Sunday, March 13, 2016

FORScan for Android review - your car under control


Do you know that feeling, when you drive your beloved, recently cleaned and waxed car and suddenly, out of nowhere, the orange (or sometimes red) Engine Check light appears on the dashboard? Is it a feeling of a fear, mixed with a thrill and anxiety? Few seconds later, after the shock is gone, you ask yourself - where's the nearest car service, where someone could connect to your car via special interface and diagnose the problem and/or delete the error code? Then you realize... it's Sunday. You're alone on that desert, and nobody is going to help you for the next 24 hours.

But thankfully, such stories are past now. Today, for about $10 you can turn your Android phone into semi-professional car diagnosis center.


What do you need?

1. ELM327 or compatible OBDII adapter with Bluetooth or WiFi interface;
2. Android software scanner for your car.

Being a Ford Focus ST owner I decided to review the only Android application designed especially for Ford vehicles - FORScan.

Where to start? USB vs Bluetooth

First of all, you'll need a proper interface. If you want to connect your car with a notebook you can get a USB interface. Few months ago I bought the ELM327 v2 USB Euroscan 2015 interface based on the STN1110 chip. It works well, I never had any problems with it. But you can't use your Android phone with it.

To be able to connect your Android device with your car, you need either a Bluetooth or a Wi-Fi interface. For Android devices, Bluetooth interface is strongly recommended. There are many different BT interfaces on the market and the prices can be very high of such devices. I bought the most popular and the cheapest one - ELM327 Mini for about $5.

Important! The ELM327 Mini BT interface is available in two firmware variants - 1.5 and 2.1. The 2.1 is unstable and doesn't work with most vehicles. Also, there is no such firmware version as 2.2 which you might see some sellers will try to push you.

Android application

My initial choice was FORScan Lite for Android. There are many ODB2 scanners available in the Google Play, but FORScan Lite is designed especially for Ford, Mazda, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles. So it supports specific features of the manufacturer protocols, making the FORScan more powerful in work with these models than any other regular OBD2 scanner. Some most technical information can be found directly on the FORScan site:

Main features:
  • Analysing an on-board network configuration of the connected vehicle
  • Read and reset diagnostic trouble codes (DTC) for all modules
  • Read sensors and other data (PIDs) from all modules
Supported vehicles:
  • Ford
  • Mazda
  • Lincoln
  • Mercury
Supported adapters:
  • ELM327
  • J2534 Pass-Thru
  • CANtieCAR (in "FORScan" mode)
  • OBDLink SX/MX (STN11xx)
  • ELS27 (STN1170)
Supported protocols and bus:
  • FORD HS CAN
  • FORD MS CAN (only for J2534-2, CANtieCAR, OBDLink MX, ELS27 or modified ELM327)
  • FORD SCP
  • FORD 9141
Supported modules:
  • Almost all of modules available through supported protocols. Full list is here.
Supported mobile platforms:
  • iOS v6.0 and higher (WiFi adapters)
  • Android v4.0 and higher (Bluetooth and WiFi adapters)
The application itself is very easy to use. 

You can find the FORScan app in the Google Play Store. I recommend trying the demo version first.

Main screen and navigation




In the top left corner you can see a status indicator. Current progress and application status is indicated using color of the car icon at the upper left corner:

 - Application disconnected
 - Connection started, FORScan Lites tries to connect to the adapter
 - application has connected to the adapter and tries to connect to the vehicle now
 - FORScan Lite has successfully connected and ready to work
 - Connection failed

There is also "i" button, where you can see current app version details:


Main menu has a following positions:

  • Vehicle
  • Log
  • Errors
  • Table
  • Dashboard
  • Graph
  • Settings

Vehicle

Vehicle screen keeps Adapter, vehicle and modules information. The action bar has 2 buttons: Save and Service. The Save button calls Save menu that allows to save OR share the content of the section:

Save button - save content to txt file in the FORScan document folder (Downloads/FORScan). The document folder is public so other applications can process these files. It also can moved to PC using standard synchronization procedure.

Send button - this function can be used to send the content as a text file attachment via Android email client or other application that supports sending files. If WiFi adapter is used, Internet is usually not available. However, the message can be stored as a draft and sent later, when Internet connection is restored.

The Service button is used to call a service menu. Service menu is used for special functions:

  • Clear cache button - clears all vehicle caches. When FORScan Lite is connected to the vehicle first time, it does full scan of vehicle configuration and saves it to the cache. It may take quite significant time, but subsequent connections are established much faster. If the cache is cleared, FORScan Lite has to perform the full scan again. Besides, the cache may contain some info entered by user. This is why the button is marked in orange. In the meantime, PIDs profiles are not a part of cache, so they are not removed when this function is called.


  • Save debug info - this button is used to save internal FORScan debug info to the documents folder. This function should be used only if requested by FORScan Support Team. This option is designed to be used only if there is no mail client and/or Internet connection on the device. Otherwise, it is recommended to use Send debug info option (described below). Important note: by default the debug info is not collected. In order to collect it, the Debug setting in the Settings section must be set.


  • Send debug info - same function as above, but does send the debug info using Android email client or other application that supports sending files. It is preferred way to share debug information.


  • Remove debug info - this button clears all collected internal FORScan debug info.
Log

The log screen keeps log information. The action bar has 2 standard buttons: Save (save or send) and Clear log information.




Errors

This screen contains list of DTCs grouped by modules. Every group row displays Module name and 4 buttons at the right: Read DTC, Reset DTC, Save (save or send) and Clear Data.






Read DTC - re-reads DTCs in ALL modules
Reset DTC - performs DTC reset in ALL modules
Save - calls standard FORScan Save menu
Clear - clears the list (but doesn't remove DTCs in modules memory)

Read DTC and Reset DTC are surely the most practical functions in the entire application. Without visiting service shop you can find out what's the source of the engine light lighting on the dashboard.

Also remember that each error code has it's own description. In order to get more details about the error, you have to tap over the row.

Dashboard, Table and Graph

Actually these are all the same functions with just different way of how things are presented on the screen. The first one - dashboard - is my favourite one. With the "+" and "-" buttons on the top right, you can adjust size of the content. There are 4 different sizes available:





The same goes for the "Table" mode:




...and "Graph" mode:




Of course, the content of the dashboard (IMRC, VSS, Engine Load etc) can be selected from the long list of available modules. When you press the Settings button, the screen PID profile settings is opened:




Every module has its own set of PIDs. So when the module is changed, FORScan Lite loads a list of selected profile owned by the module.





Above screens contain information about PID. You can also change unit type on this screen. Also, the PID profile screen allows to manage list of PIDs - add, remove, edit and sort PIDs. To remove a PID, you should click at the remove button at the left of the row. To edit a PID, you should tap on the row - and the PID Detail screen (described earlier) will be displayed. The list can be sorted using a special control in the right side of every row. You should tap over the control (or make long tap over the row), then move the selected row to another position. PIDs can be added using Add button from the action bar (described in more details below).

The action bar has the following buttons:

Add - adds new PIDs from the list of all available PIDs (described below)
Clear All - removes all selected PIDs from the list
Save - this button allows to save the currently selected PIDs as a PIDs profile.
Load - the button allows to load previously saved profiles.

It should be counted that profiles from different modules are not compatible. So it is not possible, for example, load profile for PCM module if GEM module is selected.

Settings

That's the last position in the menu. You can switch to "demo mode" there, check connection settings, Bluetooth, debugging info and more. It has one very practical feature - "Enable/Disable Bluetooth" which helps to save some device battery.

Conclusion

After weeks of using this app I can highly recommend it. It's the best application of this kind on the Android market, and the only one that will work correctly with Ford vehicles. There are - of course - alternatives, but none of them are really dedicated for Ford or Mazda. For a very low price you can actually turn your Android phone into a powerful diagnosis system, capable of many cool features, which weren't available before for regular drivers.

However, the interface of the app isn't very modern. It's far away from the Material Design and apparently it's not going to change any time soon. But the beauty is not the key here, of course.


Score: 9/10 (-1 for the "like early Android versions" interface)

Get the ForScan Lite in Google Play

Do you have any questions or comments? Feel free to share! Also, if you like this article, please use media sharing buttons (Twitter, G+, Facebook) below this post!


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