App of the Week: GasBuddy

App: GasBuddy Platforms: iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile Web site: GasBuddy.com Cost: Free

People love their cars in Houston. More specifically, people love their enormous, gas-guzzling, monster-mobiles. With the turmoil in the Middle East driving gas prices through the roof, even in what many consider the oil and gas capital of the world, it makes sense that finding inexpensive options for refueling the truck-o-saurus would come in damn handy round these here parts.

You're in luck, cowboy. GasBuddy is an app for the iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile devices that tracks gas prices in your area and leads you straight to them. The nice-looking, if feature-lean, software checks the location of the phone and provides a list of nearby gas stations either by distance or by the price, probably the most important feature at the moment.

GasBuddy is a development of the GasBuddy.com Web site that tracks gas prices using information provided by volunteers, commonly referred to as "crowd sourcing." The Web site also provides historical tracking charts, a trip-cost calculator and a blog with information on trends and fuel-saving tips.

While the app doesn't go nearly as far, it certainly does its job for consumers. The one-tap interface loads a list of gas stations and prices broken down in Regular, Midgrade, Premium and Diesel tabs. Tapping any of the list locations provides an address and photo (if available) of the gas station along with a list of the most recent prices and the user who provided them. One additional tap loads driving directions using the Google map. Map views are also available in the app interface.

What really surprised me when I clicked open the list was just how much difference there was in the cost of gas within a mile radius. The Mobil station at Westheimer and Willowick was pumping regular at nearly $3.50, while the Chevron station less than a half mile down the road was 20 cents less. If I made the effort to drive about a mile and a half east, I could save another 10 cents at the Diamond Shamrock on South Shepherd and Richmond.

That was just in my immediate vicinity. When I expanded the map outward, I found additional options, and there is a search function for finding specific locations not in the immediate area.

The one drawback of GasBuddy is not in the functionality or features of the app, but in the limited availability of data. As with most crowd-sourced applications, areas saturated with smart-phone users or folks with regular Internet access are going to have better information than lower-income areas. If you find yourself in Acres Homes, for example, don't expect much help from GasBuddy, which listed a handful of stations in that neighborhood, but none with any recent pricing.

GasBuddy does encourage users to register and post information to the site and app. The sign-up process is straightforward as is the updating of prices. I couldn't find an interface for adding a station or information about a particular location, but my guess is that is a feature not yet available on the app.

Regardless, this is an app worth having if you spend a lot of time on the road, whether you are in a Prius or a Hummer.

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