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App reviews for the WebOS

An app that shows how much you’re spending on gas, and the graphs don’t lie. – Fuel

Posted by groovdafied on January 7, 2010

With the New Year already here, we can finally take a break from visiting all your family and friends for the holidays. For most people who have the convenience of owning/renting a car, they will also know the price required to keep it moving on the roads for those tens to hundreds of miles. Especially the fluctuating economy does affect a driver’s wallet dramatically, and some will just give up all together and rely on public transportation. However some of us who tend to float the bill month to month, it’s good to know how much hard earned cash is going into your vehicle, thus help limit the amount of driving to necessary trips. ‘Fuel’ is the app that will be essential to many drivers who rely on their gas expense. Many will try other applications or use pen and paper; they do work, as well as this application too.

‘Fuel’ is developed by webos_rbtwhiz (actual name is unknown), who has setup a Google Groups page to create some type of positive community. His mission statement is pretty clear and encouraging, stating that he wants to create useful applications and having a positive community will provide good ideas as a whole. His email is available at the bottom of his page and doesn’t quite require any digging around, but it is easy to miss if you’re glancing quickly through the page.

Zoom Zoom

The application is very quick when launched, therefore you’re not waiting for the app to launch so you can punch in a few numbers and finally go. It has the feel of Disney’s-Pixar’s movie ‘Cars’ at first glance, with a shiny speedometer and a classic hot rod font and color scheme. Once the application has been fully loaded, you’re immediately taken to a home-screen that is clearly laid out for quick access. The UI is clean with some custom elements mixed with default API buttons, plus the layout maybe easy on the fingers for some quick thumbing.

The main page gives you four categories that are automatically collapsed, and tapping the categories will reveal its information to you. The Quick Help is also available on every page of the app as a category, meaning you don’t need to stretch your thumb across the screen to tap the upper left menu to receive help. The Help category will reveal a long list of  information for each feature on that page. If the developer were planning any updates for this app, I would probably recommend a darker & larger text, for the gray font over a light background is not ideal. Even when viewing the help page indoors still takes some getting used to. The remaining categories are for the app’s reminders, summary and history. The first part to complete before tracking any data is to add your vehicle, and this is located at the top as one large button, with a white arrow pointing down, labeled “Select a Vehicle…” Tapping this button will allow you to create a profile for each of the vehicles you own or use. When you want to view the stats for each vehicle, simply tap that same button at the top to display a list of vehicle profiles. Filling out the vehicle information is actually pretty easy with very few steps. There’s the name of the vehicle and a brief description of what it is, the odometer information that can be entered as miles or kilometers. The vehicles fuel capacity, which can be measured in U.S. Gallons, Imp. Gallons or Litre. The Rating/Type (a.k.a. the gas octane level) which can be identified as Gasoline or Diesel, a check option if the tank is currently empty or full, and the type of currency used when purchasing gasoline. After the required information is completed, the check mark icon can now be tapped to proceed back to the home screen.

Obviously at this point, there’s no information to report back to the user until data has been entered with what was pumped and how much was traveled. Tapping the “+” plus icon in the bottom right will pull up the ‘Add Fueling Event’ page. The page has been designed to automatically calculate how much you’ve driven by reading the ODO or the trip ODO. Under the vehicle name, you have the current total miles driven and a blank ODO field just underneath that. When entering the ODO numbers, you can use the total miles the car has driven, or the total miles in your trip from A to B. For example, driving from your house to the gas station is 10 miles and the overall distance that the car has traveled in its lifetime is 131235 miles. Some odometers work with a decimal system, and the app does accept that information. If you’re going to enter the total miles in your trip, you will tap the “Using trip Meter” switch to the on position, and the app will calculate the new overall mileage.

The next section is the amount of fuel purchased for your vehicle and the amount of money it cost all together to fill up your tank. The application automatically calculates the price per gallon for you, so you don’t have to search for the sign and its insane pricing information. The date and time is automatically recorded for you as well as the location via GPS that can be reviewed through Google Apps. Although the Palm Pre and Pixi have hardware keyboards, it would be a great convenience to enable a soft keyboard within the application. So when tapping in the field, a numeric pad will appear, allowing for fast number entry.

After you’re done with your first entry, stats will start to appear within the home-screen to show larger values, estimations and even graphs. The application will automatically calculate how much per gallon the gas costs, your average mile to the gallon, how much fuel you’ve pumped and spent. Plus for visual presentation of this information, the application will graph the numbers.

Note To Self: Change Oil

The application also has an event scheduler that pays attention to both the time and mileage, the notification will appear as a yellow sticky on the home-screen with some basic information. Once your application starts to reach the deadline for either the assigned date or mileage, the home-screen’s sticky note will change to a darker color of yellow, and red being the critical level that the deadline is close or has been met.

To set a reminder from the home-screen, tap the “+” plus symbol in the bottom left corner. You can add preset reminders that can be reused without having to re-type repetitive information.  Tap the Add Reminder button at the top of the page and tap “+ Add a Preset…” There are five fields that are required to be filled out, the name of the preset, the distance offset, distance buffer, month(s) offset and days buffer. Everything looks straight forward, but the distance part. The distance offset is the amount of miles you want to calculate from your current odometer mileage. So if your current ODO is 1000mi, and the distance offset is 3500mi, the app will then set the event mileage to 4500 miles; however I believe I found a bug for the distance buffer, which I will explain later. The remaining fields specify how many months you like to set for the deadline and how many days before that deadline will in which it will warn you. The app will factor in the current day with the month field; for example, if today is January 5th, and I set it four months ahead, it will read as May 5th on the event. Tap the check mark and the preset has been saved. You can go back to edit this preset by tapping the Add Reminder button again and tap the icon to the right of the preset, as well as swiping to delete the preset. I would probably like to see the word EDIT replacing the Icon or an easier way to identify the edit button. It was by mistake when I found out you can edit a preset by tapping the icon.

The reminder page allows you to specify the name of the reminder, a note of what it’s about, the date deadline with the amount of days it will warn you before the deadline and the odometer and distance warning, Unlike the Fuel Event page where you can type in how many miles you drove in your trip, you have to specify the full distance odometer value, which needs to be calculated by the user. The distance warning is in the same situation, where the value has to be calculated in full by the user. I believe the next update should have this ironed out, where you’ll have the actual ODO value, then you can specify the distance deadline and the distance warning by a simple value and have it automatically calculate the mileage. So for example, I can just type 3500 miles with a warning of 25miles, instead of adding 1000 miles + 3500miles = 4500 – 25 = 4475. The last step of the reminder is the Service Completed that is switched as yes or no.

The only part that seems missing from this feature, is that it doesn’t tie in to the WebOS notification system. I believe this would be very convenient if the app was able to close but set a date notification in your calendar, and if the app is opened it would notify you from there as you start accumulating miles with more fuel events.

I mentioned above a bug for the preset page, that when a user types a value in the Distance Buffer, it copies that exact value into the Distance Warning field on the Reminder Page. The problem is that if the odometer value is 131,354 miles, and I typed 25miles, I would expect the application to calculate 25 miles before 131,354. Unfortunately, this is not the case, for it requires the user to load the preset, go back to the reminders page and re-calculate the distance warning from the odometer value. (131,354 – 25 = 131,329 miles)

Preferences and Back-ups

The application does have the ability to backup and restore all Vehicle, Reminders and Tracking History from the app. The information is exported to Google Docs, which requires the users to have an account before information is passed. To import your data, the app will log back into your Google Docs account and will give you the option to clear all history before the import starts and will match the data to the proper vehicle profile. This is exceptionally well done, especially for users who may have had to replace their phone or perform a system wipeout.

The preferences menu gives you additional customization from displaying completed events, displaying certain information on your home-screen and location service options. These options adds some comfort to the user if they don’t want to be overwhelmed by numbers, they can simply switch the feature off.

For a free application, it has a lot of potential, but does need some under-the-hood work to give it a solid feature set. The app deserves a 7 out of 10, with an easy layout, fast performance, and great backup/restore features. There is a website with contact information, but I have yet to receive a response back from the developer. Hopefully in short time, the developer will find this review and take some of these feature requests into consideration. I do recommend the application for its simplicity, if you don’t mind doing a few calculations.

WebOS Platform Tested: 1.3.5.1

Hardware: Palm Pre

Developer: http://groups.google.com/group/webos_rbtwhiz

Version: 0.8.45

Price: Free

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