Can you add smart features to your car on the cheap? We take Nonda’s ZUS Smart Car Charger for a spin in our latest review!
The Bandwidth Blog review desk is usually teeming with smartphones, tablets and wearables, and it’s seldom that we get our hands on as novel a product as Nonda’s ZUS smart car charger.
While many South Africans will have the names Netstar and Tracker on the tip of their tongues when considering GPS-assisted tracking for their ride of choice, the ZUS smart car charger brings a number of novel features to the market with the goal of sharpening the IQ of your automobile.
The question is, however – can the ZUS smart car charger justify its price and provide usable features on a highway littered with cheap car charger alternatives? Let’s hit the road!
First up: What the heck is ZUS?
Nonda’s ZUS smart car charger doesn’t exactly arrive on the market with one promise that one can evaluate the need for right off-the-bat. Rather, this is an accessory device which comes armed with some nifty ideas and is more a companion to your day-to-day than a bonafide utility.
Let’s address the major feature first; yes, the ZUS provides GPS-assisted car tracking which you can use to monitor the location of your vehicle. To address my earlier point, this isn’t a service designed to compete or supplant what one could get from Netstar or Tracker; unless your insurance provider is exceptionally open minded, this probably won’t serve to reduce your monthly premium or satisfy requests made of you to install a tracking system onboard your car.
As a bonus, ZUS is capable of not only measuring the health of your car’s battery, but can further monitor trips you make through an in-app purchase – 60 free trips are provided once you activate the unit for the first time.
Lastly, there’s the convenience of having two USB ports from which to charge your gadgets, both of which are reversible. If your car doesn’t have a USB port for audio or charging purposes, this is a worthwhile addition all on its own.
What’s the setup and support like?
ZUS features a dead-simple setup; open up the box, plug in the unit to your accessory (cigarette lighter) port, pair the app with the device, and ride off into the sunset.
ZUS makes use of a Bluetooth connection to pair to smart devices – something I was worried about considering my iPhone’s propensity to forget my car’s Bluetooth enabled dashboard at the worst possible moment. Thankfully, what I can attest to is that that didn’t occur at all during my review period.
ZUS owners are able to purchase multiple units and pair them to one copy of the app under different names, which is decidedly useful should you wish to monitor two or more vehicles comparatively.
GPS support, in open areas, is great. ZUS deftly keeps an accurate account of where your vehicle is parked, and can usually point you in the right direction through a built-in compass should you have forgotten where you parked. Unfortunately, this is hampered when one parks in a multi-storey parking lot, upon which the app will earnestly advise you to take a picture and log the location of your car as a backup measure, which can all be done inside the app.
There’s further the option to set a parking reminder alert – while I found the feature useful, I didn’t make use of it as much as I might have if I lived in territories where parking meters were common.
I’m a stickler for well-rounded, complete apps, and something I greatly enjoyed was the fact that ZUS arrives with support for both a notification widget and 3D Touch support on iOS. In the case of the former, this lets you add a widget to your notification view to have a quick, one-off view of where your car is parked and for how long it has been there.
The ability to monitor trips through a built-in mileage log is useful, though I quickly expended my allotted 60 journey limit before the app required I cough up more money. An irritation I found is that – as a registered member of a community policing forum – I often move my car from place to place, equating to short journeys which quickly saw my trip limit depleted in the app. If you rather aim to observe long trips, this feature might be of more interest to you.
Does ZUS do what’s claimed?
Let’s walk through ZUS’ major feature first. If you’re like me and worry about parking your vehicle off roads and leaving it for extended periods of time this is a fantastic concept to manage the location of your vehicle rather than use it to manage parking alerts or to find it inside a parking lot.
Thing is, the latter is more where ZUS is steered in the market; the device is aimed to facilitate finding your vehicle in a crowded parking lot and subsequently setting parking meter alerts. This is great if you often forget where you park your car or have to be mindful of parking restrictions, though the fact that GPS tracking struggles to calculate the exact position of your car in – let’s say – a multi-storey parking center can render the feature rather moot.
If you park on an open-air platform or road, then ZUS is altogether a more useful affair. In my day-to-day, I found the service more of a refreshing reminder that my car was indeed where I had left it rather than a usable utility to help locate it; something I feel South Africans might relate to.
If you’re concerned about the health of your car’s battery, ZUS is a great way to have a very general indication of its overall health on the cheap, and subsequently the ability to purchase trip monitoring is useful if you need to evaluate either the length or quantity of journeys you take.
USB charging through reversible ports was a highlight for me; while my car supports a USB Type-A port, it’s found on the passenger’s side of the vehicle, making it difficult to reach even when stationary. The ability, then, to have a USB port in reach and be able to charge gadgets from a reversible port which I do not have to fiddle with certainly made life a little easier over the review period.
Are there any shortcomings?
Fundamentally, yes. As I mentioned earlier, ZUS isn’t entirely usable inside buildings, and one can quickly rip through their allotment of trips should they choose to pay for mileage monitoring as an in-app purchase.
As I mentioned in Bandwidth Blog On Air, the most crippling shortcoming I experienced is that ZUS itself was ill-fitted for my car’s accessory port, meaning that the unit could all-too-often dislodge itself – meaning that not only would any connected gadgets stop charging, but that the ZUS app would further register my car as parked when I was actually driving.
Fortunately, this experience seems to be entirely subjected to my vehicle, as I wasn’t able to replicate the issue with a car of another make.
If you’re looking for an affordable way to add some smart features to your vehicle, ZUS is most definitely worth a purchase. Though the system is not perfect – and your mileage (get it?) might well vary depending on your use and configuration of your vehicle – ZUS does provide an affordable, equitable way to monitor the location of your vehicle and, at that, comes equipped with two reversible USB ports as a bonus.
Is ZUS perfect? No. Yet, for the price of $34.99 – roughly R458 ZAR – you’ll get equitable piece of mind in addition to a well-rounded, feature-laden app. In my view, ZUS is a perfect addition to my car that I’d love to take on journeys with me, and one that I feel confident in recommending to anyone else looking for piece of mind on a budget.
Have your say!
What are your thoughts on the Nonda ZUS Smart Car Charger? Be sure to let us know your thought is in the comments below!