It was not so long ago that Fitbit mania gripped the country as Canadians bought measure counters, smartwatches and other wearables in massive numbers.
Consumers were excited about the sensor-laden devices’ ability to monitor and track physical activity levels, which might result in better fitness.
Now, wireless carriers and technology companies are hoping for the same kind of bonanza with plug in devices for the automobile that allow owners keep tabs on their car’s performance and their own driving habits.
Rogers Smart Drive, Telus Drive and Bell Connected Car are made by Chinese electronics maker ZTE and use software provided by B.C.-based Mojio.
They are basically Fitbits for the automobile.
The dongle-like devices plug into an automobile’s on-board diagnostics (OBD-II) port and speak with a smartphone or tablet program through an integrated LTE wireless connection. They work with most cars built since 1996 and are essentially stepping stones toward the complete connected vehicles of the future.
Exactly like Fitbits, they supply plenty of information on the car’s performance and activity, which owners may use to modify or enhance their own behaviours.
Having spent a few weeks using Rogers Smart Drive, there are some obvious advantages to having such a device. However, there are also drawbacks.
One of the upsides is using a clear picture of the vehicle’s overall health. The easy-to-use program displays basic battery status and fuel level, which can be useful for checking your gasoline situation before even getting in the car.
The program also highlights outstanding maintenance difficulties. Our testing was done in a newer 2016 vehicle so we were not able to understand how well this function works, but a ZTE spokesman says drivers must get warnings of motor trouble, servicing requirements and other possible issues.
As useful is Smart Drive’s real time location-tracking ability. Users can set up a “geo-fence” — a perimeter that range from only a couple of metres to 40 kilometres around the automobile — and receive a notification whenever it enters or leaves that ring.
It’s a fantastic feature for parents who wish to monitor their teenage drivers. The teens being monitored, however, likely won’t love it.
The finding tracking is also handy for protecting against valet parking attendants who wish to go on pleasure rides or even car thieves.
Drivers may also share their place with family or friends via text message, email and a lot of other procedures. Contacts get a link to Google Maps that shows where the car is and how long it will take to achieve its destination. No more guessing at when to have dinner prepared.
Smart Drive also keeps a history of every trip the vehicle makes. Self-employed individuals and drivers using their cars for work will love the ability to indicate particular journeys as company trips. It is easy to then outline those kilometres as expenses.
Capping it off, Smart Drive also provides a distracted driving mode, which puts the user’s smartphone to don’t disturb at the start of a trip and turns it off in the end.
The device also acts as a WiFi hotspot, which adds some in-car connectivity for passengers. Doing this uses the related data plan — and that is where the pricing comes in.
Rogers’s Smart Drive prices $199 up front or $8.29 per month using a two-year contract. Additionally, it costs $10 per month and have to be attached to a Share Everything program. Users get one additional gigabyte of information added to their strategy.
Telus’ Drive is a slightly different, with zero price on a two-year contract. It’s $15 per month with one GB of data added to a SharePlus or Your Choice plan.
Bell also requires users to be on a share program and fees $99 up front and $10 per month with a two-year duration, or $199 and $15 per month respectively without a contract.
If you are already on one of those plans, it is no problem. However, some drivers that want these devices might be forced to upgrade to a more expensive strategy to receive them.
Worse still is they could be made to switch carriers, even though on Fido, Koodo or Virgin, Rogers’s, Telus’s and Bell’s respective subbrands.
In an ideal world, car plug-ins would be sold independent of monthly mobile programs, allowing drivers to select between carriers without needing to transfer their existing wireless subscription.
The continuing monthly price is a no-brainer for business-minded drivers that absolutely have to monitor their kilometres and for parents who really need to keep a close eye on their children. It is otherwise a high-income given the yield.
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