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How to make your license plate frame high tech

The lowliest part of your car is now a tech center.

Brian Cooley Editor at Large
Brian Cooley is CNET's Editor at large and has been with the brand since 1995. He currently focuses on electrification of vehicles but also follows the big trends in smart home, digital healthcare, 5G, the future of food, and augmented & virtual realities. Cooley is a sought after presenter by brands and their agencies when they want to understand how consumers react to new technologies. He has been a regular featured speaker at CES, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week and the Publicis HealthFront. He was born and raised in Silicon Valley when Apple's campus was mostly apricots.
Expertise Automotive technology, smart home, digital health. Credentials
  • 5G Technician, ETA International
Brian Cooley
3 min read

Right up there with stick-on carbon fiber applique is the license plate frame: Just a lot of nothing. Until now. New frames graft cameras, parking sensors and even a lockbox onto your car with a few minutes installation effort and no wiring.

RearVision (formerly Pearl)
The most ambitious - and pricey - option is what used to be called Pearl but is now known as Rear Vision. It rolls up a rear camera, backup sensors and solar charging for both of those systems in a package that is Apple quality because it was designed by ex-Apple engineers. The original company foundered, was acquired by American Road and the product is now called RearVision. An included OBD-II dongle triggers the image and sensors to pop up on your phone when you go into reverse except I couldn't get it to work on Android 8, 7 or 4 devices. They made a tech support installer available to me and we were still unable to figure it out. You, unfortunately, will probably go to the URL pearlauto,com looking for support only to find it redirects to the product's page on Amazon. Something this nicely designed deserves much better support and merchandising. 

The FenSens frame gives you park sensors only. Like all the products we tested, its wireless, displays on an app and installs quickly with anti-theft screws. Its the ugliest product we tested, but it also worked the best. You can calibrate the distance from your license plate to the back of your bumper for precise sensing and the sensors can be aimed and angled to suit the height of your car's license plate well. You activate the FenSens via an included wireless Brodie knob sort of thing, though you can also wire it to be activated when you shift into reverse. That, however, defeats the goal of 5-minute install that we were seeking.

Where FenSens is sensor only, Look-It is camera only. Its also activated by a wireless switch that clamps onto your steering wheel of mounted on your dash. Camera angle and guidelines shown on the app are both adjustable for your car's geometry so when you get it to work it should be trustworthy. Unfortunately I found it often hesitant to launch. When it did come up, the image was good.

Phrame is the oddball in this bunch: Not a camera or a sensor, it's a key locker behind your license plate. With the app you can grant one time access to a car key stored within to allow in-trunk deliveries, enable car share, let detailers clean your car inside and out while you're away or just have a place to stash your bulky key and fob when you're out for a run. I think they will need to convince consumers it's really hard to break into and to line up at least one major e-commerce company to support it for deliveries. Its not available until Q2 2018. 

So, just when you thought you had bought the car buff every possible gift for their ride, here is a new category with unusual and, I'm afraid, uneven entrants. But they are all easy to try, just make sure you have a solid return policy.