Transform your car into the 4G LTE connected car of the future with Vinli's little black box

Vinli goes beyond basic fuel economy monitoring with 4G LTE, Wi-Fi hotspotting, GPS and more.

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Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Vinli wants to transform the car you own today into the 4G Web-connected, Wi-Fi hotspotting, mpg-boosting, teen driver-monitoring car of the future. Just plug its little black box into the diagnostics port.

Onboard vehicle diagnostic (OBD-II) readers have been around since the early nineties, but only in the last few years has a wave of cheap OBD-II Bluetooth adapters and fuel economy apps come along to make sense of the numbers and codes for the layman driver. The 4G LTE-enabled Vinli adapter takes the tech a bit further, not just connecting the host vehicle to a phone in the cupholder, but also wirelessly to the web. This opens up a whole new world of potential functionalities beyond just logging mpgs.

Of course, Vinli's main function is still reading the OBD-II information from the host vehicle and sending that data via Bluetooth 4.0 to third-party apps on a connected smartphone that can make use of the raw data. The Vinli adapter will hit the market in in August with about 20 apps supported out of the box.

Among the launch apps you'll find Dash, Flo and Drive -- driving habit trackers that monitor fuel efficiency and award driving scores and digital achievements. There's MileIQ, which tracks business trips and compiles mileage reports for reimbursement or tax deduction. Otto and My Service Shop help drivers to deal with vehicle issues and maintenance milestones, while e-Call automatic crash response and a Roadside Assistance app help with immediate emergencies. The full list of launch apps for Android and iOS devices can be found on the My Vinli app store.

CEO and founder, Mark Haidar, told me during a demonstration near CNET's San Francisco offices that Vinli currently working with over 1,000 devs via its SDKs and APIs and that the supported apps list should grow by about 150 entries by 2016. Interested app developers can find more information at Vinli's developer hub.

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The Vinli hardware plugs into the onboard diagnostics port present in most modern cars and trucks. Vinli

What really makes Vinli stand apart from the sea of less expensive diagnostic adapters is the inclusion of 4G LTE wireless connectivity. With this data connection, Vinli can constantly provide data to partner apps and services, even in the absence of the owner's smartphone. This makes Vinli which makes it useful for services that track the vehicle's location, speed, and more when the owner isn't in the car. Beagle, for example, monitors a teen driver's driving habits, location, speed and more, sending alerts to parents when the rules are broken. Lock & Key is a vehicle recovery app that sends location alerts to owners and authorities to help track down a stolen car.

Vinli is also able to share its 4G connection with other devices in the vehicle thanks to Wi-Fi hotspotting functionality. Vinli's Haidar demonstrated streaming of an HD Netflix video on a Wi-Fi connected tablet. I can also imagine that kids will want to connect their handheld gaming consoles for on-the-go online play.

4G data will be provided by use T-Mobile's network and doled out in $6 blocks of 500MB. Users can pay as they go and use as many or as few blocks of data as they like. For vehicle monitoring apps like Beagle, one 500MB helping may be enough for a month. For Wi-Fi streaming video to the backseat, users will likely need to buy more data. Haidar stressed that the 4G LTE and Wi-Fi hotspotting are totally optional -- Vinli can be used without it -- but that some supported apps and services designed around the presence of always-on Web and GPS may lose functionality without the connection.

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Vinli is able to share its 4G connection with passengers' devices via Wi-Fi hotspot. Vinli

The Vinli hardware is significantly larger than the OBD-II adapters that I regularly use. For example, the Automatic Adapter and ScanTool OBDLink LX that I alternate between in my personal car each measure about 2 inches long, but the Vinli stretches out to just about 3.75 inches. To be fair, Vinli packs more features and wireless antennas into that space. In addition to Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and 4G LTE, there is also onboard GPS and GLONASS reception that boosts the accuracy of the vehicle tracking capabilities and a built-in accelerometer can detect a crash. However, depending on where your car's OBD-II port is located and oriented, the larger dongle could potentially protrude further from the dashboard.

Hadar stated that his vision is that eventually the Vinli platform would be adopted by automakers and built into new vehicles. For now, the aftermarket adapter is the only way to get Vinli in your car. The Vinli hardware will be available in August of this year for $99. Interested parties can preorder the device now on Vinli's Indiegogo page.

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