Whistle's latest pet tracker is more accurate with better battery life

It's another thing to charge, but that's better than losing your dog.

If you own a pet, you've likely thought about your friend running away at least once. Technologies like microchipping can help get lost pets back, but in the last few years some companies have been using the same tech in our smartphones as a way to keep close tabs on pets. Whistle is probably the most prominent of those: The company first released a health and fitness tracking collar in 2013 and then added GPS capabilities so you can locate a pet from your phone.

Today, the company is announcing its latest pet tracker, the Whistle 3. It has the same basic features as the previous model, but some hardware improvements make the battery last longer and help to make location tracking more precise. The Whistle 3 has onboard WiFi in addition to Bluetooth, GPS and 3G cellular data; you can use that to set up "home zones" for your pet. If your dog wanders outside that WiFi home zone, you'll get an alert on your phone and the Whistle's cellular connection will kick on to pinpoint your pet's exact location.

Using WiFi helps the Whistle last longer than before. The company told Engadget that the new model will last over seven days, and 25 percent of customers should see it last for longer than 10 days before they need to charge. Whistle also now lets you set up multiple custom "safe" places for your pet (so you can designate both your home and office as safe zones, for example). The hardware itself is also smaller than before -- 50 percent smaller than the last model, weighing in at less than an ounce.

If you were into the whole "Fitbit for dogs" label that Whistle was tagged with, the product features improved activity monitoring. Previously, the Whistle would update your pet's activity data only once a day, because monitoring took a backseat to tracking features from a battery perspective. But now the Whistle can push activity data back to your phone hourly, something customers were asking for. You can, of course, do a manual sync, but even if you don't, there will still be pretty current data.

As for what data the Whistle 3 tracks, it mainly keeps track of how long your pet is active every day. Whistle said it doesn't feel the need to get overly medical or too niche with what it tracks, so there aren't sensors for things like heart rate, for example. Mostly the company wants to help you see how active your pet and how long it rests; you can then use the Whistle database to see how it compares to other pets of a similar age and breed.

The last thing Whistle changed is the smartphone app you'll use to manage the device and track your pet's location. Perhaps the most notable change here is that Whistle is now using Google Maps, and the setup process is said to be much simpler now due to the new app and the hardware's Bluetooth features.

If you're interested in keeping tabs on your pet, Whistle probably is the most comprehensive device of its type on the market right now -- but we'll have to check it out for ourselves and see if all these new features work as advertised. The new Whistle 3 goes on sale today for $80 from Whistle's site and on Amazon and ships in February.

You'll also need to buy a data plan for the device, which is probably my biggest issue with it. If you pay for two years up front, it'll cost $7 per month, or $8 per month if you pay for a one year. If you want to go month-to-month, you'll pay $10. Another device to charge and another plan to manage is definitely a bummer, but Whistle says that one in three pets get lost in their lifetime. As someone who likes his dog more than most humans, $7 a month isn't bad for some peace of mind.

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