Garmin Mechanic app for Android: Hands-on
We got our hands on a very cool app from Garmin that's sure to appeal to Android fans and car geeks alike.
If the reports are to be believed and Garmin (and by extension the rest of the GPS market) is having a hard time selling portable navigation devices, then we're sure that its
We'll cut to the chase: if you already own a Garmin EcoRoute HD, the Garmin Mechanic app for Android is free application that allows you to take advantage of the data provided by your car's onboard diagnostics port (OBD) to view and log very accurate fuel economy information, engine operating parameters, and trouble codes. It is very cool. However, we're sure that most people don't have an EcoRoute HD just lying around, so for the rest of you, the Garmin Mechanic app is a useful app that requires a $100 piece of hardware to operate effectively, which makes it, essentially, a $100 app--which is not so cool and a much harder sell. We prefer to see the glass as half full, so we'll be taking a look at the Garmin Mechanic app for Android from the former of the two perspectives. We took the app for a spin in a variety of vehicles to see how it handled.
After launching the Garmin Mechanic app, we were prompted to connect the device with our EcoRoute HD module using a large connect button at the bottom of the interface. Pairing happens using your phone's Bluetooth antenna and all happens automatically from within the app. We didn't experience any difficulties with pairing our phone simultaneously with our test vehicle's Bluetooth hands-free system and the EcoRoute HD module, but depending on your phone and vehicle's hardware, your experience may vary here.
Mechanic's interface consists of four tabs. The first tab, Trip, is where you'll find information about your current speed, total time spent driving, total time spent stopped, and distance traveled. Here there are also bar graphs that illustrate time spent accelerating, braking, and average speed. Finally, at the bottom is a constantly updating line graph that plots your current speed relative to your average speed. The next tab, Gauges, is where a pair of virtual gauges can be displayed. The defaults are vehicle speed and engine RPM, but you can select from about 18 different parameters to monitor (if supported by the host vehicle), including coolant temperature, timing advance, throttle position, and ethanol fuel percentage.
The Economy tab is the third in the lineup, displaying average fuel economy, instantaneous fuel economy, fuel used for the current trip, and the rate at which the vehicle is sipping fuel in gallons per second. This is the tab that we spent most of our time on during the course of our testing and the tab that we expect most drivers will obsess over as well. There is also a line graph that displays the current fuel economy relative to the trip average. The last tab, Vehicles, is where you can store profiles for the vehicles that you own. Hidden options for vehicle diagnostics, trip history, and send logs--which allows you to e-mail saved data--further extend the usefulness of the app.
All of these functions use data gathered from the EcoRoute HD module to provide very accurate information about what your vehicle is doing. However, even if you don't have an EcoRoute HD module, the Mechanic app will still be able to report some data. After storing your vehicle's class, weight, engine size, red line, and fuel type, Mechanic can utilize GPS and accelerometer data to estimate acceleration and vehicle speed to make educated guesses about distance traveled and fuel used. It won't be as accurate as the fuel economy numbers that would be reported by the vehicle's OBD connection, but during our highway mileage testing it ended up in the same ballpark. The phone's accelerometer can also be used to power a virtual skidpad for measuring g-forces. In fact, of Mechanic's functions, the Gauges tab is the only one that goes totally inactive without an EcoRoute HD present.
It's clear, however, that Mechanic is an app that is truly accurate (and thus, really useful) only when paired with its intended hardware. Fortunately, with a $100 MSRP the EcoRoute HD module is still a bit cheaper than a standalone OBD monitoring device that would offer similar functionality, such as the
We think that Android geeks and car geeks will both find moderate levels of amusement in this free app. However, those who really want to get serious about monitoring their vehicles' performance and economy will still be able to use Garmin Mechanic as a stepping stone while deciding whether the cost of entry for the EcoRoute HD is worth the potential savings at the pump. You can grab Garmin Mechanic as a free download from the Android Market.