The Mostly Outstanding Fi Smart Dog Collar

Fi Smart Dog Collar $149 or less
  • Usefulness
  • Ease-of-setup
  • Smartphone App
  • Battery Life
  • Activity Monitoring
  • Price (as discounted)
4.6

Summary

The Fi Smart Dog Collar uses wireless and GPS technologies to transmit and display the animal’s location as well as limited activity and fitness information to the owner’s smartphone. The collar and app are easy to set up and install. A wireless plan is required for full functionality.

Using a coupon code that Fi sent me, I paid $99.95 for my Fi Smart Dog Collar and considered that an excellent price. The code I used for the discount was GETFi50, which may also work for you. 

If your dog is prone to escaping on “self-guided tours” the Fi Smart Dog Collar is an excellent safety tool. Many Huskies and Shepherds that I know badly need this collar. It could also prevent the loss of Great Dis-a-Pyrenees and other flock protection dogs.

The collar is much less expensive than the cost — financial and emotional — of losing your dog.

Pros

Easy setup

Great battery life

“Lost Dog” mode

Better than its competitor the Whistle GO in some ways. 

Big price discounts are available from Fi. Order online.

Cons

Not suitable for very small dogs

Relatively large electronics package

What is a “step?”

Not as good as the Whistle GO in some other ways.

Lacks some fitness and health features that some owners will desire.

fi smart dog collar

 

Because of updates to the smartphone apps, the screenshots shown here may differ from what users now see. Functionality has been improved or remains the same, however.

The Fi Smart Dog Collar combines wireless network and GPS technology with the user’s smartphone to provide location and activity information about the canine wearing it.

I purchased the collar online from the company as an emergency preparedness tool for Nick, our foster dog. Nick is a runner, so an escape could be deadly for him. Finding him quickly must be an urgent priority.

Nick was rescued off the street by a member of my Tracy Lost & Found Pets Facebook group. It seems at least possible that if Nick was already wearing a smart collar he might now be back at his original home instead of living with us. Not that we are complaining. Nick is an exceptionally sweet dog.

How do you say the name?

Fi is pronounced as in Fido or wi-fi. Long “I” sound. It has been hard for me to resist saying “fee” instead of “fie,” but I am trying.

Why a Smart Collar?

Until I was introduced to the Fi Smart Dog Collar by Christy Caplan, a blogger and frequent contributor to my radio program. I had been waiting for years to purchase a smart collar. This was thanks to their relatively high price, poor GPS and cellular data support, and short battery lives.

I had briefly considered the latest models of the Whistle GO Rover collar, but the battery life did not meet my expectations for a collar that Nick would need to wear continuously if it were to be useful in an emergency.

We recently had a dog escape and get killed in traffic before we had any idea where she had gone. My other dogs are not prone to escapes or running, but Nick most certainly will do both. I am not willing to lose another dog, especially when a collar upgrade may prevent it.

So here I am.

Meet the Fi Smart Dog Collar

The Fi Smart Collar consists of three parts: The collar, a 1.3-ounce matchbox-sized electronics module, the actual collar, and a small desktop Base Station that serves as a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth hub and docking charger.

The wearer must be at least a small dog — more than 10 pounds — as the smallest collar available is sized for an 11.5-inch neck size. The collar is also fairly wide and fairly stiff. You must use a Fi-supplied collar. Measure small dogs before ordering.

Freedom doesn’t equal protection

Fi promotes its smart collar as a “freedom” device for dogs. In some situations, such as hunting and agility training, this makes sense.

I don’t like Fi’s or anyone’s suggestion, however, that the smart collar removes the need for an urban dog to be leashed at all times. The Fi Smart Collar may make it possible to find a lost animal in a shorter time, but it won’t protect the canine from a speeding car or truck.

Finding a lost dog is my only motivation for purchasing the Fi collar and that certainly impacts this review. 

Outstanding Battery Life

The Fi collar offers outstanding battery life. I cannot comment on their claimed three-months between recharges. But, in its review, PC Magazine considered their measured monthly or so recharges to be a reasonable interval. I will update this review to reflect my charging experience.

Charging the battery requires the collar to be placed into the charging stand and takes three hours. I am resolved to charge the collar anytime the charge level as shown in the Fi app drops below 50%. If Nick gets lost, I don’t want to be running near zero percent battery.

The Fi’s long battery life is provided by Fi’s proprietary software and use of the AT&T LTE-M network, designed to connect to low-powered devices. The use of Wi-Fi provided by your home wireless network also reduces battery usage. If you live in an area with limited AT&T wireless coverage, neither the Fi nor its best competitor, the Whistle GO Rover collar, which uses the same network, is likely to prove suitable.

When you are walking your dog, the smartphone app connects directly to the collar using Bluetooth and relies upon the smartphone to determine location and path, displayed by the Fi app atop a Google map image. 

User Modes and Power Usage

Inside your home, the Base Station connects to the collar over Bluetooth and to the internet using WiFi. Low energy usage. Likewise connected to your smartphone over Bluetooth while on a walk.

If your dog is away from the safe zones created by your smartphone or the Base Station, the collar gets its location about every five minutes from its onboard GPS receiver and connects to the Internet and the Fi server using LTE-M. This is a high energy-use mode.

The highest power consumption occurs when Lost Dog mode is enabled by pressing a red icon in the upper right-hand corner of the smartphone display.

During a lost dog emergency, the collar checks the GPS every minute and immediately transmits its location via the LTE-M network to your smartphone. The LED lamp in the collar is also set to pulse red to help the animal be more visible during darkness.

Wi says a charged battery will last for one or two days in Lost Dog mode, so use it only when necessary and keep your battery reasonably charged in case an emergency occurs.

The Collar

The collar is available in four sizes, ranging from S (11.5 inches) to XL (34.5 inches) in length. As the collar size must be specified during the online ordering process, it may be best to measure your dog’s neck or current collar length before ordering.

The collar is at present only available in four colors — the original gray and bright yellow plus blue and pink, released while this review was in preparation.

For greater visibility, we selected yellow for Nick. The collar is not reflective but the electronics module includes a small LED lamp that can pulse several different colors.

As the collar may slide around the dog’s neck, it is not as valuable as a collar with integrated LEDs around its circumference would be. The LED also eats battery life and the Fi software automatically turns it off. The light is not as useful as I’d imagined it would be.

You must use a Fi-supplied canvas collar. Additional collars are $29 each and the company has promised more colors will be available in the future.

Because of sizing, largely dictated by the fairly large electronics package, Nick is about the smallest canine who can wear the collar and even he looks a little overwhelmed by its size.

Nick is a large chihuahua mix weighing 18 lbs. His previous collar measured 11-inches in length. The smallest Fi collar, at 11.5 inches, was an acceptable fit.

Nick’s “sister,” a 7 lb. chihuahua is too small for any Fi collar size.

Fi Setup

I was very pleased by both the ease of set up and quality of the Fi smartphone application, available for both Android and iOS and tested on my iPhone 7.

Set up uses the smartphone app using the account you created when ordering the Fi. This becomes your first owner account.

You may create an unlimited number of owner accounts, all of whom may monitor your pet using the required Fi smartphone app. My wife and I are both Nick’s owners. I’ve also invited Christy Caplan and my radio co-host, Laura Pakis, to also act as owners so we have an out-of-area owner in the app.

I feel the multiple owner feature needs some refinement to perhaps limit the privileges of “secondary” owners and create a way to time-limit the access given to dog walkers and other temporary users.   

In creating your animal’s profile, you may only choose one breed for your dog, but the Fi list includes “-doodles” and some common mixed-breeds. You may also include photos of the animal as part of the profile. Looking for a lost dog? Having a photo to show people is a good idea. Include selfies of you and the canine to prove ownership.

The Fi smartphone application does not store microchip ID numbers or any medical or vaccination information.

Next, you attach the base station to your home Wi-Fi network. That creates a Safe Zone around the base station. You specify its size to cover your home and yard.

Safe Zones are shown in blue on integrated Google maps within the application. A pinch gesture is used to increase and decrease the size of the safe zone. You can create an unlimited number of Safe Zones. 

The software offers two modes for Safe Zone notifications:

  • Smart Mode seeks a GPS confirmation that your dog is outside a safe zone before sending an alarm. That can take 3-5 minutes, but reduces the possibility of a false alarm. Sadly, a dog can cover a lot of ground before you are warned and the hunt can begin.
  • Sensitive Mode uses the loss of the Bluetooth connection to the Base Station or the owner’s smartphone to trigger an alarm within one minute. This potentially increases false alarms.

I have chosen Sensitive Mode for Nick. Why? Because the Base Station creates a safe zone that includes the entire house and property. If Nick gets out of Bluetooth range, he is probably on the run. Time becomes very important.

I have seen only two false alarms from Nick. If they become regular occurrences, I will reconfigure his safe zone at home in an attempt to head off unneeded notifications. I want to avoid smart mode if possible.

Multiple Dog Households
Activity set up display

Yes, it is possible to create multiple dog profiles, but there is a significant and expensive catch: Each animal requires its own Fi collar and LTE-M subscription. You can move an existing collar among dogs with the same size neck, but Wi does not make it easy to share a single collar among multiple dogs, with the Whistle GO supports.

This is an area where the Whistle GO Rover, which allows the electronics package to be easily moved from one collar to another, is significantly superior to Fi.

Set up requires having the Fi application installed on the owner’s smartphone and the hub plugged into a USB power supply, provided. 

When ordering a Fi, customers are prompted to create an account, later used with the Smartphone app. There is no desktop app, a limitation shared with the Whistle GO.

The collar’s electronics module, still attached to the collar, plugs into the hub/charger and in my case immediately downloaded and installed the latest firmware update for the device.

AT&T Network Plans

One of several Activity displays

To be useful, the Fi collar requires a connection to the AT&T LTE-M wireless data network, which connects the collar to Fi’s servers. The smartphone can use any carrier’s data network to connect the Fi application to the Fi servers.

Customers pay a monthly fee for the data connection and storage. It costs $99 per year, $186 for two years, or $248 for three years.

I feel like, for the small amount of AT&T data the collar is likely to use, the annual fee should be less.   

Creating safe zones

Safe zones are used to trigger automatic notifications when your dog leaves or escapes without an owner present. The app uses your smartphone’s Bluetooth to create a safe zone around you. As long as the collar and phone “see” one another the dog is considered to be safe.

You may create as many safe zones and you choose, but they are all circular, which I consider a significant limitation. The smallest safe zone you may create is a 60-foot radius.

When your dog leaves — escapes — the safe zone, the application will automatically notify you using push and/or text messaging.

Lost Dog Mode

Lost Dog Mode simulation — out and back

When your dog escapes or is lost, the Fi’s Lost Mode is activated by pressing a red button at the top right corner of the map display. You won’t be able to miss it.

Click it and the Fi receives and transmits to the smartphone app a GPS location fix every minute, making the updates much quicker. The LED also pulses red which could make the animal more visible in the dark. Clicking on a separate telephone icon (not visible here) connects you to a Fi emergency line, which may be able to help you find the missing animal.

Activity Tracking

Activity tracking on the Fi measures step counts and I question its accuracy. However, so long as the measurement is consistent from one day and activity to the next, how much do I really care?

Clicking on the step count in the display allows you to see and a daily goal and track progress over time. You must have a data subscription to store this information for comparison over time.

Mileage is only tracked in Walk mode. 

At first, the step count seems incredible. Did Nick walk 30,800 steps today? Really?

The Fi uses the same accelerometer technology as the FitBit for counting steps. It appears to me that each dog step is counted twice — forelegs and hindlegs separately — and because a small dog has a short stride that step count may be accurate.

Walk Mode

walk mode
The Walk Mode display in the Fi smartphone app, which you should have on and carry with you while walking.

It is important to leave the app running at least in the background while walking the dog so the phone can provide its GPS information to the Fi application and create a safe zone based on the phone’s Bluetooth signal. The software automatically starts measuring walking mileage as soon as it senses you are 325 feet or more from the base station.

Comparing the Fi Smart Dog Collar to Whistle devices

Here is a short discussion that Christy and I had comparing the Fi and Whistle smart collars on the February 16, 2020, KSCO Pet Radio program.

The Fi collar has a number of competitors, but of those only the Whistle GO Rover bests the Fi in any significant ways.

In a nutshell, the GO offers 20-day battery life, compared to a month or more for the Fi. The GO also offers significantly more expansive health and fitness features and is easily shared between multiple animals and collars. Cats can wear the GO collar.

The GO, according to a published review, does not seem to “notice” and respond as quickly to a lost or escaped animal. The GO seems to lack “Sensitive Mode” notifications as well as being slower to respond overall. I want to do side-by-side comparisons, but a slow emergency response would be a deal-breaker for me.

The GO offers the ability to create square safe zones but uses the customer’s home Wi-Fi network and not a separate base station to create and manage them. Lacking a side-by-side comparison, I’d choose Fi’s Base Station approach for setting and enforcing the safe zone that surrounds my home and my dog. 

Of its benefits, only the ease of device sharing would make me consider the GO. But, as I am primarily interested in emergency/lost dog use, where battery life and rapid response is king and the Fi’s features are excellent, I remain very satisfied.  

Competitive Pricing

Using a coupon code that Fi sent me, I paid $99.95 for my Fi Smart Dog Collar and considered that an excellent price. The code I used for the discount was GETFi50, which may also work for you. Fi seems to be feeling some pricing heat from the $129.95 Whistle GO Rover. It would be interesting to see Fi’s product roadmap. Especially, new features would require only software updates versus new hardware.

Please advise me if the GETFi50 coupon code works for you.

Conclusions

Remembering that I purchased the Fi collar as a tool for finding a lost/escaped canine as quickly as possible, I am quite satisfied with my purchase.

I consider emergency preparedness a much more significant priority than the Whistle GO’s superior health and activity monitoring features, which some people will certainly obsess over. The Fi does a good job documenting walks and daily steps, which is plenty for me.

This was a good purchase — with my own money — and I have no trouble recommending the Fi collar to any owner concerned about possibly losing a beloved friend.

The collar is much less expensive than an injured or deceased canine. Both in dollars and, especially, heartbreak.

Fi Smart Dog Collar Proves Its Worth
This is the Fi smartphone app view of Nick’s escape. The dark area at the top is the field on the other side

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