6 Month Update: Has the Polestar 2 App Improved?

Around 6 months ago I posted about the shortcomings of the Polestar 2 App and what I felt needed to be improved about it. I thought it would be interesting to take another look 6 months later and see what if anything has changed.

Improvements

I use the app fairly regularly, and I’ve noticed a few improvements! Firstly the reliability of the data updating is way better. Now when I open the app, I can be confident the data will either already be up to date, or update quickly after I open it. That’s a huge improvement compared to where it was six months ago. This was easily my number 1 gripe, and to see them fix it is very reassuring. I do wish what was shown on screen had a “last updated 3m ago” or similar label so I knew it was recent, but it’s still a big win.

Polestar has also removed a lot of the flashing to update behaviour I mentioned in my previous post. Now you get a nice little loading indicator down the bottom to show the app is loading. Some elements still flash or dim while updating, but it’s not nearly as jarring as it was.

There are still a few small bugs/quirks with the app which could be improved though. It’s now very fond of telling you when things have gone wrong with little messages down the bottom, and sometimes a full screen error try again state. As far as I can tell, half of the time these appear to be errors that happened a while ago. The app should really clear these out on it’s own when it becomes active, rather than displaying them to the user as it’s retrying/loading the data anyway. If the app is currently refreshing, I don’t need to see this, but I often do:

A small thing, I know, but these small touches really count when you want your app to be perceived as good and reliable. Seeing constant errors doesn’t inspire confidence, and often the data is up to date and the error is old anyway.

Regressions

In a fun “how on earth did this pass QA” twist, this button now does, as far as I can tell, nothing:

Well…not quite nothing. It sends changes to the server and to the car, but it no longer has any effect on the amperage being drawn from an AC wall charger. I think this might be a version P2.4 regression because trying to change the charging speed in the car also does nothing. Oh you’d like to charge at 15A? That’s nice, Imma keep going at 30. It’s not very confidence inspiring to see a feature that once worked, just break like that…and I have no idea if/when a fix is coming. I suspect this is a bug in the car itself, not the app, but still, very disappointing.

App Charging Improvements

My biggest 2 feature requests for the app continue to be allowing a user to start/stop a charging session from the app, and also to change the charge limit. Neither of those were in the app 6 months ago, and they still aren’t. 😔

Final Thoughts

Some nice reliability improvements, a regression, and really not much else 6 months later. Not great. Not terrible. At least it’s improving I guess? It’s going to be really interesting to see just how good Polestar is at running a software ecosystem when the new Polestar 3 launches. By all accounts it has updated hardware in it, that runs the new version of Android Automotive. Will Polestar 2 owners get all those updates in future software updates? If this were a Tesla I’d be reasonably confident in saying yes, where the hardware allows it. With Polestar, I don’t feel as confident but I guess we’ll see!

Amber SmartShift – Early Thoughts

For the three of you that read this blog, you’ll know I’ve had an interest in renewable energy for a while now. From setting up solar on my roof, to adding battery storage to switching to an electric car. Each step in that journey I’ve learnt so much and I hope I’ve managed to share some of it here with you all. After adding battery storage to my solar setup, one thing always annoyed me, I had no way to export stored power from my batteries, to the grid. Well all that changed recently, enter a product called “SmartShift” from Australian energy retailer Amber.

The Promise

The promise of SmartShift is simple. You have solar that generates power, you have batteries to store that energy in and they are an energy retailer that lets you buy and sell power at the wholesale market rate. Not just that, but they have an algorithm that can look at the expected power prices for the day, and buy and sell power at all the right times to make you money. Push one button, and away you go:

First Run Experience

After turning SmartShift on, you get access to the “Devices” tab in the Amber app. This lets you see a summary of the stats for today, as well as a page that outlines the “plan” that SmartShift has generated for the day. This shows you an outline of what SmartShift thinks the upcoming power prices will be and what it plans to do and when. It’s slightly confusing because there’s no time shown on the graph, but it seems like it’s for the next 12 hours or so. One the same page are some buttons for manually controlling your battery. All in all it makes a good first impression. The plans it made for the second and third day I had it on looked pretty much exactly like what I would have made myself.

Contact With The Enemy

Unfortunately, like most software developers know, no plan survives contact with the enemy. And in the case of SmartShift it soon became clear that the system could only ever be as good as the forecasts it was working on. The 3 important forecast being:

  • How much solar are you likely to generate today?
  • How much power are you likely to need, and when?
  • What will the price of power be (for exporting and importing) for the next 12 hours?

On all 3 of these, SmartShift falls short. For the first month (or so I’m told by one of the engineers who worked on it) it uses a very crude solar and usage model that seems to be (as far as I can tell) “what happened yesterday”. I watched this backfire rather spectacularly on a day that was forecast for storms all day, and 10-15mm of rain. Anyone reading that forecast would know solar generation would be down for the day. Sadly SmartShift had no idea, so it happily made a plan to buy some power overnight, sell it in the morning, to make way for the incoming solar power. Not only did it end up selling this power at a loss, but when I needed it later in the day I ended up having to buy it back from the grid at even higher prices. Perhaps after the first month when the app is meant to switch to a Machine Learning model that also takes into account forecast data some of this might be solved, but it resulted in the app making a string of really bad decisions I had to keep overriding.

Then there’s the forecast data for pricing. I’m sure that’s a complicated thing to predict but this part is constantly wrong. The best algorithm in the world isn’t going to be very effective with bad forecasting data, and that’s precisely what SmartShift seems to be working with.

I spent a rather frustrating Saturday manually telling it to buy and then hold onto power that I ended up turning it off. Don’t get me wrong, I see the promise, but until the forecasts are better, the algorithm will make constant mistakes. Buying high, selling low, selling when it should be holding, and so on. That it summarises it for you is nice, but watching it buy power at 29c, only to sell it at 18c isn’t fun.

TL;DR

SmartShift from Amber has a lot of promise but it doesn’t, in my opinion and experience yet live up to the way it’s being marketed. I suspect if you turned it on and just never opened the app it would be ok, but if like me you want to check in on it everyday, you’re going to end up constantly disappointed by the decisions it’s making. There is something here though, with better forecast data and more historic data from their user base it will hopefully improve over time. I intend to stick with it to see if it improves, but that’s because I’m really excited about the prospect of it working. If you’re switching to make money, you might end up disappointed.

Finishing Thoughts

My impressions are only a week old, and I can only speak for how this works in South Australia. Each state of Australia has different power pricing and tariffs that might make the calculus there different. For example from what I can see others are posting online it’s far more reliable in Queensland. As a software developer I think I have slightly more insight into this than most, but I might have also made some bad assumptions and judged the system too early. Currently as it stands, I wouldn’t recommend it to other people in South Australia just yet. YMMV in other states.

If the usage and solar forecast model was better and it knew about the weather forecast, that would improve things a lot. If the future price forecast was more accurate, that would also make a huge difference. Those don’t seem like impossible challenges, so they may well end up being things that get improved over time. I know Amber are actively working on both at the moment.

And in case anyone at Amber is reading this, some suggestions on the app itself and things I’d like to see:

  • I’d love to be able to tweak the algorithms plan for the day and maybe even add my own input to it. If it could list in tabular form what it plans to do and let me tweak some of it (don’t buy here, sell here if the price is above $x, etc that would be very interesting. I get this is an advanced use case, and it should be hidden appropriately, but still.
  • There doesn’t appear to be a button to pause SmartShift for a bit, you have to turn the entire thing off. It would great if you could just tell it to chill for an amount of time and have it turn back on automatically after that. Edit: I’m a wally, that’s what the “Consume Battery Energy” button in the manual control section does.
  • When I choose a manual action (like charging my battery) and a timeframe, it would be nice to be able to extend that time if possible. Currently if you choose an hour, it ticks down to the hour and your only option to add time is to cancel that action, and add a new one.
  • There is something off about the usability of the “Live” tab. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the way what’s happening is shown is confusing (a simple animation might make a huge difference there?) and the way you tap on the little coloured boxes and they expand to fill the screen is a bit jarring (again an animation here might help).

The Polestar 2 App Needs Improving

One of the most surprising things to me about owning a modern car with its own cell radio built in, is how this opens up opportunities for useful and interesting things car makers can do in their apps. Where on earth did I park my car? My kid needs to get their jacket from the boot. How fast is my car charging and when will it be done? It’s sooo hot, I should turn on the air con before we head out. It’s sooo cold, I should pre-heat the car before we leave. Did I lock the car?! This is one place the Tesla app really shines. It gives you quick access to controls like lock/unlock, opening the boot, charging info, climate and so much more. The Polestar app on the other hand…well…it needs work. I’m writing this post in the hope that someone at Polestar reads it, and improves it. Or, alternatively make the API open and developers like myself will happily make a better app if the constraints you’re working under don’t allow it.

Refreshing

The Polestar 2 app is very striking in its design language, which I don’t mind. When you open it, you’re presented with something like this:

At first glance you might think that’s amazing! Battery percentage, climate, doors, yay! The issue is you have no idea how old this data is. The app doesn’t tell you. I frequently open it and see 67%, only to have that replaced with 47% at what feels like some arbitrary point in the future. Sometimes it pops up messages to let you know it failed to refresh, other times it starts flashing (changing the alpha value of the displayed content from 100% to about 30% in a rhythmic way) either the whole app, or bits of it. Not knowing how up to date this information is, if it’s loading or not and sometimes just watching the entire app flashing for minutes on end isn’t a great experience. Here’s some quick ways to fix that:

  • Remove the flashing as an indicator the app is refreshing. It’s cute, but as a user it took me ages to figure out that’s what it even means. We have decades of learned experiences about what something that’s updating looks like, no need to re-invent that. Add a simple bit of text “Last updated 4 hours ago” and put a little refresh indicator next to it. That way a person instantly knows how old the data is, and that you’re trying to update it.
  • Fix whatever the issue is that causes the app not to load half the time. It seems like it sometimes tries to refresh in the background, and when that fails you open to an app that’s out of date, full of error messages and you have to kill the app to get it to load.
  • Related to the above, make the app and the back end service it connects to faster and more reliable. I should be able to depend on it working, not vaguely hope it does every time I open it. It’s ok if it takes time to wake the car up and other things like that, I don’t want the laws of physics broken, just make it reliable.

Layout

Next up, let’s talk about some of the layout issues the app has:

The four tabs across the bottom are : car info, news, shop and account. To my thinking at least two of these aren’t needed. I already own the Polestar…am I really going to use the app to buy another one?! I’d remove this tab bar entirely and just have the app open to car info. Have the account info and news as buttons in the app somewhere, they don’t need dedicated tabs. Remove the shop entirely, or let people shop for accessories for their car instead of new cars as the default.

Next up when I tap on the already giant “Doors” button in the app, I’m taken to an entire page with an even bigger button. Is that really necessary? The animation for the page opening is nice, but I don’t really need a giant picture of my car with an unlock button, why not just let me do that from the base page? I have very similar thoughts about the climate page, give me a quick way to turn climate on and off, and then also give me a way to get to more detailed settings for it.

Update 17th June 2022: A few people let me know that the little lock and fan icons on the Doors and Climate buttons are actually buttons themselves! This is great, it means there is a quick way to do those actions, but also that means that Polestar has put a button inside a button…which is not great in terms of discoverability or usability.

Charging

Next up is something you’re going to be doing a lot with an electric car, charging! I think Tesla (layout and text sizes aside) has really nailed this interface. Let’s look at them side by side (charging at the same time, from two identical side by side chargers):

Let’s break down all the things they show and can do:

Function Tesla Polestar
How long left until the car is charged to the limit I’ve set✅✅
How fast the car is charging, in kW as well as information about the amperage and voltage✅❌
Start and stop charging✅❌
Unlock charge port✅❌
Change the charging limit✅❌
Change the charging rate✅✅
Notification when charging completes✅❌
Notification when fast charging is almost complete✅❌

I’ve found I’ve used almost all of these at some point during my charging journeys. Let’s talk a bit about the ones the Polestar app is missing:

  • Being able to see how fast the car is charging: you plugged into what you thought was a 12kW 3 phase AC charger and are only getting 4kW…maybe you need to try a different port or adjust something. Or if you’re adjusting the charging rate, you can see the effect that has on the amount of kW the car is charging at. All of this info is available on the driver screen inside the car, but it would be handy to have in the app as well.
  • Start and stop charging: I use this a lot at home when I’m charging off solar. I’ll leave the car plugged in, and then when I see solar generation is really high and my home battery is full, I’ll tap the start charging button. Ditto for stop charging.
  • Unlock charge port: the Polestar has a dedicated button for this next to the charge port, so I don’t particularly need or miss that function in the app. If anything this is a more sensible place to have this feature.
  • Change the charging limit: it’s a bit bizarre the app is missing this. What charge will I end up with? What if I set the limit wrong weeks ago and forgot?
  • Notification when charging completes and when a fast charge is almost done: I’ve never seen either of these (and I don’t think the Polestar app ever asked for notification permission) so I’m 97% sure they aren’t there. These are really handy when you’re at a public charger and need a prod for when it’s time to come back and move your car.

Additionally it’s nice the Polestar app allows you to set a charge rate limit (useful mainly for home charging) but it’s slightly odd that unlike the Tesla app this isn’t shown in context. If you have a 25A capable charger, nothing in the app shows you that while it’s charging. The Tesla app does a better job of putting this in context, as when you dial it back you’ll see something like “20A/25A” which is very useful. You can see the maximum is 25A, and that the car is currently charging at 20A. That kind of context would be really handy in the Polestar app as well. At the moment I can see a lot of people being confused by “Set Amperage Limit” with no other context about what that is or what it might be sensible to set it at.

Final Thoughts

The Polestar app needs work, however it’s great that it exists. When it’s working, being able to find your car, pre-heat or pre-cool it and lock and unlock it are all useful functions. If Polestar can make it connect more reliably that in itself would be a big win. I would really love them to expand and improve the charging screen though, as once you’ve had access to all the features the Tesla app has, it’s hard to go back to something less capable. I suspect all this info is available (or can be made available) via the API, so I hope that’s something that can come in a future app update.

Going Full Electric

Before I start this post, Rusty Junior would like to point out that he grew up in a housing trust house, on school card, barely able to afford shoes from Kmart and regular meals. It’s not relevant to you, per se, but he feels this is required to alleviate the Weird Guilt™ inherent in writing a post like this. Thanks for your time. As you were.

A few weeks ago our family went all electric. My wife sold her 2018 VW Tiguan (for almost what we paid for it, the used car market in Australia is nuts at the moment!) and took delivery of a Polestar 2, long range, single motor in Magnesium. Having had electric cars for 4+ years now, we knew there’d be no issues with road trips or charging or anything most people ask or worry about, not to mention that we were both excited to never go to a petrol station again. As mentioned in my other posts, the solar and battery system at my house can also charge these cars for free quite easily for about 9 months of the year. For the other 3 (which we are currently in) my wife gets free charging at her work, where they have a GIANT solar installation. So it’s renewable, guilt free…and also, well, free!

There are of course a million reviews out there for the Polestar 2. Zeus knows we watched a lot of them before buying one! But I’m not a car reviewer and don’t want to bore you trying to become one, so here’s some quick observations:

The delivery process in Adelaide was very smooth. The delivery person turned up at the agreed time to our place, and shortly after a truck arrived with the car on it. Sunny, our delivery person, was super friendly and very eager to show us all the bits of the car. So eager in fact that we just let him do his thing, it was a joy to behold.

Compared to my model 3, some things instantly stood out to me. To my eye, the Polestar 2 is just a nicer looking car inside and out. I prefer the lines, I prefer the more “car type” cabin. It also feels better built in a way that’s hard to describe. More solid. Tighter tolerances. Just…well…better. It does however feel a bit more cramped because all those screens, consoles and padded areas cut down on the overall visibility. The centre console for example feels quite high and imposing. I guess it’s a design feature, but it could have been a bit lower and more subdued. Driving the model 3 feels like you’re in a fish tank. Driving the Polestar feels like…well..driving a car. I’d say overall the model 3 is nicer to sit in and admire, while the Polestar is more practical day to day to actually drive and be a passenger in.

Driving wise, both are very planted to the road thanks to their heavy battery packs. I don’t really have a preference except to say they are both a joy to drive. I’m also not a car reviewer, so for this bit I’m quite happy to offload you to YouTube for their opinions. That said if you have the means (money, a place to charge it, etc) and haven’t gone electric yet…well…you really should! There are a lot more options than there were a few years ago, and for this segment of the market the model 3 and Polestar 2 are my favourites.

Android Automotive (the infotainment system the Polestar runs) is functionally a bit better than Tesla’s system. It’s a bit uglier, but overall you can do more of what you need to get done as well as install third party apps like Pocket Casts, PlugShare and of course, Spotify. Having the ability to install apps from the Google Play store, straight into your car is very handy. The voice assistant is amazing. It can actually understand me properly, and lets you dictate text messages, navigate and change car settings with ease. The addition of a screen in the driver console section is nice as well. It shows you routing info while navigating, and also important things like speed, etc. It’s not a big deal to glance over to my left in the model 3 to see that, but it’s nicer to not have to. Why Google (or Polestar) went with the thin icon style design they did though…is a bit beyond me. I don’t love that look, but functionality wise it’s stellar.

Charging wise the Polestar 2 has the same Type 2 plug almost all cars in Australia have now. With the top bit for AC charging, and a set of DC pins for fast charging. One small pain point: you can charge a Polestar 2 from a gen 3 Tesla wall charger. Some early gen 2 ones also have an internal switch you can flick to do the same. But as you can guess, I had the gen 2 model which they made for about a year that is unable to charge anything that isn’t a Tesla. It has the internal switch, but by all accounts it’s non functional. So I had to pony up for a newer charger. On the plus side the cable is far thinner now and I also got to move it to a more convenient spot where we can charge both cars in the garage.

Finally, let’s talk road trips. If you’re new to electric cars my advice here is to take the “WLTP” number quoted on the car makers site, and shave off 20% for city driving, and 30% for highway (100km/h+ speeds). This will vary a bit based on how hard you drive, but it’s a good conservative figure to give you an idea of “real world” range. So the model 3 long range claims 600kms, in reality you’re going to get 480kms around the city and 420kms at highway speeds. Similarly the Polestar 2 claims 540kms which means 430kms city, 380kms highway. What that means in practice is that there’s more than enough range for almost anyone. Sure you can’t drive 8 hours non stop, but I’m not entirely sure you should ever do that for safety and comfort reasons. Drive for 2-3 hours, take a break, fast charge for 20 minutes, and keep going.

The elephant in the Australian room is that (at the time of writing this post) Tesla’s Supercharging network is much more reliable than other third party systems. That’s changing fast, and Tesla might even open their network up to other cars soon, but for the next year or two this will likely still be a fairly big factor in Tesla’s favour Down Under. We still plan to road trip in the Polestar 2 (1200km+ trips) but it will require slightly more planning and slightly more vigilance before we leave to make sure all the stations are operational and we pick the correct route. Thankfully the early adopter portion of EV ownership, like planning wineries to stop at that have 3 phase power, is a distant memory. We’re in the decent amount of chargers, occasional issues, portion of the adoption curve. I fully expect in 2 years here in Australia those issues will be behind us, so there really has never been a better time to buy an EV…if you can find one shipping here this year. That lack of availability and the price of EVs are two massive issues here in 2022, but that’s a whole other blog post.

Electrons Are Your Friends

I haven’t updated this site in a bit, which I know will greatly upset the 3 people that read it and have just now realised they haven’t seen my posts in a while! Anyway thought I’d try something new and post a few things too small for a blog on Twitter instead. My motivation in doing so was to try and encourage the people who follow me (and have the means) to consider going electric with their next car. I know that in the communities and forums I’m in everything I’m saying is common knowledge, but I wonder if the general public know some of this?

Firstly a thread about going downhill: [this used to be a link to Twitter, but now it’s gone]

Then about the thing people ask about most, charging: [this used to be a link to Twitter, but now it’s gone]

That said I feel like I have to give the people actually reading my blog something a bit extra, so here’s a recent picture I took of my car in the Adelaide Hills. What’s that? You don’t care? How dare you!