With my shiny new WP7 phone that works pretty well in sunlight and quick responding GPS, I decided it was time to find a “where did I park my car” kind of app. Tired of trying to remember which door I entered through at the big malls. Starting my search I was a bit dismayed that several apps had no trials, and most had either no reviews or one or two reviews of 5 stars, without any comments. All were priced right at 0.99 so it was not that painful to dig down and find something that works.
All of the apps I tried were put through two basic tests. The first was simple. Walk down to the end of my treeless street, maybe 150 yards, pin my imaginary car to that location and then walk back thru my house to the back deck which sits right alongside a small lake, so a very easy target on a map. Test two was off-road, meaning that I parked my car in a shopping center lot, like Target or Home Depot, as far away as I could get from the store entrance, but also not too close to any street. Pinned my car at that location and then tried to find it when I got out of the store. If nothing else I got plenty of exercise through my testing along with I am sure a few stares from bewildered neighbors watching me walk up and down the street at midnight focused on my triangulator. Here are the results of my efforts. Hope it saves you some time and maybe helps you find that misplaced car.
This was the first app I tried, basically because it had the most reviews although they ranged from 1 or 5 stars. At least they included some comments. The app also included a bunch of extras, like; shooting a photo of your location, creating a voice note and starting a parking meter countdown. Played with it around the house and thought I was done searching, but when I put it to a real test, well read on. First off, several times when tapping voice note the app simply kicked me back out to the Apps menu, killing everything I had just done (location, photo, comment). Started with the neighborhood test and after marking my make believe car down the block, exited the app and walked home. Started the app back up and all appeared to be good, but as I started walking to my car location and zooming in I realized that the app had placed my car one block over from where I was standing. Talking over a few houses on the next street. A good golf drive at the least. Again, remember that there are no trees to block the sky view so to me this was an epic fail. Also, even after I exited the app and then went back in, it still plotted my starting location as on my deck and the car one block over, even though I was standing right were I pinned the car when I started. Time to move on.
Ok, so if at first you don’t succeed, spend another 0.99. Think this app had at least one good review so figured I would give it a try.With Fynd you can add a photo and comment to your location, as well as mark the parking level you might be on at a multi-level garage, as in A3. It provides a map and step by step directions to your car, along with a radar kind of bulls eye that plots you proximity, in meters, to the center dot, your car. Additionally, it provides a list of nearby Services for; parking, gas stations, auto service, taxis, auto rental and transit, although the results are all displayed in meters (even though I selected miles as the preferred measurement) which are unsorted, so you need to hunt and peck. And when you do select a service, it displays a teeny map, even though the bottom of the screen is empty. So nice try, but not much help. Another annoyance is that after pinning your car to a location, tapping the Back button to exit the app starts the GPS locating all over again, so you have to tap back quickly a couple times or you risk having to reenter everything. So ran the same neighborhood test as described above and guess what, it worked. The app was able to direct me back to my make believe car location, although the radar thingy bounced around between 16 and 22 meters of my car when I walked in circles on the spot I had started from. But I suppose 60ft is not that bad for GPS. Directions were also accurate telling me which direction to go in on my street (towards X street) to direct me to my car. I was a bit frustrated that even after closing and reopening the app, and standing maybe 50 feet from my destination, the map view still showed my original plot from my deck to my car location, even though it reloaded the map view. I also found the radar thing a bit unintuitive, not showing landmarks, like streets, intersections, etc. Sort of like staring at a Geiger counter while walking into walls. Next up was Home Depot. Parked all the way over by the Pet Smart, tagged my car location and made my trek into the store. Upon exiting, turned my phone on and opened the app. Radar said was 0.1 miles away from my car, but map view showed me as standing on the Boulevard, a full 300ft straight in front of me. It did sort of show my car in the right location, but as I walked towards it, the radar view never changed, so I didn’t know if I was getting closer or farther away. Bright sunny day and no trees to block the view. The route it proposed had me walking down said Boulevard in the direction of my car, but then sort of stopped when I was parallel with the car, but still 100+ feet away. Again, the map view nor radar would update even after I was standing next to my car. Oh well. The map view also got hung a few times requiring me to exit and restart the app.
This app is a bit simpler than the others, basically giving you the option to pin your car and find it. Sounds simple enough. A tutorial screen opens “every” time you start the app which is a bit of a pain. The only option is a tab labeled, “Park your car” even when you want to “Find your car”. On the map screen there are two primary buttons; Replace your car position and Find you car. There are also options to set a route by car or foot and an option to change from street view to sky view. Another slide out provides distance to your destination, in miles, along with the estimated time to get there. The map view works well along with pinching to zoom in and out of the map. Tried the neighborhood test and the app was able to plot my car location and starting point pretty well, but like the others, no matter what i tried, it would not alter the route or change my starting location, even after I exited the app (made sure I closed it) went back in and tapped Find car again. Even walked several hundred feet in the opposite direction on my street and the app still started me off on my deck, near the lake, which was troubling. On subsequent tests, for some reason it reversed the icons for You and Your Car, so I was walking, hopefully in the right direction from My Car to Me even though I had setup the test to find my car. The road test was done at my local Target. I parked my car as far away as possible from the stores while still leaving a good 150ft+ buffer between me and the two intersecting roads (a bank on the corner helped with that). Marked my location,closed the app and it was off to do some shopping. When I came out of the store, turned the app back on and tapped Find my Car. The app did a good job of locating me in front of Target, but indicated my car was a whopping .16 miles away, or about 845 feet. When in fact my car was about 300 ft away as the crow flies. The app didn’t tell me where to go from my location but mapped a route on the Boulevard about 300 ft in front of me. The map line then traveled right, to the corner where the bank sits and then turned, ending about even with my car, but about 150ft away from it. Even though the distance and route was inaccurate it did give me an idea of which way to head. Somewhere along the walk back to the car, the screen updated and put Me and My Car closer together but it didn’t update again even after I was standing next to the car. So while it sort of worked, the data and route that is planned would have been of no help although the two spots on the map (me and my car) would have probably been enough.
They say that perseverance pays off in the end. Truer words have never been spoken. This app is as raw and basic as you can get. It has one setting, “Enable location services to find my car”, and a single screen with two buttons, “Park My Car” and “Find My Car”. The app displays in landscape and has two buttons on the screen to zoom in/out although pinch worked just fine. Started my neighborhood test by walking down the block and tapping “Park My Car” to park my make believe car again. Exited the app and when I got to my backyard deck fired the app up again and after a few seconds it showed me, exactly where I should be and my car about where it should be. Started walking through the house and as soon as I got to my front door the display changed, showing me in a new location. Based on where I was standing and the car location I knew I had to turn left so i started walking. About halfway to the car, the app zoomed in (I never touched the screen) showing me getting closer and closer to my mystery car. Once I was standing where the car should be, the “Me” icon and “Car” icon were almost dead on top of each other. Close enough for finding even a compact car. Sure, no photos of my car, or parking garage info, but the app “found my car”. What a concept for a find my car application. Simply brilliant. OK, next up the off-road test. On the same Target trip noted above, I decided to go to Publix which was even further from the car. Marked my car location as usual, exited the app and took the rather long walk to the supermarket. Upon exiting, I turned the app back on, tapped Find Car, and there were the two icons for me and my car. It indicated my car was in front of me and off to the right, so I started walking. Rather than wiggling diagonally through the lot I decided to walk straight back and watched my progress on the screen until the two icons appeared parallel, taking me to the back of the lot and even with my car. I then started walking in the direction indicated on the map, towards my car. When I got about 150ft away, the map zoomed in and the two icons continued to get closer until I was standing next to my car. The icons never overlapped but almost touched when I was at the point I had started from. Hey, if that’s not close enough to find your car, you are probably in no condition to drive. After unloading my groceries, I wheeled my cart all the way back to the correct store’s corral (I can’t stand when people leave carts all over the lot) watching my progress on the screen walking away, and back towards my car, automatically zooming out and back in appropriately. Never even needed to touch the screen during this exercise. The app worked flawlessly.
While Fynd has a lot of cool features and Bing worked fairly well, they both lacked the ability to update my current location while I searched for my car. And Fynd failed the off-road test big time, while Bing was confusing but at least worked sort of. While these were simple tests, think of real work scenarios; like trying to find your car in a busy mall lot during the holidays. Or searching the multi-acres of off site parking lots at your local airport, after a light snow made everything look the same and a long day of traveling. Or maybe post game after a couple $10 beers makes everything look a little fuzzy. That’s when you are going to want an app that works rather than look pretty. FindMyCar, does only one thing thing and does it very well. It has earned a spot on my Start screen. Absolutely worth every bit of it’s 0.99 price.