There are, of course, many hundreds of brands of car chargers on the market. At one point, we had so many in our house, after having purchased some and gotten others for free for buying phones at Costco, that we started throwing them away. So much competition has obviously forced the companies that make these to start figuring out how to make their charger special, to get it to stand out in an extremely crowded market.
Nonda, a Palo Alto, California-based start up, decided to take a step that seems obvious in retrospect: make the thing do more than just charge devices. And thus was born the Zus Smart Car Charger.
First, though, let me talk about the car charger part. It’s really nicely designed, with two charging ports, both coming out at angles from the device. This allows you to easily plug in two devices, even if they have bulkier plugs. And, best of all: the USB ports, which support any standard USB plug, are designed to be reversible, so you can plug in the cord in either direction. And now I need to know, in all seriousness, why every USB port ever wasn’t designed this way.
Both plugs provide 2.4A of power, allowing both devices to charge at their fastest possible speed. The company’s website claims that it will fully charge two iPhones in 1.89 hours. I’ll admit I didn’t fully test this part of the device, partly because I didn’t want to let my phone fully die, and partly because I didn’t want to take a two hour drive. But, I can say that the plug I used to use in my car was also a fast charger (albeit on only one of its two ports), and anecdotally I can say that I haven’t seen any decrease in charging on my phone using the Zus over the old one.
The charger also includes what Nonda refers to as “ElegantShine” lighting (they’ve even trademarked “ElegantShine”). Basically, both ports light up, and there are three small LED lights on top as well. This was a bit of a concern of mine when I got the device, because honestly I don’t like a lot of shiny things in my car when I’m driving at night. However, the design of my car (it’s a 2012 Toyota Camry) means that the charging port is kind of hidden in a compartment on the dash, so I can’t actively see whatever is plugged in, and unlike some other light-up chargers I’ve had in the past, this one isn’t bright enough for me to see the lights when it is plugged in. So from my perspective, the lighting system works perfectly. However, I can see that having the ports themselves light up could be helpful if I ever needed to try to plug in a device at night.
But enough about the charger. Let’s talk about the thing that really sets the Zus apart: the fact that it’s an “Internet of Things” device. Yes, I know, IoT is at times an almost meaningless buzzword these days, particularly for Silicon Valley start-ups, but in this case I think it’s well deserved. Zus is, at least to my knowledge, the first car charger with a companion app, which provides four potentially extremely useful features.
First, the charger doubles as a car finder. Again, by itself, that isn’t too special. I already have two other car finders: Android itself via Google Now, and my Automatic device. But what I haven’t had before is a car finder integrated into a charger. And that is, honestly, pretty cool. The finder includes both a “compass” mode, shown above, and a map mode. Back in the days when I was traveling a lot for work, this would have been incredibly handy, because I did always bring a car charger with me on the road, and I did consistently lose track of rental cars in big parking lots. (We won’t even talk about the time that a rental company gave me a car that didn’t have an electronic key fob, so I couldn’t do the trick of hitting the “unlock” button until I saw the headlights flashing.)
Along with the car finder is a parking meter reminder. Every time you park, the app will pop up a notification asking if you want to set a meter reminder. Thankfully, I very rarely have to deal with meters, so I just tested this out today at home to see if it really worked, and did have enough time to totally forget that I had set it when the alarm went off. Once again, I can see this being a fantastically useful feature for people that drive a lot in urban areas. My only beef: there doesn’t appear to be a way to change the alarm’s sound, but hopefully this will be added in a future update.
The second key feature of the app is a car battery monitor. Apparently, when the device is plugged in, it’s sitting there chatting with other electronics in the car—really, what else is a charger supposed to do to pass the time?—and it seems to get along particularly well with the car battery. Thankfully, both my car and my wife’s are new enough that we don’t have to worry about the batteries (yet), but this would have been really nice to have last year when my wife’s old car was dying a slow, painful death and was routinely stranding us with a dead battery.
The third and final feature (at least for now) of the app is Family Share. You can share your car’s location with other family members, provided that they sign up for a free account on Nonda’s website and they also have the app. While I again didn’t actually test this, I can see it being useful. I don’t think it’s all that uncommon for families with more than one car to need to swap cars for some reason, and instead of trying to describe where your car is in a big parking lot, you can simply tell the app to direct them to your car.
But in addition to all of this, perhaps the best part of this device is its price point: $29.99. That’s basically what you’d pay for a charger with a whole lot fewer features. The smart charger is available at Amazon and other fine retailers.
Overall, I’m extremely impressed with the charger and the app. So impressed, in fact, that I’m already making a mental list of the people in my circle of family and friends who might be seeing one of these show up in their stocking this Christmas.
Note: Nonda sent me a device for review purposes, but all opinions are my own.