Yesterday I was doing more research into the options for planning journeys and finding electric charge points. Someone added ZapMap to the list of choices available in the poll that I put on Facebook in the 2018 Nissan Leaf Group. Someone else asked me to add an application called Nextcharge which I’ve had a brief look at and is fairly impressive. I don’t think any of these type of applications are perfect.
The app that I like the most at the moment is PlugShare because you can put in your start point, your endpoint and then add the charging waypoints along the way. It gives you a notification along the route of how many kilometres travelled since the last charging stop. You can set the vehicle in the settings and then adjust the vehicle range. There are two settings, one of which is a lower number at 190 km for the Nissan Leaf and the other one called Starting Vehicle Range which is set at 240 km. These numbers can be changed in 10km, increments. So you tell the application to find routes and depending on where you’re going you’ll get two or three possibilities. On the map then you will see your route and they’ll be three markers to give you an idea of when you should be looking for a charging solution. When you select sufficient charges to complete the route will see the route split into coloured sections on the map. It’s also possible to see the route as a list. If you go into the area called Me there are charging stations you’ve bookmarked and in the trip planner you have trips you created previously.
Next Charge application
When you first open this application it shows you the nearest stations to you. Obviously using the GPS to locate your position. On mine upon opening up while at home I can see I have a couple of charging stations only 11 km away with the Type II connection available as well as the Shuko connector. Then there’s a rapid charger with a CHAdeMO only 19 km away. If you tap on the button **Directions** you get to choose from the mapping applications you have on your device. I can go to Apple Maps, Google Maps or Waze. If you hit the orange button on the top right-hand corner you may choose **Itinerary**. You only get a limited number of itineraries to use although you can create more by adding to the application, crowd source style.
When creating your itinerary you have to manually put in the origin. It should really give an option to use current location as your starting point. You then choose your destination and the vehicle, if you haven’t already selected it previously. There is an options button in which you can set the speed and payload capacity by using sliders. Another slider will set the area to search for charging stations and a couple of checkboxes if you want to avoid highways and avoid tolls. It’s also possible to set the desired time of departure or arrival. There are a bunch of other settings for the speed of the chargers, network, access, type of connector. When you go to the next step you get the map with a route and the strange message saying “Click STOP To Start”.
Split your route into sections
Now it’s time to split the journey up into sections based up the use of energy from your battery. There are markers on the route in percentages at 10% increments. When you click on the button STOP the charge points available on the route show up. Choose one of the available charge points along the route. NextCharge assumes you can charge up to 80% battery level before you move on. So you do the same again looking for suitable charge points along the marked out route. There’s information about the charge station and you swipe up to see more. You’ll get to see the hours the charger is available and which type of connections and whether or not it’s public access. It’s a pretty good way of setting up your itinerary for vehicle charging. When you chosen your charging points for the whole of the journey it will tell you that the itinerary is completed.
The next screen shows you the details of the journey with a list of all of the charge points. There’s also a graph to show you the elevation above sea level of your drive along your journey. The next tab along is called Next. There are two choices. One is to embed the route in your website. There is supposed to be code for you to copy. I couldn’t see that in the application. If you want to share the itinerary have to first save it, even though there was no save button on that page. How weird is that? I tried a lot of different application views but I couldn’t find a save button anywhere.
So I left the itinerary planning to go back to the initial application view and then returned to itineraries. Amazingly, there was now a save button. I was then able to share it out as an email with a link which links to a webpage with an option at the top to open up the Nextcharge application. It didn’t work, the map just showed me a random spot in Spain. Clicking on details did show the list of charge points on the route. This hid the map from view, not a problem as the route was still not on screen. There is a little button to the right of the first charge point, I tapped on that to get a screen called Navigate. Hitting that button sent me to the mapping application. It would have been nice to have a choice of which application to use for the maps. Apple Maps is rubbish and I would have preferred to use Google maps or Waze. The flow of using the app is not at all smooth. The rough edges are still showing.
How good is Nextcharge?
Overall it is not that bad. I like the way on the map it shows the percentage left on the cars’ battery when it’s helping you choose the next charging station. It’s not very good at sharing out your itinerary. It only seems to save the latest itinerary you’ve made. It would be useful if you could see a list of previously created itineraries. It’s possible though to bookmark or save charging stations as favourites. The markings for the charging stations on the map show you whether it is available, occupied, unknown, closed for maintenance or just planned. The Nextcharge application is pretty good for finding out where the best charging stations are on your route. It’s also useful to show you where the nearest chargers are to your current location.
Overview of NextCharge
The application doesn’t always show all charge points available. There are a couple of charge points in Girona which I know are up and running, but were not on the map. At least with this being crowd sourced information these other charge points can be added. In fact, it is expected of you to comment, add photos and add information about charging stations whenever you can. Over time the application could get better and it needs to. Improvement is required in the way the route planning and itinerary organisation works in the application. When the charging point is not directly on the route the directions on the map don’t guide you out to the charge point. NextCharge is more for setting it up and then you need to get the route organised in a proper maps application. On a longer route with many stops that could get tedious or messy. The basic operation of the application is a work in progress and requires more work on it. Overall I like it and I can see myself using it despite some of the working areas of the app needing improvement. In some ways NextCharge is comparable with Plugshare. Both apps have pros and cons. I think I’d keep an eye on both and see if one comes out a clear winner either in terms of capabilities or just preference to use when needed.