⚡ Mashable Score
Last summer, I reviewed the Whistle GO Explore. I came away from my time with the tracker thinking highly of it, praising its fancy bells and whistles (no pun intended) and how much more connected it made me feel to my dog, Stevie. One thing that I did criticize the Whistle GO Explore for, though, was its price. $129.95 is a big ask for a tracking device, and that’s without the added fees that come along with the required subscription service (aka the actual tracking part of the whole process).
Just because you can’t spend $130 at the drop of a hat doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to bask in the benefits of having a well-rounded pet tracker.
While your pet probably has no reason or desire to run away from home (well, hopefully they don’t), stuff happens. Sometimes they wander off aimlessly, chase a rogue garbage truck a little too far, you name it. “My precious pup would never do that,” you’re probably thinking, but the fact of the matter is that you probably need a pet tracker even if you don’t think you do. They provide an important safety net for when pet-related emergencies arise, and to a less urgent degree, they can give you a clearer window into your pet’s overall health.
Which brings us to the Tractive GPS, a tracker that boasts an impressive amount of features on a budget. And “budget,” it definitely is — the Tractive GPS goes for less than half the price of the Whistle GO Explore, coming in at just $49.99 (plus $5.39 per month for the required subscription, compared to Whistle’s $9.95 monthly fee).
I spent a few weeks with the Tractive GPS to see how it stacks up against the Whistle GO Explore (with the price difference in mind at all times), and to determine if it’s a truly good pet tracker for a tighter budget. The short answer: yes. It’s not perfect by any means, but it serves its purpose well enough to provide a really good value for its price.
Claims vs. reality
The first thing that stood out to me about the Tractive GPS is just how much more I liked the design of it compared to that of the Whistle GO Explore. The Whistle was bulky, and often fell off of my dog’s collar due to the sheer weight of it (this problem ceased when I switched over to the Whistle’s velcro fastener). Tractive, on the other hand, is far slimmer and streamlined, and the rubber attachment that secures it in place on the collar never once fell off or even slipped out of place. The Tractive website claims that the tracker is “adventure-proof,” and this first impression definitely convinced me that it might be true. After it weathered a pretty rough rainstorm, I was even more convinced.
So, the physical aspects of the Tractive GPS absolutely hold up, and I would go as far as to say that I liked them even more than the Whistle GO Explore (except for the battery life, which we’ll get to). The Tractive starts to fall behind in the technical aspects, though, which you might expect from the more budget-friendly option. Luckily, it doesn’t fall too far behind in enough areas to make the whole thing a wash.
The Tractive promises to do a lot of the same things the Whistle GO Explore does.
The Tractive promises to do a lot of the same things the Whistle GO Explore does — live tracking, virtual boundary creation, quick notifications that keep you in the loop, in-depth analytics of your dog’s daily activities, and more. Some of these things the Tractive actually does exceptionally well. Within the Tractive companion app, virtual-fence-making is a breeze, and can be customized to your liking depending on your pup’s preferred playing and walking areas (as well as a broad “home” fence that serves as a base). The app is supposed to send you a notification as soon as your pet leaves one of these marked areas, and when I tested it out for myself, the alerts were actually pretty timely, if not on par with Whistle.
The activity reports within the app were also great, giving an easy-to-comprehend overview of Stevie’s active time, rest time, calories burned, and weekly averages for all three. Not all owners will make use of this information, but it’s nice to have on-hand when communicating with Stevie’s vet, and also a great perk for helicopter pet-parents like myself. I also liked having Stevie’s location history ready to go at a moment’s notice — I didn’t really know what to make of the information, but it was cool to be able to retrace her path throughout the day. This would probably be more helpful to people with larger backyards where their dog(s) roam free. I really loved the amount of info I could put into Stevie’s profile, too — it added a nice layer of personalization that I appreciated.
The Tractive also includes a built-in light on the tracker itself, which can act as a marker for late-night walks. This worked just as well as the Whistle GO Explore’s did, and is certainly essential for those who have dark-coated dogs. There’s also a built-in alarm, but after testing it once, it scared my dog so badly that I didn’t want to play it near her again — I would only use this as a last resort if your dog is easily frightened by loud noises.
Unfortunately I wasn’t super impressed by the Tractive’s live tracking option. Each time I turned it on, it felt like the process wasn’t refreshing quickly enough to make it feel, well, live. It wasn’t completely inaccurate, but it certainly wasn’t worth the battery drain that comes along with it. Which brings us to the battery life: It’s bad. On Tractive’s website, the brand claims that the device can hold a charge for up to five days on one charge. This wasn’t anywhere close to the experience I had with it. At most, my Tractive device lasted about a day on one charge, then I would have to plug it in at night and reattach it to Stevie’s collar in the morning. This was by far the most disappointing aspect of my time with the tracker — it wouldn’t call it a deal-breaker, but it’s definitely something you’ll want to consider when deciding if you want to get one for yourself. Tractive does say that battery life can depend on your cellular signal and usage, so mileage may vary, but my tracker’s battery life being four days off from what the brand claimed was surprising to me.
How does it stack up against the Whistle GO Explore overall?
At the end of the day, the Whistle GO Explore is a better tracker than the Tractive — it should be, seeing as it’s more than double the price. But that doesn’t mean the Tractive shouldn’t be on your radar. In fact, if you’re not down to spend over $100 on a tracker, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Tractive as a good one to start out with.
The Tractive boasts a ton of great features that are comparable to what the Whistle GO Explore has to offer, some of them even better than the more expensive option. In the physical design category, Tractive wins easily — it’s far more streamlined and less bulky than the Whistle, and stays secure on a collar without fail. The technical spots, though all of them a bit more lackluster than Whistle, are still serviceable and shouldn’t upset pet parents who aren’t sticklers when it comes to their tech. The true differentiating factors here will come down to battery life, live tracking, and the extras that come along with the extra cash. The first charge of my Whistle GO Explore lasted me over 20 days, where the Tractive clocked in at just a few hours. The Whistle was also way better when it came to live tracking and notifications — everything was just a bit more accurate, timely, and snappy. Also, it didn’t completely kill the device’s battery when I used it, like the Tractive.
The Tractive definitely misses out on some of those cool perks that the Whistle throws in, like lost pet mode, insights on your pet’s scratching and licking habits, and the ability to send health reports to your vet straight from the Whistle app. It’s possible to live without these, though, especially when you end up saving so much money.
So yes, if you have the money to burn, spring for the Whistle GO Explore. You’ll probably have a better overall experience than you will with the Tractive. But, if you can’t exactly shell out all that cash or you’re even just looking lightly dip your toes into the world of pet trackers, the Tractive isn’t anything to scoff at. For the money, it’s a fantastic value, coming with a comprehensive suite of tracking features and a slick design. Even if you end up going with the budget pick, you can sleep soundly knowing that you still have a great pet tracker on the way.