Long commutes made more enjoyable with Drivetime

I live about a 5 hour drive away from parents’ house, which is where the family always gathers for holidays. During the past three and a half years of living in the lakes area, I’ve gotten somewhat used to that long drive down Highway 10, past the Twin Cities and through the farmland of western Wisconsin. It’s still hard sometimes though, especially if I have to leave early in the morning (I’m not a morning person) or find myself driving through the dark for hours late a night after working all day. Music helps sometimes, but constantly flipping through radio stations to find something I like after driving out of range of the previous station can be a hassle. I know podcasts are popular ways to pass the time while driving, too, but I have a little bit of a hard time focusing on them. Maybe I just haven’t found the right one yet, but so far podcasts haven’t been the answer to my driving woes either.

Recently, though, I discovered an app that helps pass the time a little better when I’m driving all that distance by myself.

The app is called Drivetime and offers a series of voice operated trivia games and interactive podcasts of sorts designed for use while driving. It was designed, according to its website, as entertainment for commuters who might get stuck in traffic or have to drive a long way to and from work each day.

Free to download on Apple and Android products, Drivetime offers a couple free games per day and requires payment for more frequent use. A monthly membership is $7.99, and a yearly subscription is $49.99. Users can get a free trial for a week before having to pay.

I haven’t used the paid version yet to unlock all the features, but I did play some of the free games offered during my Christmas commute this year, and it was a lot of fun for a trivia nut like me. Because Drivetime is voice controlled, I was able to keep my eyes and focus on the road the whole time. I just set my phone up in my dashboard holder, pressed play before I started driving and then controlled everything else with my voice.

First, there’s Drivetime Trivia, with a free half-hour episode every day that includes three rounds of trivia centered around certain themes. For example, the three themes on Christmas Day were “Son of a,” “Nutcracker” and “Elf.” Each round has seven questions in various categories, ranging from science to history to geography to film and television, but all dealing with the theme. Most questions are multiple choice, while some are what they call “open ended,” meaning no answer choices are given. Players just answer each question aloud, and the app will register the vocal response as either right or wrong. In between questions, the hosts offer other fun facts about the topics, which can be pretty interesting, too.

During each round, you’re matched with another random driver and compete to see who can earn the most points, with each question valued at a certain number of points.

The new episode each day is free, but users must have a subscription to unlock the previous days’ episodes.

Drivetime also has a version of “Jeopardy!,” which is what got me interested in the app to begin with. I was only able to play two free episodes before the app prompted me to pay for the premium version to unlock more, but the two episodes I did get were satisfactory. Each episode contains three rounds of play, just like the TV show and even has Alex Trebek’s voice asking the questions. Unlike the show, though, the questions are multiple choice. Personally, I would rather they not be just because I think having choices decreases the difficulty, but it was still fun nonetheless, and the multiple choice format requires a little less focus so the driver’s primary attention is on the road. In the last round, you get the option to wager none, half or all of your points on the final Jeopardy question based on the category. Each episode of “Jeopardy!” is about 25 minutes, similar to a television episode.

Another feature is what Drivetime calls interactive podcasts. The one I tried out was called Masterpiece and walked me through a mystery with the detective who was trying to solve it. After talking with victims and looking through clues, the agent would stop and ask a question for the driver to answer, like given two statements the victim made, which one doesn’t add up? So the user works with the detective to solve the mystery.

Other premium activities on Drivetime requiring payment include U.S. and world capital trivia; Tunetime, where the player listens to a song clip and has the guess the title and artist; a “would you rather” game; and even hands-free blackjack.

Though I didn’t get to play around with all the feature on Drivetime, I was overall happy with my experience. I enjoyed having something to do to occupy some of my time on the road, and I think I like these games and activities more than listening to music or podcasts because I was actively engaged and playing a role instead of just listening. It also kept me alert. After waking up much earlier than normal and not having gotten as much sleep as I’m used to in the few days before my long Christmas Day drive back to Brainerd, I was happy for something to keep the wheels turning in my head so I didn’t feel as drowsy. After all, coffee can only do so much.

Of course, Drivetime users need to make sure the games don’t take their focus off the road. Questions can always be repeated by simply saying “repeat the question,” and there isn’t a time limit to answer the questions either, as the app will automatically repeat a question if an answer isn’t registered right away. The game can also be paused or unpaused with one tap, which is allowed under Minnesota’s hands-free driving law.

From my experience, I don’t believe my driving was hindered while using the app, but to be fair, I was driving in good weather conditions with not a lot of traffic on the road. I’m not sure it’s something I would feel comfortable doing if I was driving in blizzard conditions or with heavy traffic in a city setting, but it worked well as I drove down nearly empty stretches of highway with my cruise control on in the daylight.

I’d highly recommend Drivetime as a remedy for long, boring road trips or even as hands-free entertainment while doing chores or cooking or anything else that might require a little extra brain stimulation.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.



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