Since the last time we looked at car- and driving-centric smartphone apps, the total number of programs on the market has increased exponentially. Keeping in mind that quality is usually preferred over quantity, we've waded through them all and picked out some of the more unique and interesting offerings ready for download this holiday season.

Speaking of gifts, don't forget to treat yourself to Autotrader.com's own smartphone app. Like all of the best things in life, it's free and readily available in the Apple's iPhone App Store.

 

Waze

Waze is best described as a "social" navigation app that allows users to both utilize and participate in a community of like-minded drivers seeking to find the fastest way to reach their respective destinations. All you have to do is launch the program on your smartphone and it does the rest automatically while you drive.

The app works by using your phone's GPS to map your current position and speed. Then it uses this data to build a real-time report of traffic conditions. For example if during your daily commute you encounter a slow down the program automatically reports this information to the Waze network. When other Waze users in your area check the same route they are notified of the problem and can use the app to find an alternate route.

Besides its automated components Waze offers other features like turn-by-turn navigation. It boasts a clean interface that provides you the ability to easily report mapping errors, speed traps, accidents, and other road hazards with just a few taps.

The app is currently free and is available on the iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Nokia, smartphone platforms. Find out more about Waze at http://www.waze.com/.

 

aSmartHUD

There's a whole family of aSmartHUD apps, all of which are variations on the core theme of using your smartphone's display to project information about your vehicle on your windshield while you drive. The "HUD" in aSmartHUD stands for "Heads Up Display" a technology more usually found in airliners or fighter planes.

Besides the base aSmartHUD program there's aSmartHUD Navi that displays driving directions and aSmartHUD Navi Maps+ that automatically downloads maps so that you can continue to navigate without an internet connection. Most of the versions also come with a database of Speed Cams and Traffic cams and the app will let you know when you are close to either one. All told, there are seven variations on the aSmartHUD theme available one of which should help fulfill your fighter pilot fantasy.

Whatever version of aSmartHUD you decide to buy works only on the iPhone and costs $0.99. Find out more at http://atoll-ordenadores.com/.

 

TorquePro

TorquePro is a simple way to interface with all the data available, but rarely displayed, in your car's on board computer system. In most modern cars the OBD (On Board Diagnostic) computer monitors nearly all of your vehicle's important functions. Many drivers only learn of the system when a malfunction occurs triggering the frustrating "Check Engine" light that appears on your dash. Simply diagnosing the actual error codes is something most mechanics will charge you at least $50.00 for.

Now you can use your smartphone and TorquePro to not only read all of these codes yourself but also access the vast amount of other information available in your car's on-board computer while you are driving. For instance while your vehicle is running you can see all sorts of real time engine performance data, like horsepower, CO2 emissions, and turbo boost pressure. Please note that you will need a wireless Bluetooth connector to hook up to your car's OBD2 plug, which is usually located under your dash.

The software only runs on the Android platform and will set you back $4.95 and a good quality Bluetooth OBD2 connector starts at around $100.00. For more information about the software and the required connectors visit http://torque-bhp.com/.

 

Cobra iRadar

The iRadar system is a affordable combination of a traditional radar/laser detector and a smartphone app that gives you the best of both worlds. By itself the unit is a typical stand-alone radar/laser detector, which can work with or without a phone. But it's the added smartphone software the makes the system unique.

What the app does is not only provide a comprehensive interface to to the hardware detector but also, using your smartphone's GPS software, to give you warnings based on your current location. As you drive a continually updated database of known enforcement sites is automatically downloaded to your phone. This information is partly based on the input of other iRadar users, who can use the app to report new traps, but Cobra promises to continually verify the information to help weed out incorrect or bogus entries.

The iRadar detector comes complete with a window mount. You can purchase it online for around $90.00, which is hundreds less than many traditional stand alone units. Once you get the iRadar unit you can download the app for free for either the iPhone or most Android phones. There's a very informative video and plenty of other useful information at http://cobrairadar.com/.

 

Augmented Driving/iOnRoad

Utilizing "real-time object detection" Augmented Driving's goal is to keep you alert and safe while behind the wheel. It works by using your phone's built in camera to keep tabs on the road ahead. Should you start to drift out of your lane or if get too close to the car in front of you the screen will show a warning and an alarm, a recorded voice is also an option, to warn you.

Other options besides helping you to avoid a collision are available. Augmented Driving also has "Stop and Go Assist" and the app can also be configured to monitor your car's speed. When you exceed that speed the aforementioned warnings will sound.

This app runs on the iPhone only and will set you back $2.99. Remember you'll also need a windshield or dash mount to use it properly. Prices for these mounts vary from a few dollars to upwards of $40.00.

If you like the idea behind Augmented Driving but don't own an iPhone, check out iOnRoad for Android. It's much the same in form and function and it's free. Go to http://www.ionroad.com/ for more information.

 

PhoneGuard

Subscription service PhoneGuard offers a long list of phone safety and monitoring tools geared toward preventing distracted driving. Once installed the software can prevent you from texting, reading e-mails, or surfing the web when you are driving. But that's just one part of the overall package.

Some of PhoneGuard's many features include a Speed Violation Alert that can be configured to send an e-mail with the time, speed, and location, if the phone is in a car that exceeds a certain speed. A "Geo-Fencing" tool is also available that could notify parents for example if a selected phone travels outside of a certain zip code or area.

One of the less Orwellian features is a "Panic Button" function will automatically dial 911 and simultaneously send out a text message with the GPS coordinates of the phone.

PhoneGuard has many other modes and capabilities geared towards parents and business owners wishing to both keep others safe and monitor travel. There are two different packages, Family Pro and Enterprise, with prices starting at $19.95 a month. Visit the PhoneGuard website at http://phoneguard.com/. All of PhoneGuard's features are available on Android and Blackberry phones and a more limited version can be downloaded for the iPhone.

author photo

John Seals has been writing about the auto industry since 1979 when he convinced the editor of his high school newspaper to let him write a road test of the new Ford Mustang. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines and online.

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