G/LTE on steroids. LTE-M is a low power technology that provides vastly enhanced battery life. It also has 20-30% more coverage than standard 3G/LTE cellular networks in the United States.
If you ever did need to find your dog in an emergency, you’d better hope that it’s using LTE-M!
Above are a few screenshot showing Gus at home (left), the recap of our walk route (middle), and Gus’ location when I activated “lost dog” mode. When activated, the data is refreshed every 60 seconds and updates on the map in real time.
For privacy reasons, I redacted street addresses in these screenshots. However, they are absolutely present in the map overlap to help find your lost pet if needed.
Appearance & Build
From a construction standpoint, I found the Fi smart dog collar to be extremely well built. It has an solid weight and quality feel that makes me feel confident in its durability. Unlike some smart products which come full of cheap plastic, this is far from the case with the Fi collar.
All of the “smart” hardware is housed in the extremely compact black and silver portion of the collar. The back of the tracker has contact points for easy access during charging.
The d-ring and other attachment points are all made of metal to ensure that they never fail. Last but not least, the adjustable strap is made from a robust one-inch webbing. The collar can be ordered in a variety of sizes. I’d recommend either the large (16″ – 22.5″) or extra-large (22″ – 34.5″) for most Great Danes.
While the collar is built to last, the one area in which I thought it has a lot of room for improvement is the strap’s appearance. While the core tracking component is small and elegant, there are currently only two color options available (yellow and gold).
Thankfully they do provide large and extra-large sizes to accommodate giant breeds such as Great Danes. However, I wish that the collar width also increased with the larger versions.
Admittedly, these appearance features all come down to personal preference. If you really wanted to, it would be easy to retrofit a strap of your liking to the core tracking component of the collar.
While there are still a few small areas for improvement, I can say that overall I was thoroughly impressed by the Fi smart dog collar. To be honest, I was a little regretful that I had agreed to spend time testing it before iI got my hands on it. However, by the time it came time to send it back I was sad to see it go!
If you’re interested in learning more, I’d recommend taking a look at the Fi smart dog collar over on their website. In addition to being what I’d consider the best product on the product, they offer free shipping and a 30-day trial to test it for yourself.