Two years ago we awarded the Whistle 3 our Editors’ Choice for offering the best activity and location tracking for pets we had tested to that point. A lot has changed since then, and there a number of excellent pet trackers on the market. Luckily, Whistle has upped its game as well with the $129.95 GO Explore for cats and dogs. Aside from a higher price, the Go Explore is an improvement all around, with better battery life, easier charging, a built-in night light, and more health information, among other upgrades. It’s enough to keep Whistle at the head of the pack, and once again earn our Editors’ Choice for pet trackers.
Pricing and Design
The GO Explore is one of two new devices from Whistle. The other is the $99.95 Whistle GO, which lacks the night light and offers half the battery life. For the extra $30, we think the GO Explore is the better bet.
While it weighs the same 1.3 ounces (with the collar clip) as the Whistle 3, the GO Explore is pretty much the same size. It’s a few millimeters taller, but once nestled in the clip it looks effectively identical. It comes in all gray, or gray with green or magenta accents on the face.
The biggest changes from the Whistle 3 are better battery life and a micro USB port for charging; if you have a Whistle 3, its proprietary charger won’t work with the new models. The tracker is rated IPX8, so it can be submerged in water up to six feet. Previous Whistle devices are IPX7, so they can only handle up to three feet of water.
All you get in the box is a GO Explore, a charging cable, and the clip. The redesigned clip is fully plastic, rather than the plastic-with-rubberband-attachment on the Whistle 3. I had to replace the latter at one point because the rubber stretched and wouldn’t bounce back after several months. The all-plastic clip likely will last longer, plus is nigh-impossible to get back off a collar once attached (I scratched mine all up trying to remove it). That said, the clip is only for flat collars. The tracker itself sits a little loose in the clip, but won’t fall out without you pushing the spring-loaded button and twisting the device 90 degrees.
Whistle GO devices attach to any collar, unlike the Fi Smart Dog Collar which is built to work only with collars sold by Fi. However, Whistle (the company) has realized the benefit of having an ecosystem of after-market products to sell. It now offers $29.95 collars in various sizes and in six colors/patterns. Each has a Whistle GO/GO Explore steel mount integrated (the mounts won’t work for the older Whistle 3). They only recommended the collars for dogs over 20 pounds.
It should be noted that the GO Explore itself is usable by smaller dogs and even cats, though the health info is mainly for dogs.
All Whistle products have a 90-day trial period during which you can return the device without question. Each requires a subscription for GPS tracking. The lowest-cost subscription is $166.80 for two years (that works out to $6.95 per month), or $95.40 for one year ($7.95 per month). You can also pay $9.95 per month, billed monthly. That brings the total cost outlay to $296.75 for two years of the GO Explore, at the cheapest. That compares well with the $335 two-year cost for the Fi Smart Dog Collar.
Features and Battery Life
Everyone in the pet-tracking space seems to be using AT&T’s network for GPS positioning, probably because it offers a relatively inexpensive monthly or yearly subscription plan. The carrier you have on your phone doesn’t matter. As mentioned, you get a 90-day trial to check out the Whistle GO Explore, which is important if you live somewhere lacking effective AT&T coverage.
The key to good battery life with the GO Explore is to make sure you pair the device with the Wi-Fi found in your current location. The app supports multiple Safe Places, so you can list your home, office, wherever you frequent. Log in at the Wi-Fi in each location, register that network in the app with each location you record, and each spot becomes a safe zone.
As long as your pooch is in vicinity of a Wi-Fi router, the GO Explore remains in a Power Save Mode, in which it completely turns off and checks for a Wi-Fi connection every few minutes. Whistle claims the battery can last as long as 30 days if your pet’s a real couch potato, with an average life of around 20 days. After five days, my GO Explore was only down to 98 percent charge; on the old Whistle 3 that same time frame would have required a recharge, so that’s a major improvement.
If a dog is more active and outside the safe zone—or goes missing and you activate Track mode—the battery is depleted much faster as it checks in with the AT&T network for location info more often.
The app will sync your list of saved Places with Whistle’s servers, I assume to share with others who use your account. At least it will try—I got a warning numerous times that I had to plug the Whistle GO Explore in so this sync would happen.
The other major feature is health tracking, where you can get a quick glance of your pet’s calories burned, distance traversed, and hours at rest for a day. Set a goal of a certain number of minutes of activity per day and you’ll immediately see in the chart if the goal was reached. The page includes a daily timeline of when your pet was active or snoozing.
App and Performance
The Go Explore works with the free Whistle app for Android and iOS. You need the app for setup, some of which includes scanning for networks so you can add the Whistle GO Explore to your Wi-Fi. There’s no option for tracking a Whistle device on a web interface, which is a bummer for deskbound pet parents who could have it running in a little window while at work all day. This is, sadly, standard with the competition as well. I haven’t seen a web interface since the PetPace collar, which doesn’t do GPS.
You can edit your registered pet’s info using the paw menu. Click Add Human to send an invite to other pet parents or caregivers, like the dog walker or any friends enlisted in tracking down a missing/escaped canine. This section is also where you set an activity goal (in minutes) based on age, breed, and weight— the app will give you a suggested range.
You can set up notifications to come via push, SMS texts, and/or emails. They can include updates on activity, achievements (meeting a step goal for example), and even nudges to get your pet moving more. Emails and texts can include device status so you’ll be told when to put the Whistle GO Explore on a charger. There’s also a weekly summary of activity sent via email. All of the above will notify you of Family Trips, which is when the pet leaves the house accompanied by one of your pre-determined humans.
Initial launch shows the current location of the Whistle GO Explore on a Google Map, which you can switch between normal mode or satellite or terrain. It’ll also indicate you or other humans on the account based on where you cell phone is. The Whistle’s mode is indicated by a banner, usually saying Power Save Mode when the device is in a safe zone. Click the Current, Daily, or Weekly links below the map to see a breakdown of your pet’s locations for each time frame; click a left or right arrow when in Daily or Weekly to go back or forward in time for a heatmap of locations. Under Settings > Safe Places, you can add more and adjust the size or shape (circle or square) of the zone.
Whistle is putting a bigger emphasis on not only tracking health, but also behavior. That’s not a big surprise since Whistle is owned by the same parent company (Mars) that owns hundreds of veterinary clinics, but also the Wisdom Panel Health Canine Breed + Disease Detection, a PCMag Editors’ Choice for dog DNA test kits. The tracker now looks for scratching, licking, and sleep changes in addition to activity.
The most important thing for most owners is how fast you get notified of a pet escaping the premises. Unfortunately, this is one area where Whistle doesn’t take top honors. In my tests, it usually took a full 4.5 minutes to get a notification (text and push) that the device had left the safe places zone, which as many pet owners know, is plenty of time for a determined doggo to ditch you. In comparison, the Fi Smart Collar took 3 minutes and 20 seconds for the initial notification.
Once you do know the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, you can click the Track button and the device starts checking in with the GPS system every 15 seconds. That’s double the rate of the Whistle 3’s tracking, which makes real-time tracking much more effective. And the built-in night light can help you better track your pet in the dark.
The Whistle GO Explore is an improvement in almost every possible way upon the Whistle 3, with much longer battery life, easier charging, a better collar clip, more health info, and improved durability, among other useful upgrades. Like the Fi Smart Collar, the response time for an initial pet escape can be better, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a terrific overall package. So if you’re looking to track your pet’s whereabouts, as well as take a deep dive into its activity, the Whistle GO Explore earns our Editors’ Choice.
Whistle GO Explore
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