Zipcar Beta review

Three weeks ago, the “wheels when you want them” company, Zipcar, launched a beta version of their application in the Android Market. At the time, I had trouble accessing the functions of the app because the credit card associated with my account needed updating.

Now that I’ve resolved my account problem, I am able to use the app to make and extend reservations, lock/unlock the car and honk the horn with the touch of a button, and view existing reservations. I used the app exclusively to make and manage a reservation yesterday, and was, for the most part, very happy with my experience.

Before I get into the app itself, a quick run down of the Zipcar service is in order. Zipcar parks autos all over medium and major cities across the country. Members of their service pay a low annual fee and are given a card in return. The card is held over a sensor mounted on the windshield of a Zipcar, thereby unlocking the vehicle. Each auto has keys, a gas card and sometimes parking validation inside. In order to reserve a car, one simply goes on the website or uses the mobile app to call dibs days in advance or 30 seconds before a lift is needed. If the desired slot conflicts with an existing reservation, users can view the overlap and adjust their reservation accordingly. Quick. Easy. It’s car rental without the lines and signatures. A one-time setup establishes preferences, and each individual reservation thereafter is a piece of cake. Cars are rented at an hourly rate, with gas and insurance included.

Apart from the occasional force close (which can be expected during beta testing), I’ve found the Zipcar Android app to be friendly and functional. I extended a reservation no less than 4 times yesterday, and the app always came through. The only complaint I have is with higher zoom level visibility of individual cars on the map that is used for making reservations (see images below).

Zoomed out, looking at a large region of a city, the app provides an icon representing a section of the area. Northeast Portland, for example. Tapping it simply zooms in to the car-level view, where icons can be tapped for information on the rental. Unfortunately, the zoom level where cars become visible is too close for me, and I find myself randomly swiping around streets, hoping a car will pop up. This is especially troublesome when you aren’t just looking for the nearest vehicle, but a specific type. For instance, a pickup truck. A broader view of available vehicles would be nice.

While I think it’s worth mentioning, this is a relatively minor complaint: the Zipcar app offers all of the core functionality needed to utilize the service, though I think the map could be just a bit more user friendly. Overall, the free application is a great addition to the Android Market. If you frequently find yourself in need of a ride and aren’t a big fan of the old fashioned method of rentals, give Zipcar a shot.

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