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Device Adds WiFi, ‘Smart Car’ Features To Any Auto

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[leadin]New cars are wonders of technology with wireless hotspots and apps that can track all kinds of maintenance needs and driving habits. But there’s one big drawback: they cost a fortune.[/leadin]

Vinli Vehicle Wifi

Fortunately, for those of us who don’t want to drop a year’s salary on a new car, a just-released device can turn any car into a “smart car” with similar functions to those coming off the lot in 2015.

It’s called Vinli, and this little gizmo really works. I’ve been testing it for the last few weeks, and so far have been impressed with the simple-to-use but powerful device.

Vinli: Very Easy Installation

Vinli is about half the size of a cell phone. It has a plug that meshes with a car’s data port. To install it, you just plug it in. Boom, done.

Vinli installation

You set up the service online. It took me about 10 minutes to put in my personal data and download a couple apps to use with Vinli (more on this later).

Mobile Hotspot In Your Car

As an editor, much of my work life is centered on the internet. This means my office can be anywhere, so long as I have a wireless connection.

So I was really stoked about this feature. To test the device, I plugged the little puck into my car’s data port under the dashboard, activated the device online and headed into the country.

Vinli Device

What I found is that, even with a weak phone signal, I had a fast, reliable Internet connection. Vinli operates over T-Mobile’s 4G network, which seems to be as fast or faster than my home internet service.

The $200 device comes pre-loaded with one gigabit of data, and additional data isn’t too expensive, at $5 for 500 megabits. Its pay-as-you-go model makes budgeting data usage easy, and you can make it auto-reload if you choose.

I’m not certain how Vinli accomplishes the high speed in remote areas, but even with minimal cell phone reception, the device seems to function well.

Apps & ‘Connected Driving’

Vinli has a suite of apps to improve driving efficiency, monitor maintenance, even track a stolen car or alert loved ones in the event of an accident.

Vinli Apps

I loaded one app called Drive onto my phone and checked it out. The app created a perfect track of my drive. My buddy called it “Strava for your car,” and he’s not far off. The Drive app awards you with badges like speed demon, polluter, or tree hugger.

It also monitors your fuel use, kicking out exact MPG data. My first trip was 43.5 miles, and my 2000 Ford Ranger averaged 21.66 MPG with a max speed of 77.05 MPH and with one hard brake and no hard accelerations. Pretty cool to see these kinds of details on a 16 year old car!

Other apps offered include Beagle (it lets you track teen drivers), Lock And Key (alerts you when your car starts and allows you to follow it in real time), Rocki (music streaming), and Home Connect (control your house thermostat and more when you leave home).

Vinli apps have social functions. You can link accounts and comment on each other’s drives, see the locations of your friends, and quite a bit more. These seem like they could be fun, but would rely on a lot of people jumping on board the technology.

A 1998 Smart Car

Vinli works on almost all cars made after 1998 (no electric cars or BMWs). It’s pretty amazing driving a car made just a few years after I got my first email address that now has a WiFi hotspot and is connected to the internet.

Modernized technology is one reason to upgrade vehicles. But with the addition of Vinli to my old Ford Ranger, I see one less reason to buy a more modern model. And thanks to the apps, I know my truck gets almost 22 MPG — about the same as many modern modern trucks. Guess I’ll just keep this baby for a few more years.

Ultimately, Vinli is not the only product like this coming to market. But at $200 and with cheap, manageable data plans, it’s a great option for upgrading a car or truck without spending big bucks on a new vehicle.

As a side note — I wrote this article, uploaded the photos, and submitted it for publication from a lakeside park near my home. The sun is shining and it’s a beautiful day, and I’m getting my work done and enjoying a beautiful view, thanks to my old truck, now equipped with Vinli.

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