I’ll never forget this. It was December 17, 2017 and I was walking out of the shower room at the Flying J in Fargo, ND. That’s when I saw the trucker sitting alone in the driver’s lounge. He was opening a box. What was that look on his face? Horror? Disgust? Fear?
My guess is it was probably a little of each. You see, he was opening a new Electronic Logging Device, or ELD. Nothing like waiting until the last second. As we all know, the ELD mandate started the next day. I’m sure many of you went through the same emotional trauma.[box]Listen to the audio version above and subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or Google Play. Or search for Trucker Dump in your favorite podcast app.
Download the intro/outro songs for free! courtesy of Walking On Einstein.
Those of you new to ELDs have had them in your trucks for over 8 months now. By now you’ve had plenty of time to figure out what you like and dislike about your current setup. Is it hard to use? Is the software confusing? Does the hardware feel cheap and flimsy?
Well perhaps you should have a look at the Trace by FleetUp. FleetUp sent me a unit for testing and I’ve been using it for about three months. Well, sort of. You see, I learned a valuable lesson. I’m NEVER going to test another ELD unit! But before you go thinking that’s a slight against the Trace, let me explain.
No one likes disclaimers, but I feel I need to for this review. You see, in order to truly put an ELD through its paces, you need to have both the software and the hardware plug-in device. Without the plug-in device, the software can’t tell when the truck is moving. And since that’s the very purpose of ELDs, well, you see the problem.
So as you’ve probably already guessed, I did not have the plug-in device. FleetUp wanted to send one to me, but unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to install it because I’m a company driver. My safety department said that I couldn’t install it for two reasons:
- Another elog device would mean I was running two log books. Last time I checked, that was still illegal.
- My company doesn’t even allow me to put stickers on the windows, let alone install an electronic device that hooks into the truck’s computer!
To remedy this problem, Kimberli (one of my contacts at FleetUp) installed it on her personal vehicle. This obviously wasn’t ideal, but we did what we had to do and worked around the issues as best as possible. So now that you have a frame of reference, let’s move on.
The Trace Tablet
The Trace device itself is impressive. It is a 7” tablet with a bright orange case, surrounded by a thick, black bumper. I couldn’t believe how heavy the unit was when I first picked it up! It feels like a tank could run over it and the Trace would taunt it with a “neener neener” as it rolled away with its turret between its legs. Second disclaimer: If you’re lucky enough to own a tank, please don’t actually try this. But please DO invite me for a ride-along! Please God, let there be live ammo.
Not only is the Trace case (hey, I’m a poet!) incredibly thick, but part of the weight comes from the metal strip on the back that sticks to the magnets on the mount. The design works perfectly, despite its heft. The first time I used it, I didn’t get the mounting bracket’s suction cup attached to the windshield sufficiently and it popped off in transit. The whole thing, tablet and mount, went crashing to the floor. When I picked it up, they were still connected! The magnet on the RAM mount is so powerful that I’m pretty sure I saw a 747 lose some altitude when it flew overhead. What? It could happen!
The screen on the Trace is super bright. Only in the harshest of direct sunlight did I have any problems seeing what was onscreen. That’s par for the course with mobile devices. It is both dust and water resistant and can be submerged in up to three feet of water for 30 minutes, not that I can see any scenario where you’d want to do that. As heavy as the Trace is, it would drop you like an anchor if you tried to snorkel with it.
There is a 13 Megapixel camera with Flash LED on the back, a power button, volume buttons, a headphone jack, a return button, a SIM card slot, a Micro SD card slot, a USB-C port for charging and data transfer, and a cool SOS button that will automatically dial a preprogrammed phone number. And there’s one more button that for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what it does. All these ports and buttons have covers over them to promote the dust and water resistance claims. Battery life will last a couple of days if you don’t have the screen on the whole time. But honestly, if you’re using it on the mount you may as well leave it plugged in.
The Trace comes with a hand strap, a really nice carry case, a 64GB Micro SD card and SD card adapter, an AT&T SIM card, and a USB-C cable for charging and computer transfer with both AC and DC plugs. You can include one of two different length of RAM mounts with magnets when you order.
If you’ve never heard of RAM mounts, they are some of the sturdiest you can buy. They also have interchangeable heads to suit your ever-changing mobile device needs. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that the suction cup requires an extremely smooth surface like glass. I wanted to install it on the face of my dashboard, but even though none of the surfaces on my dash are very course, the RAM mount was having none of it. Once you get good suction on the windshield though, The Hulk would have a hard time ripping it off.
The FleetUp Software
I’ve always been a huge fan of the color orange, so I was tickled orange (you see what I did there?) when I powered up the Trace to discover a bright orange screen appear. A quick swipe up (on screen directions) reveals four app icons: FleetUp HOS, FleetUp Camera, CamScanner, and TeamViewer QuickSupport. We’ll get back to these apps in a second.
Another nice touch is that it includes the Tech Support email address and phone number right on the main screen. No more plummeting the depths of a website to find out how to get help! Woo-hoo!
The software seems plenty snappy too. When it comes to software, there are few things more frustrating than slow, laggy software. I should know. The PeopleNet elogs my company uses are on a Samsung Galaxy tablet and it sometimes takes a 3-4 seconds for anything to happen after you touch the screen. That causes a lot of miss clicks and that’s just gross. Not so with the Trace. You touch and it responds immediately.
One thing I really like is that the Trace is literally just a tablet running Android. While the FleetUp apps are front and center, just behind the scenes you can install whatever apps you want on the device. For instance, FleetUp is working on a navigation solution, but for now you can download Google Maps or any of the truck-specific GPS apps you favor and it will run it just fine.
You can even install games and social media apps. It’s basically a multi-use device that you can use for both business and pleasure. Just don’t nod off while reading in bed with the Trace held above your head. As heavy as it is, you might wind up with a concussion.
FleetUp HOS App
FleetUp HOS is the elog app. It is FMCSA compliant and can even do IFTA fuel tax automation and reporting. Nice!
It also claims to be the only elog system with a voice assistant. I have to say that while the voice is way more robotic than Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, it’s still extremely helpful when you’re first getting started with the app.
Not only will the voice assistant walk you through the setup process, but it will also warn you when you’re running out of hours. One thing I was especially grateful for was how it kept reminding me to fill out my Daily Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR) each day. In my defense, it was easy to forget when the DVIR was due based on how Kimberli was driving, not me.
And remember, the voice assistant will only speak up if you’re about to screw up. It’s also good to know that you can disable the voice once you feel comfortable that you know what you’re doing. By and large, I give the voice assistant a big thumbs up.
There are two main sections in the FleetUp HOS app: Status and Logs.
There is a green line that takes the place of your ink pen, indicating what you’ve been up to and there is also a vertical red line that indicates where you need to stop driving. First, you’ll see the red line where you need to take your 30-minute break after 8 hours of working. After that, it will readjust to your 11 or 14, depending how crappy your day has been. I never got to the 70-hour warning, but I’m sure the red line would warn you when it’s drawing near too.
I did see some goofs in both the red line and the green duty line every now and then. At one point I had a diagonal green line going backwards from the Sleeper Berth line to the Driving line (see photo). Maybe I’m a time traveler and just never knew it?
I also had some instances where the red line wasn’t placed correctly. Honestly, I chock both of these malfunctions up to trying to share a vehicle with Kimberli. I’ll explain here in a second.
The Status screen is what you see when you’re driving. You’ll see four different colored circles that count down the time available on your 8, 11, 14 and 70-hour clocks. Again, I had some goofs with these too, but I wouldn’t worry about it too much. You’ll also see where you can log a Yard Move or Personal Conveyance.
Here’s what was happening. As with most electronic logs, you tap a button to indicate whether you want to go to the Off-Duty, Sleeper, or On-Duty status, but the Driving line can only be controlled by the hardware plug-in that was installed on Kimberli’s car. So you can imagine how many violations I was getting without knowing her every move.
Since I couldn’t place myself on the Driving line, I would often put myself on the On-Duty line while I was driving. Since there was no way Kimberli was going to drive anywhere close to 11 hours per day, it was really my only option if I wanted to test the warnings and the logging system. Many times, I’d wake up to a violation because she drove to work without allowing 8-10 hours after I showed going into the Sleeper. Again, nothing she could have foreseen.
Same with the red line. I might’ve went On-Duty at 10 AM and expected to see the 8-hour red line at 6 PM, but I’d see it at a different time because Kimberli started her day before I did. So as I said, unique circumstances here, so nothing I’d worry about. But now you can see why I’ll never do another ELD review, right?
FleetUp Camera App
FleetUp Camera is basically a dash cam app. Like any dash cam, it will constantly record and erase video as it needs. In the event of a crash, it will save the last bit of video. You can also tap the screen to save a chunk of video. This is great for those times when another driver does something stupid in camera view, but you’re lucky enough to not be involved. Here we come, YouTube! You can also save photos on the fly. Just touch a button and keep on truckin’.
The dash cam has different settings depending on what time of day, weather conditions, etc. To be honest, the only time I could tell a major difference was switching from day to night mode.
The Trace shines in it’s ability to multitask. You can run the dash cam in the background while the elogs are still doing their thing, or you can put the dash cam on screen the whole time. And if you want to save battery life, you can kill the screen and both apps will continue to work in the background.
The only problem I had with the FleetUp Camera app was finding a good position for the tablet on my dash. I really hate to have anything on my dash that blocks my view of the road. That was a problem with the shorter RAM mount they sent me.
As I mentioned earlier, the suction cup wouldn’t stick to the vertical face of my dashboard so I had to mount it on the windshield on my far left (where the glass was closest to the edge of the dash). Due to the location of the camera on the back of the device, the only way I could get the camera to “peek” over the dash without obstructing my view was to put it in portrait mode (vertical) with most of the device below my dash. It was actually nice to have the device out of my way, but it was awkward to use the elogs with my left hand.
Again, none of this would be an issue if you don’t mind mounting it on top of your dash. Or perhaps the longer RAM mount might do the trick. All in all, it’s not a deal breaker.
Listeners of the Trucker Dump Podcast might be thinking, “Hey, Todd doesn’t like dash cams, so why is he promoting one.” Well, you’re correct that I not a fan (that’s a whole other topic), but if you are, the Trace makes a good one.
Cam Scanner App
This app is great for scanning your documents, such as bills of lading and receipts, electronically. Perfect for the slob who uses his dash as a filing cabinet! Get rid of all that paper!
You can take a photo with the camera and it will automatically recognize the borders of the document and resize everything. If it’s off a bit, you can easily adjust the edges. It will then process it to make the text clearer and show you the results. If you don’t like those results, you can alter the contrast with some additional settings.
Now that it’s too your liking, you can easily share the document (or multiple documents) via email, messaging apps like Whats App, or social media apps like Facebook and Twitter. You can even annotate the document if you have an app called InNote installed. With this, you can draw lines, circles, arrows, and make handwritten notes to bring attention to something on the page. Nifty, huh?
Another cool feature is the Recognize button. Tap that and it will automatically OCR the document. Yes, that’s a fancy term. It stands for Optical Character Recognition. In simple terms, it recognizes words in a photo and saves them. This makes it easy to search for a document later.
Maybe you can’t remember where you saved a scanned document, but if you know you’re looking for the inspection form you got from the Oklahoma State Trooper, all you have to do is search for one of the words you know will be on the document, such as Oklahoma. Viola! Found it!
There is also a Note button, which enables you to type a message that will be attached to the document. For instance, if a paper receipt you scanned only says “Miscellaneous $15,” you can type a note saying the fee is for parking. Before we move on, let’s all have a moment of silence to curse the truck stop owners who charge for parking.
TeamViewer Quick Support App
TeamViewer is a nice app to have if you’re having issues with your Trace. When you start a TeamViewer session, someone from tech support can remotely access your device. They can either control the device themselves or they can watch what you’re doing.
Either way, you can feel comfortable about it because you can still see everything that is happening onscreen. Let’s hope you never have any problems with the Trace or the FleetUp apps, but this is technology after all. If you do, at least you know TeamViewer Quick Support is just a tap away.
So what is the cost?
You can use it as a log book. It’s also a dash cam. It also makes for a great large screen GPS navigation device. You can read ebooks or listen to audiobooks and podcasts. You can even play games on it! Basically, you can download any Android app as long as you’ve got the space on the micro SD card (although there are monthly data allowances to watch – stay tuned for pricing).
And let’s not forget that the Trace is a highly ruggedized device. In the event of a nuclear holocaust, I’m guessing that the Trace would probably still be humming right along while you’re being vaporized.
So can you buy a 7” Android tablet, a GPS navigation device, and a dash cam for $683? Possibly, but why not have one device instead of three?
The RAM mounts are $70 for the longer model and $60 for the short one.
There is a monthly fee of $25 for using the FleetUp software on the Trace. This includes 500 megabytes of data usage (the website says 1 GB now so this may have changed). There are additional plans with more bandwidth if you’re a data hog.
No hardware needed?
One thing I should point out is that you can use the FleetUp apps without spending $683 for the Trace. If you already have an iPhone, iPad, or Android device, you can download the FleetUp apps for free and only pay the $25 per month, per device.
For instance, if you had three drivers with three devices, the cost would be $75 per month ($25 x 3). But if you were running three team trucks, you’d have 6 drivers instead of three. Each additional person is $10 per month, so in that case, your monthly bill would be $75 (three drivers with devices) plus $30 ($10 for each surplus driver), for a total of $105 per month. Not bad for covering 6 drivers!
We all heard about the ONE20 ELD going away. My guess is this is just the first of many companies that won’t make the cut. I’m no fortune teller, but I don’t think FleetUp will be one of those companies. I could be wrong, but they just seem to have their crap together. Have a look at the FleetUp website and you’ll see that they have their hand in more baskets than just the Trace.
The FleetUp Trace ELD is a solid piece of hardware with the ability to take the place of multiple trucking-related devices and it’s easy to use, thanks in part to the voice assistant. The monthly cost is in range with other ELDs and FleetUp is actively developing and supporting their products and services. And remember, the software is free to download if you already have a mobile device to put it on.
So in the end, the only thing you really have to worry about is dropping the Trace on your foot while wearing flip-flops!