Review: Dash

by on October 21, 2014

It’s rare when an app is available for Android first, and then slowly makes its way to iOS. I was intrigued when I first heard about Dash, a longtime free favorite in the do-it-yourself car data recording world for Android users becoming available for Android a few months ago. Even though the app is free, it does require a compatible interface to connect to your car, and challenged me to give setting up my own system a try.

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Dash is a startup that was co-founded in New York in 2012 by Jamyn Edis and Brian Langel with the intent on making a great app to talk to OBD-II devices and offer drivers more than just real-time data. Unlike competing products that include everything you need like Automatic, Dash is only an app that interfaces with various On-Board Diagnostics (OBD-II) devices to talk with your car. Fortunately, the company offers a page that lists possible compatible devices. I picked up a cheap Wi-Fi-based one from Amazon for about $18. Although Bluetooth is an option on the iOS app, in most cases, due to Apple’s restrictions, it only works with jailbroken devices. Wi-Fi connects just as easily and I haven’t noticed any problems.

I bet right now, you’re immediately asking, “How am I supposed to use cellular data if my phone is connected to a Wi-Fi device in the car?” Well, thanks to direct-connections and a few IP settings (depending on the device), your phone will connect to the Wi-Fi network created by the OBD-II device, but still display “3G/4G/LTE” and pull all other data from a cellular tower. If you have a car with internal Wi-Fi, there may or may not be issues (I haven’t been able to test). The only other snag with using a Wi-Fi device is that it may not connect immediately when you start your car if you’re in a location that has a strong network that you have saved.

Most OBD-II devices are about the size of an iPod mini and plug into a port on your dashboard, somewhere within close proximity of the steering wheel (as long as your car was made after 1996). I’ve seen it behind the ashtray on an old Honda, under a little panel near the hood release on a Toyota, and under the fuse door on a Hyundai. They make extension cables if you don’t want to have a huge module sticking out of your dash at some particular location.

On to the app itself, which is the point of the review, the primary purpose is to record direct data from your car’s computer, record trip data via GPS, and give you feedback on driving. It will also read and clear error codes from the computer, offering more information than simply “Check Engine” when something goes wrong. Over time, Dash gamifies the driving process, giving you an overall score based on things like how much of a lead foot you have, how hard you brake, or if you are constantly sitting in traffic. I’ve already been a pretty conservative driver (though not slow), and this was a good way to see if there were areas for improvement and even just really recording how much I drive. In addition to mapping the distance from each trip, the app also records the time, and cost, based on current gas prices.

While driving, you can have a simple display, which only shows the current gas mileage, but I prefer the advanced display for the same reason I run iStat Menus on my Mac—more information can be interesting. I use a mount to hold my phone when it’s serving as a navigation device, but for trips where I know where I’m going, I can use this display instead to provide additional information beyond the analogue gauges on my instrument cluster.

Overall, the product works as advertised, although I ran into a few issues of manually having to force a connection to my OBD-II device after my car had left an area of a known Wi-Fi network. This was as easy as tapping an icon in the corner of the Dash app and waiting for a connection. If your garage/driveway or parking lot at work don’t have Wi-Fi coverage, this probably won’t ever happen.

There have been a few changes since its initial release, and the app doesn’t require a login or Facebook account to use, although creating an account will save your data to use with other devices. In addition to multiple devices, you can also take your OBD-II device from one car to another, as the app supports multiple cars. I actually got to try this with a rental that I had and it worked with no problems. The switching process is easy enough that if you have a day car and a night car, you can either move the OBD-II device, or have one for both, and the app will react accordingly.

There are plans for a way to contact emergency services in case you are in an accident, as well as an API (called “Chassis”) for other tools to take advantage of Dash’s data. These will really make this product an overall safety and data recording upgrade for your car, even if it was made in the later years of the Bill Clinton presidency.

There is also a very complete frequently asked questions area for you to check out all possible issues before you download the app and buy a OBD-II device.

Dash seems like a very functional and exciting product so far, even if there are some interface odds ’n’ ends that could use additional polish or refinement. Since it’s only been available for iOS for a short time, I’m excited to see what develops over time to an already promising product, but right now it really should only appeal to the tinkering types.

The One-Sentence Verdict™

Dash is a promising free alternative for analyzing your driving data and reading error codes from your car, as long as you bring your own equipment.

Pros: Free, clean interface, compatible with a lot of OBD-II devices

Cons: Slightly buggy when connecting under some circumstances, some features not yet ready, development inconsistent

The Facts

2.5/5Product/Company: Dash
Platform: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad (Android version also available, not tested)
Price: Free (iTunes Link)

This post has been filed in iOS Apps, iPhone, Mobile Devices, Reviews