With all the connected devices we have these days, your car is likely the most out-of-date possession you own. Sure, modern vehicles have touch-screens and a handful of fancy features, but they’re typically not connected to the web (no, your phone’s internet connection doesn’t count) and as advanced as your smartphone is, it can’t really talk to your car or track its location.
The new Sprint Drive hopes to change that by giving you an all-in-one 4G hotspot, vehicle tracking and diagnostics tool. We’ve been testing the new device for a few weeks now and have been quite impressed by all that it offers.
Before we jump into the details, we’re sure that most of you will want to know the price. The Sprint Drive hardware which plugs into your car’s ODB II port will set you back $120 if you pay for it up front, but you can get it for free if you choose the 24-month payment plan and sign up for auto pay. The Sprint Drive monthly service starts at $10/month which includes 2GB of data for the hotspot feature, but you can get unlimited data for $25/month.
Getting the Sprint Drive up and running it pretty simply. Simply remove the device from the box, locate your vehicle’s ODB II port, plug it in, connect to it from Sprint Drive app on your smartphone and you’re set. Once Sprint Drive is set up, it’ll automatically track all the trips you make, turn on the hotspot and check for any diagnostics issues which can be read over the ODB II port. It’ll even show you how much fuel you have, intake and coolant temperatures and the battery voltage.
Naturally, the feature most people will be interested in is Sprint Drive’s hotspot capabilities. In our tests, we were able to successfully connect five devices to the web through Sprint Drive, though we’re not sure what the limit actually is. Internet speeds were pretty good, reaching 45 Mbps download and 25 Mbps upload speeds in several different cities. Like most network-dependent services, your mileage will vary based on when you are located. In order to test out the “unlimited” claim, we pushed Sprint Drive to its limit, we chewed through more than 30GB of data in less than a week, downloading movies, music and tons of games to multiple tablets and smartphones through the Google Play store. We never ran into any throttling issues, but the network can get a bit sluggish if you’re driving through the middle of nowhere (something I do on a regular basis).
Data speeds through the hotspot were fast enough to keep up with multiple simultaneous Netflix and YouTube streams, so you should be just fine if you have a kid or two who needs to watch their favorite show during your morning commute or road trip across the country.
But the Sprint Drive is more than just a hotspot for your car. The diagnostic tools can come in real handy, especially when your vehicle’s check engine light comes on. In most instances, Sprint Drive will pop up a notification as soon as the check engine light appears, telling you what the issue it. If you’re not able to solve it on your own, the app also includes a free mechanic hotline that will give you recommendations or help you find a qualified mechanic to solve the problem for you.
The trip logging is very useful as well, allowing you to analyze your driving habits since it records any hard accelerations, hard braking and sharp turns. It will even save your maximum and average speeds and give you an overall driving score for each trip you make.
The built-in GPS functionality can also be used to locate where you parked your car or track it in case it was stolen. If the vehicle is being used by one of your children or by an employee for work, Sprint Drive can also be used to send you notifications if the vehicle is driven outside pre-defined boundaries or outside of specific curfew times. If you choose to use these settings, we suggest letting the driver know that their location is being tracked since no one likes to hear that you were keeping an eye on their every move after the fact. And if you’re worried that they will simply unplug the unit, Sprint Drive will notify you when and where it was unplugged.
When I first learned about Sprint Drive, it really didn’t appeal to me. I didn’t want to spend extra money on a hotspot for my vehicle since I could easily share the internet connection form my smartphone with other devices. But after using Sprint Drive for nearly three weeks, I have to say that my perspective has changed. Sprint Drive is definitely worth the money, especially if you and your family spend a lot of time in your vehicle. Having an always-on hotspot is extremely convenient, but the built-in diagnostics and tracking capabilities are extremely helpful as well.
T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon also offer similar connected-car devices. Technically, Sprint Drive is a bit late to the game, but its feature set matches or exceeds what its competitors have to offer. If you’re already a Sprint customer and were tempted to pick up a connected-car device from AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile, we recommend staying put and giving Sprint Drive a try.