Gas Buddy: Up-Close Mobile App Inspection

  • What is it? Gas Buddy allows users to report gas prices at fueling stations across the United States and Canada.
  • Price: Free
  • Platforms: iOS 3.0 or higher; Android 1.5 or higher; BlackBerry and Windows phones.
  • Info:

With the national average price of gas hovering around $4 a gallon, it helps to know where you can find the lowest price. Gas Buddy allows users to report prices at stations across the country. But how reliable is the info when you're ready to fill up?

What you need to know: I tested Gas Buddy using a Samsung Galaxy Note and checked four gas stations in Chicago and four stations in Madison, Wis. Managing Editor David Thomas used his iPhone 4 at two different locations in the Chicago suburbs over numerous days.

What works: Gas Buddy is simple to use. A tap of a button brings up a list of prices from dozens of stations in the area; you can also search by ZIP code. The map feature is another useful view, but because there are so many stations it works best zoomed in quite close to your location. Selecting a station brings up prices for multiple grades of gas, and icons tell you if there's a restaurant, restroom, convenience store and more.

Reporting or updating a gas price was easy, and it earns you 150 points; once you collect 1,000 points, you're entered into a weekly drawing for a $250 prepaid gas card. You can also just use the app as a visitor to find gas without contributing info.

I checked prices for regular gas at eight stations, and Gas Buddy's prices matched seven of them. At the station around the corner from Thomas' home, the app was right five out five times, even on mornings where gas prices dropped 10 cents overnight. So if you're concerned that a nefarious Gas Buddy gremlin is reporting bogus prices, I would put your fears aside.

What doesn't: You can call up directions to a gas station, but my Android phone wouldn't let me fetch them with the Google Navigation app, which uses turn-by-turn voice directions.

Gas Buddy emulates Foursquare by handing out awards based on how much you use the app, but I never got hooked on it. In fact, spotting an inaccurate or unreported gas price seems to be a rare occurrence. I suppose that's a good problem to have, but if you want to win that gas card, you'd need a strong level of app commitment. Maybe if Gas Buddy gave away iPads instead of gas cards, I'd check every pump in my neighborhood at the break of dawn.

Bottom line: Gas Buddy works, and it works amazingly well for a crowd-sourced app. Although the reward system can be hard to appreciate, at the end of the day, the only thing you want to know is where the cheap gas is, and Gas Buddy delivers.

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