Review: This premium, German-designed car charger is smarter than most

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Zus smart car charger

Zus smart car charger. View gallery (10 images)

The Zus is a compact smart car charger from Palo Alto-based company Nonda that features LED highlights for ease of use at night, a smart chip and dual USB ports that allows it to simultaneously rapid-charge two mobile devices, along with iOS/Android apps that helps you locate your vehicle and even avoid parking tickets. Gizmag recently took one for a test drive.

Designed in Germany, and with a retail price of over US$35, the Zus is certainly priced at a premium compared to similar $10 devices you'll find at your local 7-Eleven. The question is whether it's really worth the extra cash.

Look and Feel

Looks-wise, it's a winner. The device itself feels high quality and is surprisingly compact, especially when fully inserted into a DC outlet in your vehicle. In hand it feels heavier than it looks and the titanium coating provides an appealing surface texture, with smooth seams where molded pieces come together.

The springs that hold the Zus in place when inserted into an outlet run nearly the length of the charger and provide solid connections. The LED highlights are another nice touch that set the Zus apart from much less expensive chargers. Subtle yet visible, they make finding the device and each port much easier in the dark.

Performance

German Bayer plastic makes up the exterior of the unit. This material is not quite "mil-spec" however it does pass the high temperature test the US uses for operation under high heat conditions (MIL-STD-810G). This test consists of repetitively cycling the operating device between ambient temperatures. The range of temperatures used in an operational cyclical test go from 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) to upwards of 49 degrees C (120 degrees F). The temperature needs to cycle from one end to the other a minimum of three times while testing that the device functions at every point in the test. From our standpoint there was no noticeable heat buildup during our tests, however bear in mind daytime temps were in the 40° F (4° C) range, so the interior of the vehicle was cool.

The Zus also has intelligent device detection. According to the company, a chip within the unit is capable of identifying most devices and providing the maximum rate of charge the device is capable of accepting. The FAQ does note some limitations to this feature. In particular if you are not using an OEM charging cable, maximum charging speeds may not be supported. It also isn't compatible with Qualcomm's Quick Charge technology, found in most recent Android flagships, which puts something of a damper on the company's charging speed claims.

Given all the attention Nonda pays to Zus' smart charging capability, does it really charge devices faster? In plugging in two completely dead iPhone 5's – one into a no-name single USB charger and the other into Zus, we found the Zus was able to restart the dead phone 2 minutes before the conventional charger brought the second phone to life. After 30 minutes on charge, the Zus had charged the phone to 23 percent while the no-name charger sat at 13 percent. Granted this was one test, on two different phones, but the results seemed pretty clear. Win: Zus.

We then took our informal testing a step further. We fully depleted an iPhone 6, connected it directly to a Mac with an OEM cable and let it sit for exactly 20 minutes. We repeated this process with the Zus and again with the no name charger. The results were interesting. After 20 minutes connected to the Mac the phone registered 20 percent. When connected to the Zus in a vehicle (with the engine running) Nonda's device eked out a small win, showing 24 percent charge after 20 minutes. The big loser was the no-name charger, as it was only capable of putting 7 percent life back into our test device. Incidentally, the no name charger was also incapable of charging an iPad Air at all – we got the "This cable or accessory is not certified and may not work reliably" message instead of a reliable charge. Again, the win goes to Zus, as it was able to successfully charge two iPads at once.

The app

The smart part of the equation sees Zus pairing with Android and iOS apps (both free) that can help you locate your car and remind you to set a parking timer at the time you exit your vehicle. The app is simple yet convenient. The Zus charger connects to your phone via Bluetooth and when you stop the vehicle at a new location, Zus notifies you that the location has been saved as well as asking if you'd like to set a parking time.


Since Bluetooth range is limited, the app simply saves the GPS coordinates/mapping data to memory, so there's no additional data charges or connectivity required. When you need to find your car, just open the Zus app and choose between directional navigation or following a map.

Of course you could just drop a pin in Google Maps (or similar apps) and your phone would navigate you back to your car's location, just the same. Being automatic, though, Zus' approach can come in handy for the times when you forget to do that.

Wrap-up

So would we recommend shelling out the extra dollars for this device? Well, if all you want is a regular charger in your car to juice up your phone in a pinch, then you might want to grab a cheaper one and save your money for something a bit sexier than a fancy car charger. On the other hand, if you like high-style and drive a nice car, if you frequently need more than one charging port, and especially if you have either a "parking ticket habit" or often find yourself aimlessly circling a huge and unfamiliar parking lot while hopefully waving your remote around like a divining-rod, then the Zus could be the charger for you.

The Zus charger includes a 12 month warranty and typically retails for $35.99.

Product page: Zus smart car charger

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