iSadde ELM 327 Bluetooth OBD2 Module

iSaddle_ELM_327Being a geek can sometimes become pretty expensive. Different devices offer differing amounts of geek fun for the buck.
Every car and pickup manufactured from 1996 forward has what is known as an OBD2 port. OBD is short for on board diagnostics. The OBD2 port was originally mandated as part of emission control efforts.

There are plenty of consumer-oriented OBD2 port scanners. However, with the proliferation of smart phones and tablets, something new has come along that many people have yet to become aware of. Inexpensive Bluetooth and WiFi enabled OBD2 modules are just the ticket to pair up with your favorite smartphone or tablet.

Torque ProI purchased an iSaddle ELM 327 module from Amazon which is currently priced at $14.99 and is an Amazon Prime item. This particular unit will work with Android and Windows only, so I can only use it with my Android devices and not my iPad Air. If I want to use an OBD2 scanner with my iPad I would need to buy one that says it specifically works with iOS devices. So, if you intend to get one of these devices for use on an iOS device, be SURE that you search for iOS OBD2 and read the user comments to make sure what people that have purchased the specific item you are looking at have to say about it.

The iSaddle ELM 327 module simply plugs in to the vehicle’s OBD2 port. OBD2 ports are always located on the driver’s somewhere immediately under the dash. On my 1998 Ford F-150 pickup, the OBD2 port is located almost directly below the steering column just under the dash back a bit from the bottom edge. I can easily leave the unit plugged in full time if I wish.

To make use of the device after plugging it in, simply start up the engine and then pair it up with Bluetooth to your Android phone or Android tablet. On my unit, the Bluetooth password is 1234.

Next, it is necessary to have an app that can take advantage of the ELM 327 Bluetooth unit. In my opinion by far the best app available is an Android app called Torque. There is a free version of Torque and a paid version called Torque Pro that sells in the Google Play store for $4.99. I went ahead and purchased the Pro version figuring that the extra functionality was well worth the price.

With this setup, I have Torque Pro in my Galaxy Note 3 set up to automatically connect to the iSaddle ELM 327 module every time I take a trip in my vehicle. I have Torque Pro set up to automatically monitor various engine operating parameters and create a CSV or comma separated value file of each new trip. I have included GPS position history using the phone’s GPS, which enables me to bring each separate trip up on a map right inside of the Torque Pro app.

Torque Pro also comes with standard virtual gauges such as speedometer, tachometer, etc. However, it is possible for the end user to easily create his or her own virtual analog or digital gages. The graphics in Torque Pro are really quite good making for very realistic-looking virtual gauges.

Torque Pro is extremely customizable, so I would suggest spending a significant amount of time with the app looking through all of the different options. For example, I now have an instant MPG readout on a 16-year-old vehicle which I think is pretty darned cool!

I have to say this is one of the most enjoyable $20 dollars I’ve spent in a long time for this combo. Once upon a time people who were serious about knowing what was going on with their vehicle’s engine would spend a fortune on physical gauges. Torque Pro in conjunction with an ELM 327 OBD2 port module makes it possible to create as many virtual gauges as you would like and your particular car supports.

The Gadget Show Live

Gadget Show LiveThe Gadget Show Live is the UK’s closest thing to CES, but that’s like comparing a boxing match to invading Iraq. Where CES takes over most of Las Vegas, the Gadget Show occupies a couple of halls at the NEC outside Birmingham. Nevertheless I popped over for a day to see the latest and greatest tech on show to us Brits and it was fun. I was there for GNC two years ago and this year the show was definitely bigger with a bit more variety. 3D TV was the thing in 2012, but 2014 is electric vehicles, 4K / UHD TVs and multi-rotor aerial vehicles. That’s not to say there weren’t other niche products and I’ve captured a few in audio interviews that I’ll post over the next few days.

Samsung were demonstrating their curved Ultra HD TVs and all I can say is, “Wow!” The screens were totally amazing – almost more real than real – and the detail was incredible. Even the flat, non-curved, versions were pretty stunning. Although the curved versions still have crazy prices, I can’t help but wonder if flat 4K resolution TVs will only be on-sale for a few short years before curved ones become mainstream.

Curved Samsung Screen

Volkswagen brought along the XL 1, a diesel plug-in hybrid, which surprisingly is not a concept car: it’s for sale if you have a fat enough wallet at somewhere in the region of £100,000. At a more realistic level, VW had a bunch of demonstrator e-up! electric cars, which at a little under £20,000 are much more affordable, though the equivalent petrol version costs closer to £8,000. I took a test drive in one and can report that it’s exactly like driving an automatic car, only quieter and with plenty of low speed torque. Top speed of 80 miles per hour and a range of 100 miles make it a perfect second car for the well off.

XL1 Front

 

XL1 Side

 

XL1 Rear

Sony’s been touting the waterproof features of the Xperia Z2 devices and they put their money where their mouth is at Gadget Show Live with a water-filled tank. Not content to simply leave the smartphone in the bottom, a team of scuba and free divers showed that the Z2 was usable under water to take photos. Outstanding.

Xperia Z2 Underwater

Finally, when I was at the show in 2012, Parrot were showing off the AR.Drone and pretty much had the airspace to themselves. Quadricopters were everywhere this year with DJI‘s mulitrotor devices (below) down to Hubsan’s tiny copters that fit in your hand. The future is three-dimensional but not quite in the way the TV manufacturers were hoping.

Multirotor Aerial Vehicle

There was plenty more and I’ll be putting the interviews out over the next few days – expect content from Sony, Canon, Optoma, Toca Boca, TP-Link, DJI and others.

The Gadget Show Live is on until 13th April 2014.

Ford Electric Concept Car

Ford LogoTodd takes a look at Ford’s C-Max Solar Energi concept car, which amongst other things, features a solar panel roof that uses a special light concentrator lens similar to a magnifying glass to improve the efficiency of the photovoltaic cells. Ford reckons that a day’s worth of sunshine is enough to charge the hybrid’s battery, which is good for 21 electric-only miles.

This is good news for the environment as it would reduce yearly carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions from the average US car by as much as four metric tons – the equivalent of what a American house produces in four months. This probably assumes a perfect sunshine record and maximum electric mileage each day, but, hey, every little bit helps.

Review by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Ford Acquires Software Developer Livio for In-Dash App Connection

Livio Connect API

Livio Connect API

Ford has been the innovator on connected in-dash infotainment since they first announced their new systems in 2007. So now with all the other car companies coming up fast on in-app systems, Ford needs to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Today, they have continued their strength with purchasing Livio for an undisclosed sum, but less than 10 million dollars.

Livio is a company which links applications for iOS, Android and Blackberry to your car. Livio takes the devices Programming interfaces and makes sure they can talk to the Ford Sync system. Livio created Sync Applink for just that purpose.

Ford_logoFord is also getting a product that is an industry standard. This would give app creators a single platform to work with, resulting in faster development of higher quality apps. Consumers – in turn – would have a safe way to access digital content on the go.

“With the additional expertise Livio provides us, Ford intends to continue to lead the next generation of in-car connectivity with technology advancements that give consumers more options to access their devices on the go,” said Paul Mascarenas, chief technical officer and vice president, Ford Research and Innovation.

Livio was co-founded by Jake Sigal and Massimo Baldini in 2008. Their motto: More music, less work. based in Metro-Detroit, the company has grown since.

Find out more: Todd and Don interviewed Livio on the CES Live Feed

Audi Presents: Spock vs. Spock

Audi LogoIf you are like me, then you probably do whatever you can to avoid having to watch commercials. Once in a while, though, it is worth taking a few minutes to check out an exceptionally well done ad. Such is the case with Audi’s new commercial, which features Mr. Spock vs. Mr. Spock… sort of.

Most people would recognize that Leonard Nimoy played the role of Spock in Star Trek the Original Series, (as well as in several Star Trek movies). The newly rebooted version of the Star Trek movies features Zachary Quinto as a young Spock. The Audi commercial has each actor playing himself, with the actor’s version of Spock overlapping him.

Basically, the two agree to have a race to the country club. Whoever gets there last has to buy lunch. The entire ad is sprinkled with subtle (and more obvious) things that Star Trek fans will immediately recognize. At the start, the two Spocks are playing a game of 3 Dimensional Chess against each other.

What might not be as obvious to viewers is the song that Leonard Nimoy sings in the commercial. It is called “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” which appears on the “Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy” album. Yes, he really did record that song!

Livio Connect Adapts Apps for Cars

Livio Connect APINicole from Livio chats to Todd and Don about how the company has changed its approach to the market and the success it’s having in the automotive space.

Over the past year, Livio have moved away from consumer products and instead has started licensing its technology to other app developers. The Livio Connect API makes it easy for app developers to customise their apps for in-car and hands-free use, typically using the car stereo’s features to access and control the apps.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Ford C-MAX Hybrid Review – First Drive Impressions


I had the chance to drive the New 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid in sunny Los Angeles along with Jeffery Powers from Geekazine.

My first impression of the car is that is a very nice looking vehicle. It defiantly has a Ford family resemblance. From the Grill and headlights on back, you can tell it’s a new Ford. The C-MAX is a name plate that has been used by Ford since 2003 in Europe and late this year, they are bringing it to the US. Totally redesigned for 2013, the C-MAX is built on the global chassis that the Ford Focus is based on, and will be built in Wayne Michigan for the Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid (Energi) versions.

Our drive started off in West Hollywood California towards the coast and up the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu. We drove in a good mix of Highway, City, and Mountains. In the 100 or so miles we put on the car, it averaged 38MPG according to the on-board readout. The EPA Estimates that the C-MAX Hybrid will get 47mpg highway and 47mpg city if driven conservatively.

The C-MAX has 50 more horsepower than the Prius V, which is a similar sized vehicle, and gets 7 more MPG. I did get a chance to drive the Prius V as a comparison and in the Mountains, the C-MAX definitely didn’t seem to be working as hard to climb the hills. I could really feel that extra 50hp!

The C-MAX Hybrid will be hitting the Ford showrooms sometime later this year at a price of around $25k.

If I were in the market for a small car (Hybrid or not) the C-MAX would be high on my list.

For more information about the C-MAX check out http://www.ford.com/cars/cmax/

Audi-Branded IDAPT Charger

Both Todd and I are fans of IDAPT products; our reviews of the i4 and the i1 Eco are elsewhere on GNC. They’re great products that reduce the number of chargers, cables and general clutter lying around the house.

IDAPT has also shied away from only offering their products in black and white, with the i4 available in a raft of finishes, from solid colours through to funky patterns. Admittedly, they cost a bit extra over the black and white versions but at least they’re an option.

Taking this further, I recently noticed that IDAPT has created a few promotional versions in conjunction with Audi. I snapped this one up from ebay last week. Apart from the graphic, it’s a standard i4 universal charger, with three charging points on the top and a USB socket on the side. There’s a second version featuring a rev counter but I’ve not seen one of those at an affordable price.

IDAPT Audi

I subsequently found the Audi Merchandise Shop but the chargers don’t seem to feature there at the moment.

Perhaps IDAPT could offer a version that you could customise yourself, maybe with pictures of your family or similar. For a device that is often on display in a hall or study, it would be a nice touch.

 

Built To Tylt Designs for Smartphones

Built to Tylt logoAt CES‘s Digital Experience, Andy talks with Built To Tylt about their funky designs for smartphones and other portable gadgets. Check their website as these guys have got some great stuff.

The Tylt Band is a smartphone car charger made of a colourful flat silicon rubber cable that is nearly impossible tangle. Micro-USB and Apple connectors are available there’s an extra standard USB socket near the base of the cable for plugging in another device.

Tylt also have two portable battery packs, the Zumo and the PowerPlant, with 1500 mAh and 5,200 mAh batteries respectively. The Zumo is intended for the emergency smartphone charging, whereas the larger PowerPlant can part charge a tablet or recharge a smartphone several times.

Finally, if you are an iPhone owner, you might be interested in Tylt’s new iPhone cases, one of which comes with a lens cover to protect the camera and another that has a built-in kickstand (kickband?) to angle the iPhone for movie watching.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and RV News Net.

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Wi-Ex zBoost Signal Boosters for Cell Phones

zBoost by Wi-Ex logo

zBoost by Wi-Ex is a range of signal extenders that will improve cell and mobile phone coverage in weak areas. Todd and Don discuss zBoost’s latest products from Sharon Cuppett, VP of Wi-Ex (and they get a mention on Wi-Ex’s blog)

Wi-Ex launched two new products at CES, the first being the zBoost 4G-V, a signal booster for 4G frequencies on Verizon, the largest mobile carrier with over 100 million subscribers. A whole 4G product line is under development, including dual- and tri-band boosters. Available in Q2 2012 for around $220.

The second is an in-car booster, the zBoost zForce, which comprises a cradle for the phone and a magnetised antenna for the outside of the vehicle. Powered from the cigarette adaptor, the zForce can boost coverage by about 10x, eliminating dead spots and increasing range in rural areas. Retailing at only $99, it will be available shortly.

(You’ll have to watch the Blue Microphone interview to realise this, but in this video Sharon borrows Don’s phone to demonstrate the zForce and then walks off with the phone at the end of the interview!)

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Don Baine, the Gadget Professor, for the TechPodcast Network.

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