In 2018, new cars come equipped with bells and whistles like blind spot detection, hands-free multimedia centers, automatic steering, and rear-view cameras. The common thread here? Safety. The dangers on the road are no secret, and car companies are working to make vehicles safer until eventually, they don’t require human drivers at all.
In fact, by May of 2018, rear-view cameras will be legally mandatory in all new “light” vehicles sold in the USA, including cars and SUVs. However, many of us aren’t in the market for a new car, and won’t be for a while. But thanks to a slew of innovative car-focused tech companies, that doesn’t mean we’ll have to wait years to take advantage of new gadgetry.
From heads-up displays for safer navigation to Bluetooth receivers, luxury add-ons are available for practically any feature you’re after. There’s also no shortage of rear-view cameras available if you’re willing to pay the high price for the product and installation.
The average rear-view camera will run you back about $500 and will require professional wiring. That hefty price tag and headache may have you second-guessing the purchase — and that’s completely understandable.
But that’s what makes FenSens’ Smart License Plate Frame so unique. Together, its smart app and built-in sensor deliver rear-view backup assistance for $134.99 (and an easy five minute DIY installation). We also tested the sensor out to gauge its accuracy and usefulness. But first, let’s discuss our initial impressions.
The FenSens Smart License Plate Frame arrives in an impressively sleek, well-packed box reminiscent of an Apple product. The packaging gives the product a high-quality feel from the get-go.
We removed the plastic and blue sleeve, which outlines the package contents and specifications, to reveal a sturdy black box. A card-stock insert lays at the top of the contents and features an animated annotation of the simple three-step process for getting started.
Note: You will definitely want to hold on to the full manual, as this three-step outline left us with a fair number of questions along the way.
The first step includes a handy scannable QR code for downloading the app on your Android (Android 5.0+ preferred) or iOS smartphone or tablet (iOS 7.1+ preferred). If you’re not sure how to use the scannable code, you can easily find and download the app in the Google Play or Apple iTunes App Store.
The manual suggests, and we agree, that downloading the app should be the very first step of your installation process (we will get to the full process later).
First and foremost, you’ll notice the license plate frame with the embedded sensors included in the box. Measuring in at about the same size as your average license plate frame (12 x 1.2 x 6 inches), FenSens is likely much sturdier and heavier than what’s currently on your car due to the two sensors on each side. However, its overall design is minimalist and definitely won’t distract from the aesthetic of your car.
The box also includes safety screws for installations, batteries, and tools: everything you’ll need to get the product up-and-running. The only additional tool we needed was a Phillips screwdriver to remove our existing license plate frame.
Once the app was fully installed, we decided to test it out with an additional person observing its accuracy from outside of the vehicle.
- The sensor makes a loud beeping sound that gets faster as you get closer to an object (in this case a parked car).
- It also features a series of lines to show the distance remaining.
When the FenSens got to within an inch of the parked car, a single line remained, and a loud beep blared. The sensor could not have been any more accurate. We performed the same test with a street pole behind the car and then a trash can and observed the same level of accuracy each time.
The app itself successfully launched with just a tap to the button (and then a tap to the iPhone screen) — and returned to the “Home” screen once we completed parking or departing from a parking spot.
The Home screen provides easy access to Apple Maps, Spotify, Pandora, and the YourMechanic App, so it’s a great screen to have open as you drive.
- At even its full retail price of $149.99, FenSens is an incredibly inexpensive alternative to a typically expensive car gadget. At its current, limited-time sale price of $134.99, FenSens is a worthwhile, useful purchase.
- If you have an older car (by even a few years), this is the best option you’ll find for adding a huge safety and convenience upgrade without buying a brand new car.
- The installation is as easy as downloading an app and replacing/screwing in a license plate frame, and the app itself is incredibly user-friendly.
- Most importantly, the sensor itself gets an A+ for accuracy. Although the company warns to always take precaution while driving and check for blind spots, FenSens sensor is perfect for people that parallel park, street park, and use general parking lots often.
FenSens’ website claims that the installation should only take five minutes, and although it took us about 16 minutes in total, it was still incredibly easy.
The first thing we did before setting up the hardware was download the app. It only took a few seconds to download (on an iPhone 7) and immediately asked to connect to Bluetooth.
To be a step ahead of the game, we’d suggest having your Bluetooth already enabled.
It will then ask to access your location but gives you the option only to share location when the app is activated. In a security-sensitive world, we definitely appreciate that option.
Tip: don’t try to manually connect to your FenSens sensor via your Bluetooth settings at this point. The app will help you connect later on in the process. We tried to connect immediately and were set back a few minutes.
Next, you’ll be asked to log in or create an account — after which you’ll be taken through a quick Welcome Guide.
The helpful guide walks you through a few basic steps: measuring your vehicle’s clearance (to compensate for your bumper or hitch) and pairing your device via Bluetooth. Most importantly, it will ask whether you’re installing your FenSens to the back or front of your vehicle.
Tip: We chose the rear as we were installing on a midsize SUV, and don’t parallel park very often. If you do parallel park often, you may even consider purchasing a second sensor for the front.
The next steps involve installing the hardware, so we relocated to the driveaway. It’s helpful to install the batteries (the package includes two AA batteries, but these are easy to replace down the line) into the frame before you install the frame itself. That only takes a few seconds, as the package includes a tool to remove the two screws and place the batteries inside quickly.
The next step is to mount the device onto the car with the included theft-proof screws. This is where we needed a simple screwdriver to remove the license plate frame and screws currently on the car. Once that was done, we chose four screws (the top two can be shorter than the bottom two) and used the included L shaped tool to screw them in easily. Our car already had theft-proof anchors installed, and we were fine screwing into the existing ones rather than removing them and using the ones included.
Once the license plate was screwed in, we entered the car to mount the phone and attach the Tap button to the steering wheel.
The package includes a phone mount that slides easily into your air vents, and a thin magnetic piece to attach to your phone. If you don’t already have a phone mount, this is a great extra perk! It’s a high-quality mount that doesn’t look big or bulky in your car and can be used even if you’re not using your parking sensor.
The “Tap” button slides seamlessly onto your steering wheel and allows for you to activate the sensor quickly. Although the Tap button directly launches the app on Android, it’s a two-step process with iOS. A tap of the button will start a popup on your phone, which you then tap to activate the app. Although the one-step process would be nice to have, it’s certainly not a dealbreaker.
The company claims “Installs in 5 minutes with no wiring or professional help needed.” Although the process took us a bit longer, we can attest to the fact that it definitely does not require any wiring or professional help, and was overall an easy process.