We've reviewed portable GPS tracking devices before. We've also reviewed installed vehicle GPS tracking devices. However, what makes LiveViewGPS' Live Trac EZ interesting are its ease of installation and its level of integration with the vehicle.
The smallish device only measures about 1.8 inches long by 1.5 inches wide by 0.86 inch thick and plugs directly into your vehicle's onboard diagnostics (OBD) port. When plugged in, the EZ only protrudes about 1.5 inches. Depending on where your vehicle's port is located, the Live Trac EZ's low profile will most likely keep it well hidden from casual observers when plugged in. However, I've seen OBD ports located in some odd places (some Volvo vehicles I've driven that put the port right next to the driver's right foot spring to mind) so you'll want to check out your vehicle's port placement to be sure that the EZ won't be in danger of being struck by a swinging leg during driving or entering and exiting the vehicle. In our test vehicle, a 2012 Jaguar XKR-S, the OBD port was located just beneath the dashboard, about where many vehicles locate the hood release lever.
The OBD connection that makes the Live Trac EZ ridiculously easy to install also makes the device ridiculously easy for a clever thief to find and disable. A device such as the Escort Entourage may be harder to install, but its two-wire connection means that it can also be hidden anywhere in the vehicle.
Web interface and features
Once installed, the Live Trac EZ establishes a connection with your vehicle's diagnostics system, determines its GPS position and speed, and communicates all of that data via a GSM data connection to LiveViewGPS' servers. A trio of LED lights indicates when the EZ is accessing any of these three connections. After registering for a service plan, you can then track your vehicle via a Web interface. Position data is grabbed once every 10 seconds on the default service plan, allowing users to watch and replay the vehicle's position on a live updating map at any time at live.liveviewgps.com.
The historical playback function is particularly interesting, for example, for parents who want to keep an eye on the comings and goings of a teen driver. After selecting March 16, for example, I was able replay my trip where I accompanied CNET's Eric Franklin to a midnight iPad launch, followed by a few hours in which the vehicle remained parked while I slept, and ultimately along a twisty back-road route that I took with fellow Car Tech editor Wayne Cunningham to put the Jag through its paces.
At each of the 10-second data points, I was able to view vehicle position, speed, and direction of travel, but you can get that level of data from any GPS tracker. The Live Trac EZ's OBD connection gives it access to even more data, including more accurate speed data, fuel economy information, and vehicle fuel level--so you can double-check that the tank actually was full before you loaned your keys to that friend.
Although we didn't have any problem navigating the LiveViewGPS Web site, the interface can be a bit cluttered and overwhelming for less "tech-savvy" users. Because LiveView's site is designed to be used with the variety of devices that it provides for personal and fleet vehicle management, there are a lot of leftover elements and dialog boxes that the Live Trac EZ user simply will have no use for. For example, clicking on the vehicle icon on the map displays options for starter disable, door unlock, and remote start, among others. None of these functions are supported by the EZ. We'd like a more content-aware interface that edits out inaccessible features.
Always-on monitoring and notifications
For users who don't want to keep checking Live View's Web site every few minutes, the Web interface also lets you set alerts that send e-mail or SMS alerts when certain conditions are met. For example, you can be alerted when a certain speed is exceeded, when the vehicle's ignition is turned on, when the Live Trac has been disconnected from the car, or when the vehicle enters or exits a geofenced area. A geofence is a virtual boundary set using GPS coordinates. This means the EZ can send you a text when your car leaves home and send another when it arrives at the office.
All around, this is a fairly robust level of idiotproof vehicle monitoring and should be more than enough information to deter, for example, an irresponsible teen or untrustworthy roommate from "borrowing" your car while you're at work. The whole valet subplot of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" would have been cut short if Cameron had had access to this device. Come to think of it, they'd have never gotten away from the house if Cameron's dad had installed the Live Trac EZ on his 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California. Then again, a '61 Ferrari lacks an OBD port, and wouldn't be compatible with the EZ anyway--but I digress.
The EZ's protection and monitoring are not without their flaws. For example, we parked the Jaguar deep in one of two underground parking garages every night during testing. Both of these garages are cellular dead spots, and the Live Trac EZ's low mounting point pretty much assured that the unit wasn't able to establish a connection while parked inside. However, because the EZ only reports its position data at an ignition event or at speeds exceeding 4 mph, the final data point would be transmitted just before we entered the garage every night. This didn't exactly create a security issue, since the EZ would immediately begin reporting again once the vehicle exited the garage, sending a notification when the car exited the geofence. However, the car would not send notifications of ignition events and would, in fact, report that the vehicle's ignition was in the On position for the entire night.
I assume this hole in the EZ's reporting means that we also wouldn't receive a unit-disconnected notification if the EZ were simply removed by a sneaky teen or, worse, clever thief in one of these coverage voids. Testing proved this theory to be true--the Live View software still reports the Jaguar as idling in the Car Tech Garage, despite the fact that the Live Trac EZ unit is sitting on my desk as I write this review. This is a bit scary for our use case, but we don't believe that most people actually park their cars in bunkers overnight like we do.
Getting started with the Live Trac EZ involves handing $249 to LiveViewGPS. As GPS vehicle trackers go, the EZ is significantly less expensive than, for example, the Escort Entourage that we tested a few years ago and only about a few bucks more than a portable tracking device like the Garmin GTU 10, which isn't really designed to work with a car. So while I wouldn't exactly consider the EZ to be a steal, it does seem fairly priced.
Once you've got your EZ, you'll have to keep paying LiveViewGPS to actually watch the thing for you and maintain that ever-important data connection. This is where things get a bit "sticker shock-y." For $29.95 per month, you get unlimited updates and monitoring with 10-second update intervals using the live.liveviewgps.com Web interface.
There are also LiveViewGPS apps for Android, iPhone, and iPad so you can monitor your ride from the portable device of your choice. However, LiveViewGPS currently charges an additional $4.95 per month per mobile device to make use of the free app. Many of the user comments that we read expressed outrage at being asked to pay more on top of the almost $30 monthly service charge, reasoning that the app monitoring should be included in the bottom line. We're told LiveViewGPS charges for app access due to Google Maps licensing issues and that a new, Microsoft Maps-powered version of the app is coming. The new version will not require an additional subscription fee.
With the exception of connectivity issue that we experienced in our bunker of a garage, the Live Trac EZ performed admirably over the course of our testing. Installation was a breeze and online setup of the alerts system was also easy.
Whether the Live View EZ is worth the $249 entry price and nearly $360 annual monitoring charge depends greatly on how much the monitored car is worth to you, where you park it regularly, and how much jeopardy the vehicle finds itself in. Do you own a nice luxury sedan that your roommate keeps borrowing for dates or an expensive sports car that you want to keep a teen driver away from? Maybe the Live View EZ is the product for you. Do you own an inexpensive commuter car that you just want to protect from thieves? Perhaps a dedicated antitheft solution like an alarm or LoJack is a better way to go.