I’m lucky enough to be doing the Android beta for both Automatic and Dash. I’ve been testing out Dash since October and Automatic since Christmas. Automatic is still in beta for Android while Dash has seen a formal release to the Google Play Store.
First what do Dash and Automatic do? Both apps support the use of a ODB-II bluetooth dongle in for your car to gather information from your car’s computer. That means things like acceleration, braking, speed, and MPG. The apps take this information with GPS data to come up with some pretty interesting information about one’s driving habits (and they attempt to get you to change your habits).
One benefit of Dash, off the bat, is that I’ve been able to use the dongle I purchased to use for Dash with other apps. In the case of Automatic, I haven’t found any apps that could connect to it. Dash’s recommended dongle is $80 while other dongles are as low as $10. I use the $24 BAFX ODB2 Scan Tool. Automatic requires a $99 dongle (though I got mine for $69 due to pre-ordering). Dash appears to have a lower cost to entry versus Automatic.
In order to give you a better idea about how each app works and displays information the next two sections will go over screen shots and detail the features of each app.
The Automatic app obviously takes some design cues from Apple with its colors and use of white and gray. The home screen shows a weekly stats for driving. The app totals fuel costs, miles driven, hours driven, average MPG, and a driving score. Users can flip through previous weeks using the navigation in this part of the interface. Below this is a map that shows where your car is parked (or the last place you got GPS signal). The final third of the interface is a scroll-able log of each trip taken that week with information about miles drive, gas cost, hard brakes, rapid accelerations, and minutes over 70 mph.
The dongle uses audio cues to alert the driver if they hard brake, rapidly accelerate, or drive above 70 mph. The cues are nice, but often fail in the snow as a hard break and/or rapid acceleration are generally ‘detected’ whenever traction is lost. Driving into work during the snow storm this week led me to a beep for a rapid acceleration when I got stuck in some snow and my wheels lost their grip. I got another beep when I braked lightly but lost traction, telling me I hard braked. Most of the time snow issues like these won’t be a concern.
The 70 mph driving beeps are annoying. Although it would be nice to drive under 70 mph sometimes, the heavy traffic of I-75 outside of 275 doesn’t give me a whole lot of options when the speed limit is 70 mph anyway. I wish there was a feature to turn it off.
The Automatic app currently lacks a number of features compared to the iOS version, but its really reliable and has been a joy to use.
Automatic’s Home Screen
Automatic’s Settings Screen
The Dash app reminds me of any.do and Cal, using transparency, large blurred out images, and simple white icons to communicate information. Much of the design has changed since early versions of the beta app. Users of Dash setup their app by creating a garage that informs their profile. The profile includes the type of car, your name and location, and bumper stickers. Bumper stickers are a unique form of achievements given out for hitting certain metrics. It’s a bit less direct than Automatic’s alarms but I certainly felt more positive about trying to get a bumper sticker v. being alerted (yelled at?) by a dongle. Dash’s driving alerts can be switched off. Similarly the leader board serves as a form of competition and peer pressure to keep one’s score up.
Dash also lets users find their car, dropping a pin at the last known GPS point. It also allows users to search for gas and the price of gas around them.
A screen shot from Dash’s intro.
Dash’s Home Screen
Dash’s slide-out menu.
Dash’s Garage View
Dash’s Scoring System
Dash’s Currently Driving Screen
Dash’s Trip Log
Dash’s Gas Finder
Dash’s Parked Car Locator
Dash’s Leader Board
Dash’s Demo of its check engine light feature.
Dash’s Settings Menu
Dash’s version of achievements.
Dash trying to connect to my dongle.
Automatic is obviously in early beta. It’s a shadow of its iPhone counterpart. But it’s getting better steadily and once all the features are implemented, it will be a formidable product for those who want a hassle free experience. Overall the proprietary dongle and app seem to work flawlessly without much effort.
Dash is a bit more like what I’m used to on Android. Rough around the edges at times but works well and with relatively few issues. I sometimes have issues with connectivity between the dongle and my phone, but those have been limited in number. The developers have been responsive to my problems or I was able to correct it with a simple reboot and pull & plug of the dongle. Dash is much more feature complete at this point. All advertised features work as expected.
For my daily commute I’ll be using Dash, at least for the time being. The ability to use the BAFX for Torque Pro and Dash gives me a bit more utility versus the relatively basic Automatic app. As I said before, this should change in the future and Automatic is still the hands down winner for simplicity.