Review: FMC Smart Find My Car Smarter
Although it's one of the simplest accessories ever released, FMC Smart's Find My Car Smarter ($25-$30) hasn't been easy to review. Based upon the recent Bluetooth 4/Bluetooth Smart standard and currently compatible solely with the iPhone 4S, this tiny black accessory purports to do one thing: it automatically keeps track of where you parked your car. But this task is handled in an interesting way that the accessory's almost invisible design belies, and though the overall experience isn't ideal, it's definitely worth discussing.
In its $25 base version, Find My Car Smarter is nothing more than a 0.5” wide by 0.75” deep by 0.15” tall USB plug capped with 0.2” of black plastic—the only part you see when it’s sticking out of a USB port, removable with two slightly elevated grip ridges. Unless you already have a car charger with a USB port, the accessory does nothing on its own, so FMC Smart offers a $30 bundle with a generic black car charger that is far more powerful than necessary; when disconnected from Find My Car Smarter, the charger can even refuel an iPad at full 2.1-Amp speed. But once FMC Smart’s two pieces are connected, they become a tiny black nub with a small blue power light on the charger. If it wasn’t for that light, you could easily forget that Find My Car Smarter was in your car at all; if you separate the two pieces, it’ll be easy to accidentally lose the smaller one.
Find My Car Smarter’s biggest intellectual hurdle is the fact that that most people don’t need frequent assistance locating their vehicles: this sort of accessory is useful largely when you park your car in dauntingly unfamiliar places, or if you’re absent-minded. There’s also a practical hurtle, namely that Find My Car Smarter requires you to give up a charging outlet in your car for something simple like this. And then there’s the $25-$30 asking price. It’s possible to argue—as some of our editors have—that on the rare occasion you’ll need this help, you can just load up a free app such as iOS Maps, drop a pin on your current location, and return back to it without the expense or bother of an accessory-based solution.
It’s obvious that FMC Smart considered these issues before releasing Find My Car Smarter, and designed the accessory with more than just basic features. First, because the accessory uses Bluetooth 4/Bluetooth Smart, it can pair with the iPhone 4S without requiring you to go into the device’s Settings > General/Bluetooth menu, and more amazingly re-establish contact with both your iPhone and the app without any further user involvement. Plug Find My Car Smarter into your car, perform a one-time registration of the accessory with the app, and you can feel reasonably confident that the app will tell you where you left your vehicle, even if you did nothing more than turn off and exit your car with your phone in your pocket.
The app includes other features, too, assuming you want to manually load it before leaving your car. You can set it to remind you when your parking meter expires, by telling it how many minutes you’ve paid for, and can also create hotspots for street sweeping or parking enforcement during certain hours, days of the week, and locations. Geofences can be established for home, work, and other locations so that the app works more reliably, and if you’re as likely to forget your phone as your car, the app can be set to chime and vibrate on your phone before you leave your vehicle. Apart from some rough edges—it’s worth knowing before your parking meter expires, rather than once it already has—these ancillary features generally work as expected.
Understanding how Find My Car Smarter actually works for its primary vehicle re-location service is critically important. The accessory doesn’t contain its own GPS chip or battery, which is to say that it’s very simple, effectively sending out a “mark this location” command to the iPhone 4S’s own GPS hardware as soon as it senses a power disconnection. This command is received by the app, even if you’ve exited it or dumped it into the background. However, should you connect the accessory to an outlet in your car that continues to supply power after the car’s turned off, you mightn’t get a precise reading of where the car parked. And if you’re in a place with poor GPS reception—say, deep within a parking garage or your pants pocket—the GPS’s location can be off, as well. FMC Smart’s app appears to be making some assumptions about the car’s final location based on the iPhone’s inability to communicate with the sensor, roughly calculating your distance from the last known point when the two devices were together. An in-app setting can let it warn you when the GPS signal is weak; another in-app feature can let you manually set the current location if you want to override the automated recording. Regrettably, these features underscore the questionable value of a $25-$30 accessory solution: if you need to use them, you could as easily drop a pin on your own Maps application for free.
Over two weeks of testing, Find My Car Smarter performed respectably, showing us generally where a car was located, and doing best when both we and our vehicle were outdoors rather than inside. That said, there were some caveats—a higher rate of iPhone 4S battery drain due to the Bluetooth/app interface is the most noteworthy one, alongside its present lack of compatibility with older iPhones, any iPod touch, and any iPad. And there were some unusual behaviors, too. Virtually every time we opened the app, it began by displaying a red pin purporting to be the location of our car, and a typical iOS-style blue dot depicting the iPhone 4S’s current location—the blue dot generally jumped around multiple times, within an imprecise “here you are” radius that wasn’t necessarily correct relative to the car’s position. It’s also worth noting that the in-app map presently relies upon Google Maps’ Standard flat-shaded view, rather than satellite imagery, which may make it hard to figure out where you and/or your car are. Put another way, Find My Car Smarter can guide you generally to where your car is, but between pinpointing your vehicle and your own location, it’s not likely to be accurate down to a several-foot distance.
Overall, Find My Car Smarter is a tough accessory to rate. It’s designed to do one major thing—pinpoint the location of your parked vehicle—and does a fair job at that, so long as you’re willing to give it a car charging outlet, and using an iPhone 4S that has an unobstructed GPS signal when the car’s location is being recorded. But the overall software and accessory experience isn’t quite as polished as it should be, and doesn’t always give you the sort of confidence you should have when walking away from your car. Dropping a pin on your iPhone’s map is a more universal and far less expensive alternative; if you don’t think you can remember to do that on the occasions you park your car somewhere unfamiliar, Find My Car Smarter is a reasonable solution.