The car Bibles product reviews: BlueDriver wireless OBD2 tool.
BlueDriver wireless OBD2 tool
Tested July 2012
The BlueDriver diagnostic tool is another DIY device that connects to your vehicle's OBD 2 port to allow diagnostics and engine management scanning. This is one of a new generation of wireless devices though, so it doesn't need a wired link to a laptop, or to be plugged in to a computer to download data. Instead it relies on a live bluetooth connection to an iOS device (iPhone, iPod, iPad etc).
The manufacturer - Lemur Vehicle Monitors - specialise in wireless devices for cars and this is their first move into displaying the data from their device on a mobile consumer device rather than a custom display.
When you order a BlueDriver, what you receive in the mail is a small box with an OBD2 dongle in it and a basic instruction sheet. This the physical hardware. The software comes from the Apple app store and is free to download. There's an online manual at Lemur's website (although chances are you won't need it). The dongle plugs into the OBD2 port under your dashboard and takes its power from the +12v pin. On your i-device, you need to go to the bluetooth settings and look for available hardware. The BlueDriver should show up without any problems and you tap on it to make the pairing. (There is no 4-digit code like there are for a lot of bluetooth devices). Once your mobile device and the dongle are paired up, start your car and tap the BlueDriver app icon to launch it. It'll spend a moment communicating with the dongle (a blue light will flash on the dongle) and then you're ready to go.
It's dead Jim, but not as we know it.
The main screen has three buttons along the bottom; Scan Tool, Gauges, and 'More'. The Scan Tool is a good place to start - it pulls any fault codes from your engine management system and tells you why the check engine light is on (if it is). It also allows you to turn the check engine light off (although if you don't fix whatever caused it, it will come on again). Handily, there's also a smog/emissions readiness check. Tapping this will give you a quick red/green as to whether your vehicle is ready to have an emissions test. Technically it actually tells you if the vehicle will fail as there is an OBD2 portion to the test. If your vehicle isn't ready, there's a breakdown of the various issues, and the option to create an email report so you can sit in a calmer environment while you consider the amount of money it'll cost you to fix it. The screens below show some examples of the Scan Tool in action. (click to see larger images)
The lights, bells, whistles, gauges - they're blinking and flashing and flashing AND BLINKING....
Remember that scene from the old Airplane movie where Ted Stryker first scans all the gauges in the aircraft cockpit? BlueDriver is a little like that when it comes to the gauges part of the app. In its simplest form, the gauges can show you speed, RPM, and some other useful readouts either as an analogue needle gauge, or a tracking graph. But tap the little icon next to any gauge or graph and Pandora's box creaks open to reveal an awesome array of stuff your car can tell you. In realtime. Oxygen sensor readouts? Check. Ignition timing on each cylinder? Check. Mass airflow sensor? Check. Engine load? Check. Warp core status? Maybe not. In fact there's almost no aspect of the on-board sensors that you can't get at with a BlueDriver setup. Newer cars are more revealing than older ones, and some brands pump more data through the OBD2 port than others (Honda are notoriously stingy when it comes to this). If you have an iPad, things get even more entertaining because as well as the much larger screen layout, there's a boy-racer page. Well it's not really advertised as that but it features two gauges with corresponding history graphs, acceleration (calculated from time-over-distance), max speed, 0-60 time and a lap counter. Give the iPad to your captive passenger, find a deserted road or better yet - a racetrack - and go nuts. Just don't get caught because the police take a very dim view of street racing, especially if you have high tech kit telling you how fast you were really going. Better yet (or worse, if a cop is looking in), while the app is running it datalogs any graph you have open and you can email a summary of the graph to an email address as a .CSV file that you can later turn into a graph using something like Excel.
The screens below show some of the gauge layouts both from an iPhone and an iPad. (click to see larger images)
The third set of screens in the app are various technical pages for updating the dongle's firmware, unlocking the in-app upgrades and reporting issues directly back to Lemur monitors. This is where I have to point out that the basic app does not come with all the fun features enabled. To get them, it's an in-app purchase. You can pick and choose the items you think will be important to you, or you can blow the whole load at once in a single download. Here's a bit of a black eye though - the full package is $49.99. Add that to the $99.99 for the dongle and you're 2¢ shy of $150. Expensive? Well that depends. The app has been known to have weekend sales where the whole package of add-ons drops to $20 for a couple of days. The other thing to remember is that this is a two-part deal. We're all used to 99¢ apps so yes, $49.99 seems steep but look at it in the context of the 'complete' package and it's not too bad. You'll pay $130 to $150 for competing products from other vendors that use cables and software, or standalone pieces of hardware that need to be hooked to a USB port to give up their secrets. The BlueDriver software is very capable and quite easy to use, and the big bonus is that it's realtime data and there are no cables. Plus - lets face it - it looks pretty cool...
Full transparency time. Lemur monitors asked me to review the BlueDriver so they sent me one to test for free. Thousands of happy customers and of course I get the unit that doesn't work out-of-the-box. Time to test their technical support system. Let's just say if you have any issues with your device, you have nothing to worry about. They had a replacement unit to me within a couple of days and the second one worked perfectly. I'm not quite sure what the issue was with the first one - it paired with my mobile devices without any issue but once the engine was running, it steadfastly refused to communicate. The second unit has had no such problems and continues to be a real hoot to use.
Conclusion : it's a blast.
If you're properly into cars and technology, this is almost a no-brainer. It's more complicated than other products, but then it's more capable too. If all you're looking for is the ability to find the reason for a check engine light, this probably isn't the device for you. Granted you don't need the in-app upgrades to see the engine fault codes and turn off the light, but the BlueDriver is capable of so much more that it would seem almost rude to only use it to do that. If you're starting your own workshop, if you do track days, or if you're just a car nerd like I am, then the BlueDriver is definitely more targeted towards you.
I marked the review down half a star for three reasons - the 'apparent' cost of the app, a couple of usability gripes, and the mobile device platform.
The app cost could put some people off. Lemur could have made the full suite of unlocks $10 in the app, and put the other $40 on the price of the dongle but that would have taken the price over the psychological $100 barrier. I can see why they priced the two parts the way they do and it's up to you to decide if you think the whole thing is worth it. I suspect once you see the free readouts, curiosity will get the better of you and you'll stump for the full unlock.
The biggest usability gripe is that currently the app has no way to prevent your mobile device from going to sleep, and when it does, any data-logging you have going on gets zero'd out. Apps always get updated though so there's a chance this gripe will go away with time. Right now if it's really a problem for you, you can change the sleep timeout in iOS via your device's settings page (remember to set it back when you're done). Screen stays alive and data logs remain intact.
The device platform is Apple iOS. Whilst I'm an Apple whore, I can see some Android users being upset that this device won't work for them. Although I do have it on good authority that an Android version is in the works.
Would I buy one? Heck yes.