As a motorist in today’s high-tech age, you are faced with two problems, one almost as old as the automobile itself, the other created by the mobile devices you love to have ready to connect you to the world when you are on the road.
Problem number one: Where did I park my car? I forget!
Problem number two: When I’m away from AC power outlets, or a computer, how do I recharge the battery in my smartphone or tablet?
A product called ZUS is designed to solve both of those problems.
ZUS, which in its highly successful crowdfunding campaign billed itself as “The Truly Smart Car Charger & Car Locator,” is about the size of, and replaces, your car’s cigarette lighter.
Mobile Device Charging
The mobile charging function works simply enough: Just plug a cable (not supplied with the ZUS) that has one end that fits into the charging slot on your mobile device and another that has a USB connector, into one of the two USB ports on the ZUS.
ZUS claims that it will charge your mobile device’s battery about twice as fast as normal car chargers. I wasn’t able to verify that since neither my phone’s battery nor that in the Mophie Juice Pack Air supplemental battery case I use with the phone had been depleted much, but the ZUS did seem to “top off” the battery fairly quickly.
If you have both a smartphone and a tablet with you, or two smartphones, you can charge both at once while you’re getting your kicks on Route 66 or any other street or highway.
Find My Car
You’ll have to create a ZUS account using either an e-mail address and password, or by logging into your Facebook account, which the manufacturer says “is necessary for us to be able to identify crash reports or bug reports being sent by the app. Additionally, future updates of ZUS will include cloud support which will allow you to share your location to other phones/devices.”
The type font on in the little user manual that comes with the ZUS is so small it’s almost unreadable. But that isn’t a problem because the smartphone app will walk you through the setup process when you first use it.
After you insert the ZUS device into your car’s cigarette lighter socket and start the car, the ZUS app will connect your phone to the device.
After you reach your destination, park your car, and turn off the engine, the ZUS app will ask you if you want to set a time limit for parking. So if you’ve parked at street meter and need to return to your car before the time on the meter expires, the ZUS app will alert you ten minutes before, and when, the time has run out.
The app will also tell you how long it has been since you parked the car, and if you set a parking time limit, it will display a countdown timer.
When you are ready to return to your car, launch the ZUS app if it was not already running in background, and it will tell you the distance to your car and direct you toward its location.
The app will point the way either with a compass-like display, or on a map with a blue “flashlight” aimed at an icon with the letter “P” next to a little car.
The app shows the distance decreasing as your walk toward your car, and if you use the map display, you’ll see the blue “flashlight” moving toward the car’s location.
ZUS won’t lead you right to the driver’s side door of your car, but when you are fairly close to it, the app’s display will tell you that your car is nearby, and you should be able to look around and see it.
In my first test of ZUS, I parked the car in my driveway, walked 150 feet away, and the app pointed me back to my car. Then I pulled the car into the garage, and went inside my house.
When I was indoors, the app told me that the garaged car was nearby within 30 feet, but that there was a poor GPS signal. Eventually the app stopped connecting to the ZUS device until I stepped out of my front door.
In a later test, I parked the car in large outdoor lot at a shopping mall. During lunch at a restaurant on the other side of the mall, the ZUS app still was able to show my car’s location and distance over 500 feet away from me.
The app’s FAQs says you may have problems inside buildings, or in lots surrounded by high buildings or in underground lots since the app uses the phone’s GPS and the signal in those locations may be poor. In a multi-level garage, you may have to remember which floor you parked on since the app can only tell horizontal and not vertical distances.
When I parked on the second floor of an above-ground downtown garage, the ZUS app told me that the GPS signal was too poor to record my location, and suggested that I take a photo of my surroundings. Tip: Take a photo of a sign that shows the floor and section of the garage and the app will store it with the other photos on your smartphone
Once I set up the app, it seemed to work automatically each time I drove the car.
If you have more than one car and want to purchase a ZUS device for each, you can easily add each new device to the ZUS app on your smartphone.
This promotional video shows how the ZUS works.
(The manufacturer provided Tales Told From The Road with a free ZUS device for testing for this review.)