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Fuquay Varina, North Carolina, United States
A guy finding out if life really does begin at 50.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Well it is Automatic

I got a new car gadget for my birthday, and I wanted to share my thoughts on it with you.  I've used it for just two days, so my opinion is subject to change.  Take this as my 1st impression AND keep in mind that I've not read 'the manual.'

Let me start by saying that my Automatic App + Adapter is an Okay (air quote type of Okay) device.  It has potential - assuming they update it, or their '3RD PARTY APPS' get Android versions.  Right now, the 3rd party apps I'd be interested in using are IOS only. As you probably know, I'm an Android phone kindof guy.

The best thing about Automatic is that it is automatic.  The worst thing about Automatic is that it is too automatic. You have zero control other than you get to assign your car a nickname - and in fact, that is totally optional.  

The install and set up was painless - install the app first and follow the directions.  One neat thing was it used the phone's camera to read the VIN barcode (through the windshield - impressive).  Had that not worked, I would have had to type in that long string of characters. So I was very pleased that the bar code scan worked on one hand, but actually a little ticked that the reason they want the VIN is so that they can lock the adapter to a single car.  They want you to buy another adapter for each car.  They only need  the VIN to fulfill their greed. The adapter plugs into the OBD2 port, which on my vehicle is easy to access, took seconds to do, and would be a snap for me to remove and take it to a 2nd car.  But NOOOOOO - not allowed!  I would not buy this gadget again for that sole reason.  I have 2 cars.  Granted it would be less than ideal to swap cars, but less than ideal or $99 out of pocket for a 2nd car... Exactly.  However, it updated the firmware on the device after the app connected to the adapter. Good. Expected. Yawn.

Now for actually using it.  Automatic does a really nice job of automatically logging your trip. You just start your car and go.  You don't have to mess with the phone at all. A few seconds after you start your car, you hear a chirp to let you know Automatic is connected and active.  You turn off the car, and it stops. All of that is 'automatic' which I guess is why they choose that name.  For sure, that saves you the old school frustration caused by forgetting to write the mileage (and start time) down at the start of a trip.  Since it logs every start/stop of the car with no effort on your part, you'll have a trip to review if you desire. Using the phone app, you can easily answer the typical questions like - What time did we leave to go to the doctor last week?  When did we get home?  How far was it to xyz? All those questions are a snap to answer by scrolling through the trip displays on the app.  Besides the trip data, you get the gas used, MPG, and how much the trip cost you.  It draws you a map of your route.  You can zoom in on the map.  All that is way cool.  But.... NONE of that trip information can be changed.  If you want to split a trip (stop your current trip and start a new trip), you can't do that unless you cut the car off and wait 15 minutes for it to decide it's not a "brief" stop. Then it closes that trip out, and when you start the car, it starts a new trip.  The 15 minute 'window' to combine 'brief pauses' is handy when you stop along the route and buy gas for instance.  But if you stop en route to do some shopping for 15 minutes, that stops the trip so that you can't get a round trip view.  So the app needs either a 'Completed trip' or 'Join trips' button. You can't even tell it how much the price of gas is/was so it can calculate the correct cost per mile.  The website says it uses gas prices near your trips GPS location to estimate the cost of fuel.  That bit of information was posted 3 years ago with a quip that they'll look into manual entry.  So don't expect that feature - but I'd say their 'ball park' guess at the gas price is good enough - It's just the new high-tech $99 method is less accurate than the free old school method of taking a picture of the gas receipt.

The app gives you a running 'score' (0 to 100) based on your driving behavior. It deducts points from your score if you accelerate too fast, decelerate too quick, or drive over 70 mph. Improving your score and improving your gas mileage should, in theory, go hand-in-hand.  It even ranks you.  "Your score of 94 places you in the bottom 49% ..."    Yet another reminder that I'm not in the top 1%.  It's very sensitive to braking.  It beeps every time it deducts points.  The feedback can be turned off.  Good!

Another major issue I have with Automatic is that it won't show me any of the car parameters (like rpm, gas tank level) etc.  I had a $29.95 Chinese (wired) car monitor that would tell you everything - what your oxygen sensor reading was - your spark timing, etc.  I like to be able to drill down and see that information, but the Automatic app will not do that.  I read on the Automatic website that there are two OBD reader apps that will, but they are IOS only.  I'm Android, so I'm out of luck.  Based on the slow roll out of new features in the app, I would not expect 3rd party IOS developers to be quick to support Android. Why? For $23 you can get an OBD2 Bluetooth reader that gives you all OBD2 data your heart desires.  I don't see IOS developers wasting time to develop an Android app for a $99 device when there is a $23 (free shipping for Prime customer) solution available now.

So, speaking of other solutions.  I checked the Google Play Store, and I see an Android app (TripLog by BizLog) that for free does what Automatic does for a single trip at a time.  For $15 a year, it saves an unlimited number of trips - and best of all, since it's uses only your phone, it works in any number of vehicles. So, I'd recommend that you go give that a try.

Here are some screen shots.

A trip that I made from home to Greensboro.  Yes, really, I left at 5:33 am.  I got to Greensboro at 7:13 am which I considered the end of my trip since that's where I unloaded Maryann and Johnny at a NC FIRST Lego League state competition.  But since I only stopped there for a couple minutes, Automatic considers my trip ended at McDonald's where I stopped for coffee and to read my paper.  You can't stop, start, or restart a trip with one click which to me is a MAJOR fault.

Automatic does help you find your car if you lose it (and I assume if someone 'borrows' it).  It will also text 3 people if it detects you are in a crash which is a plus.

My running score of 80 (from yesterday when I took my very first trip using Automatic).

This is a screen shot of the trip on the Automatic website.  You can only view it there. I still can't 'fix' my trip.  Oh well...

Automatic will fulfill your needs for a very simple car trip logger, but if you're looking for something more sophisticated, look someplace else!