With the help of diagnostic scanner hardware, the Torque Lite and Torque Pro apps for Android give you a peek into the inner workings of your car's brain.
Your car's dashboard is probably home to a speedometer, a tachometer, a fuel gauge, and -- if you're lucky -- a coolant temperature gauge. However, your car's electronic brain (ECU) is actively monitoring dozens of parameters behind the scenes that you, the driver, could find useful. This is where diagnostics hardware and apps like Torque Pro and Lite for Android step in, putting all of that data at your fingertips.
Torque doesn't require anything more than the hardware already present on your Android phone to function. Without any external hardware, Torque can still pull sensor data from your phone's GPS antenna, internal compass, barometer, and accelerometer. That data alone gives Torque Pro enough infomation to calculate 0-60 and quarter-mile times and to record and export historical position logs to Google Earth.
However, it's not possible to take full advantage of the app's full functionality -- to really dive deeply into the inner workings of your car's electronic brain -- without a connection to your car's OBD-II port. For my testing, I made use of the PLX Kiwi Bluetooth, which plugs into the vehicle's diagnostics port (OBD-II) and paired with my Android phone wirelessly, to transmit the full spectrum of available vehicle data to the app.
Firing up Torque Pro brings the user to a home screen where the app's five main functions (Realtime Information, Check Fault Codes, View Map, Test Results, and Graphing) can be selected and accessed. Additionally, the home screen displays one large default gauge -- either a tachometer or accelerometer depending on the hardware present. The free Torque Lite takes the user straight to the Realtime Information screen and lacks the other four functions of the Pro version.
The Realtime Information dashboard is the heart of the Torque Pro and Lite apps. Users can swipe between seven "screens" upon which they may place any number of virtual gauges. Gauge types include dials, half dials, bar displays, graphs, and digital readouts. These gauges can be set to monitor any of a number of metrics supplied by the phone's sensors (GPS, compass, barometer) or a connected OBD-II monitor (engine RPM, fuel flow rates, temperatures of coolants, oil, or intake air).
Users of both the Pro and Lite versions of Torque can specify any grouping of these parameters along with GPS coordinates to be recorded via the apps' logging function. Users can e-mail their saved logs in KML format for importing into Google Earth or in a CSV format that can be imported into almost any spreadsheet editor for conversion to whatever sort of chart or graph you may need. One complaint that I have about Torque's interface is that it hides the toggle for initiating logging under a pop-up menu, which makes quickly starting a log difficult. I'd like the option to place a toggle log button right on the dashboard along with the rest of the gauges for easy access.
Pro users gain a few enhancements to the Realtime Information dashboard. For example, Torque Pro can also display calculated values (such as 0-60 time, trip distance, or quarter-mile times) derived from the raw data present in the Lite version of the app. After inputting vehicle-specific values for engine displacement, vehicle weight, and fuel type into a vehicle profile, Torque Pro can even calculate estimates for fuel economy, horsepower, and -- of course -- torque. Users can store multiple profiles for many different vehicles and store separate logs and dashboad layouts for each profile.
Pro users also have the ability to share their gauges via Facebook or periodically broadcast location data or reported values to Twitter after logging in to either of these services.
Additionally, Pro users gain other monitoring functions outside of the Realtime Information dashboard.
The View Map function displays a Google Map with a color-coded log of your last few trips. Green segments represent low speeds and red represents high speeds. Users can also choose to display G-forces or altitude logs on this map. The Check Fault Codes function performs a scan of the vehicle's diagnostics system and displays any error codes present. Test Results allows users to perform a similar check to make sure their vehicle's sensors are reporting properly. Finally, Graphing lets users plot data from any two vehicle sensors (for example, fuel pressure and engine RPM) on a chart for easy comparison.
In addition to the built-in functions, Pro users can also install plug-ins to further extend the functionality of the Torque app. For example, one plug-in allows the app to display a widget on the Sony SmartWatch external display, another includes additional monitorable parameters that are specific to the Mazdaspeed3 and Mazdaspeed6 vehicles, while yet another adds a shift light to the mix.
Torque Lite is a free download in the Google Play Store. Torque Pro, with its support for plug-ins, vehicle profiles, and calculated values for power and efficiency, is $4.99.