Review: Rogers Smart Drive

In the era of the Internet of Things, cars being connected to the Internet is something that has been around for a while. Examples of this include GM’s OnStar and Hyundai’s BlueLink. Both of these services allow you to do everything from track the location of  your car, discover potential problems with your car, and even in the case of OnStar serve up Internet access. That’s great if you buy a new car with one of those services installed. But what if you already own a car and want some or all of these features? If that’s you, then Rogers would like to Introduce you to Rogers Smart Drive:

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The device itself is made by smartphone company ZTE and it plugs into your car’s OBD II port to not only power itself, but to pull diagnostics and other information off the car’s computer system. More on that in a second.

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There are two indicators that show that the device is being powered and it is connected to cellular service. Also, ZTE doesn’t hide the fact that they make the device.

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On the side you get a slot for a SIM card as well as recessed reset button and a restart button should you need it.

Installation is trivially easy. Assuming that you are above ground and someplace that you can get a cell signal, here’s what you do:

  • Download either the iOS or Android version of the Smart Drive app
  • Set up an account for yourself using your mobile phone number with Vancouver based Mojio who provides the backend services for this device and writes the Smart Drive apps on behalf of ZTE and Rogers.
  • Install the SIM card into the device and enter the IMEI that is not only on the device itself, but on a card that is included in the package into the app. The app does have the ability to scan the barcode related to the IMEI using your smartphone’s camera, But that didn’t work for me on my iPhone 7 Plus. Thus I typed it in by hand.
  • Plug the device into your ODB II port in your car which is usually on the drivers side underneath the steering wheel.
  • Go for a 10 minute drive to finish setting up the device and leave it plugged in for at least a day so that the backup battery inside the device can charge.
  • Done. Declare victory and have a beer.

As an aside, this device can be used in multiple cars. That way you can use it while you travel, or if you have more than one car.

Once it’s installed, here’s what the device can do for you. The app will collect information from the device and track your car’s location in almost real time using the built in GPS sensor and monitor your driving habits. So if you have a habit of braking hard, accelerating hard from a stoplight, or exceeding the speed limit, this device will keep track of that.

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I can see how this could be useful. For example, if you have teens who just got their license, you can monitor their driving habits to make sure that they don’t do anything stupid or dangerous. And if they do try to take the device out of the car to cover up their activities, you will get a notification that it was removed and the location that the removal of the device took place. Another use case is if you need to track your driving so that you can your business can pay for it, Smart Drive will take care of that by allowing you to export some or all of your driving history to an spreadsheet or to a PDF. Or you can simply use it to see if you can improve your driving. As you can see, I tend to be a bit of an aggressive driver and I should likely do something about that because my wife who also has the Smart Drive app installed can see these results and that’s going to get me into trouble sooner or later.

You can ensure that your car stays where you parked it. Or, you can find it if you “forgot” where you parked.

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One handy feature is that you can use the app to create a geofence around a specific area so that if it moves the car out of that area, you get an alert. So using the example of having a teenager at home who’s a new driver, you can create a geofence around your home so that if the car moves because your teen decides to have some fun with it, you get an alert and he or she is busted.

The device will capture diagnostic info from your car so you can make sure your car stays in good shape. These include anything that would cause a light such as a check engine light to pop up on your dash. If you look at the picture above, you can see that it is pulling info about how much gas I have in the tank, my battery status, and if I have any issues with the car. If I did have issues, I could click on that bar and get more detailed info about whatever issue the car has. Another handy feature is that the device has an accelerometer in it so that if someone shakes the car because they are trying to break into it, you’ll get an alert.

Finally, Smart Drive turns your car into a WiFi hotspot and connect up to 5 WiFi-capable devices. The device connects to the Internet via LTE. The device serves up a 802.11 b/g/n connection and apparently has Bluetooth as well. That way on long road trips, the kids can use their phones and tablets and not have to ask “are we there yet?” During my tests from the passenger seat of the car (because distracted driving isn’t cool), I had no issues using this feature in and around the Greater Toronto Area.

Now, during my testing all of this worked perfectly on the Android platform. However, on iOS there were some oddities that I noted. Here’s a few examples:

  • You have the ability inside the Smart Drive app to change the color of the car and the shape of the car. But trying to do that consistently crashed the iOS app. It however worked fine on Android.
  • The odometer reading inside the Smart Drive app would get erased from time to time from the iOS app. This did not happen on the Android platform.
  • The Android version of Smart Drive is the ability to pull up a maintenance schedule. That way you can look at the mileage of the vehicle and see what maintenance is due and schedule it accordingly. Plus there’s warranty information for the vehicle as well. The former is missing from the iOS version.

But here’s the good news. I reported these issues along with a few others to ZTE and they passed them along to the Mojio team. Via some back end changes and an upcoming iOS app update, a lot of these issues will be addressed shortly or have already been addressed. That tells me that both ZTE and Mojio are really trying to make sure the user experience is top shelf which inspires confidence.

While they’re at it, another thing that they could fix on both the iOS and Android version of Smart Drive is the fact that I got warnings that I exceeded the speed limit even though that notification was turned off. To fix that, I had to turn the notification on and set the threshold to 130 KM/h (as it’s pretty much impossible to drive a highway in the Toronto area at anything less than 120 KM/h in clear traffic. This despite the fact that the speed limit is typically 100 KM/h). That’s counter intuitive.

Another thing that I noted is that the device when plugged into the ODB II port isn’t exactly small and discreet. Here’s a picture of what it looks like inside my car:

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The reason why I am pointing this out is because the possibility for you to accidentally hit the device with your leg while driving exists. Especially if you drive a manual transmission and your left leg is working the clutch. That can get expensive as it might break the device or the ODB II port that it is plugged into. Plus it’s noticeable which means that it could be swiped or thrown out a window by a car thief who wouldn’t want this device tracking the location of the car he just stole (though I will again point out that it will generate an alert if the device is unplugged and show a location on a map to tell you where it was unplugged). Not to mention that it doesn’t exactly look like it belongs there. Perhaps ZTE might want to look at making the next version smaller and less noticeable so that it flies under the radar a bit more.

Back to the good stuff. I noted something that would be of interest if you live somewhere that has underground parking which cuts the device off from the cellular network. I noted that Smart Drive gracefully handled that situation by not only storing the details of the most recent drive and any events on the device, but it uploads it to the Smart Drive app within a minute or two after the device came back online. That was pretty cool.

Finally in terms of privacy and other concerns that you might have such as compatibility with your car. Rogers has provided an FAQ and a compatibility list for your perusal. The FAQ specifically provides a fair amount of information that should answer any questions that you might have. The FAQ is detailed and should address any privacy related questions that you might have.

Smart Drive from Rogers goes for $99 CAD on a two year term, or $200 CAD outright for the device, and it’s $15 a month to add to your Share Everything plan which is required to used the device. As an inducement, Rogers is offering 1GB of bonus data on top of whatever you have with your Share Everything plan for 12 months. I should note that ZTE has also partnered with Telus to bring this device and related backend services to their network under the Drive+ name with the same monthly pricing, 1GB inducement, and requirement for you to have a sharable data plan. But the device is $0 on a 2 year term. Either way, if you want to make your car one of those “things” on the Internet in the era of the Internet of Things, this is worth a look. From what I see here, there’s a lot of potential for this device to make your driving experience a whole lot better than it is right now without having to buy a new car to do it.

UPDATE: A Smart Drive app update for iOS was pushed out yesterday and it completely addresses any issues that I brought up in my initial review including feature parity with the Android version of the app. The app update brings iOS 11 support as well. The bottom line is that you should update to the new version of the Smart Drive app as soon as you can.

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2 Responses to “Review: Rogers Smart Drive”

  1. […] allowing your passengers to stay connected even while on the road. Read the review of Smart Drive here. MSRP $99 CAD w 2-year term plus […]

  2. […] recall that I recently reviewed ZTE’s Connected Car device under the Rogers Smart Drive name. ZTE has since announced that they’ve secured a deal with Bell for them to carry the device […]

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