Tech, Autos, & Gear in Layman's Terms Since 2006

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December 2, 2011 • Reviews

Find Your Way and Be Safer on the Road With OnStar FMV Review

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When we needed a new car last week one thing was clear- I wanted to lease one with all the technological bells and whistles I could find. After all, I’ve been whining and complaining about not having integrated Bluetooth and navigation in my car and my mechanic, and Elana, had been hearing a refrain of “Is it time yet?” for months. So I now have Bluetooth, navigation, destination assistance with real human beings on the other end of the call and impact/emergency detection. Had we not needed a new car however I would most likely have been putting one of OnStar’s FMV systems in my old car. I took a look at one last month when the company lent me a car for a few days so lets take a look.

Preview

From OnStar:

OnStar FMV replaces your vehicle’s rearview mirror, bringing the core safety, security and connectivity services of OnStar.

With built in connectivity and GPS technologies, OnStar FMV gives you all the safety and security of OnStar including a direct link to Live Advisors and the ability to detect and send help to your exact location in the event of an accident.

With available Turn-by-Turn Navigation from OnStar, you’ll never worry about directions again.5 Simply push your blue button and an Advisor can send automated Turn-by-Turn directions right to your mirror.

Flat tire? Out of gas?: Life happens. But with OnStar FMV it doesn’t have to ruin your day. Whether you’ve locked your keys in your car or run out of gas, an Advisor can send help to get you back on the road in no time.

FMV Services: Enjoy added peace of mind with OnStar Automatic Crash Response. If you’re ever in an accident, OnStar Advisors are standing by 24/7 to help.4 If you request help, or can’t answer, emergency responders are sent to your precise GPS location.

The device replaces your standard rearview mirror and includes GPS functionality, OnStar safety and navigation connectivity, and Bluetooth speakerphone capabilities. It can be put into a car by someone who is exceptionally handy but since this is a safety device it’s probably best left to the professionals. OnStar didn’t supply me with a review unit but instead dropped off a late-model Toyota Camry that has the device already in place. I had a chance to use it for four days and I drove it pretty much everywhere. During the time I put it through its paces by calling the OnStar service time and again, even for little things. They were always pleasant, patient and overall I came away impressed with the device.

One of the things I discovered is that it actually makes an excellent Bluetooth speakerphone. The device itself has speakers built into it and there was a microphone that was attached a little bit of a distance away on the roof of the car. By pushing the phone button on the mirror itself I was able to say “phone” and then give it a number I wanted to call. The recognition of the numbers was quite good and although it took a while for the device to respond initially most times it worked quite well. The call quality was excellent.

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The GPS functionality of the device worked quite well and was a bit different from what I am used to. Instead of having a screen that you would look at and be distracted by it only gives audio prompts. To my mind that’s a huge safety benefit. In order to use the GPS this is the process I undertook.

1. Press the OnStar button.

2. Wait a while until the OnStar operator comes on the line. (Sometimes it took longer than other times and when this occurred it
was annoying.)

3. Tell the nice person on the other side where you want to go.

4. Wait a bit while they locate the location. Usually it didn’t take all that long for them to locate where I wanted to go and they were always remarkably pleasant.

5. They then sent directions to the GPS unit itself and, a few seconds later in the guidance began. They then asked if there was anything else I needed and, when I replied no, they said have a nice day.

On the one hand, it took longer than it would have for me to look it up. On the other hand, I didn’t have to locate the destination. I simply had to describe it and they did everything else. In addition, I found that only getting audio prompts was actually quite nice. There was no distraction and the prompts were frequent enough that I was never concerned about not being on the right route.

There were some issues along the way, however. When I intentionally went off course the device would reroute but it only was hit or miss at best. Sometimes it immediately picked a new route but the vast majority of the time it actually indicated that I was off course and asked if it wanted me to talk to a representative to get a new route. This meant I had to go through the whole initial call set up again which was annoying. I’m not sure if it was unique to my area which has a lot of trees or not but when there was a new route sent it didn’t always seem to “take”.

On the other hand, because of my work as a rabbi I’m at one of the area hospitals pretty much every day. I called up to get directions to one of the hospitals (something I was familiar with route wise but wanted to see if it gave me the most direct route) and this is what the conversation looked like.

“Thank you for calling OnStar how may I help you?”

“I’d like directions to Morristown Memorial hospital please.”

“Okay sir, is this a medical emergency?”

“No, thank you, I just need to visit someone.”

I certainly appreciated the fact that they automatically asked if this was a medical emergency but I wanted to know if it was a fluke or not. So I called back and this was the next conversation.

“Thank you for calling OnStar how can I help you?”

“I would like directions to St. Barnabas medical center in Livingston.”

“Sir, is this a medical emergency?”

“No, thank you for asking, I simply am going to visit someone.”

That kind of subtle attention and sensitivity made this far better than a standard automated GPS unit in my mind.

During the time that I had the car I visited a number of hospitals and it always got me there properly. I had to go into Manhattan for a wedding and it guided me perfectly. And I did a number of errands around my house and around my synagogue and, each time, it was pretty much spot on. I found myself really appreciate this approach to having a GPS unit and I love the fact that I could start the GPS monitoring by simply tapping the OnStar button.

Of course there are also the safety features that OnStar is known for. I didn’t run into the need for them (thankfully) but for the four days I was driving the loaner car I really appreciated knowing that they were there.

So would I like a car that is equipped with OnStar’s technology either as a brand-new car or through this after market rear view mirror? Yes, and a qualified no. Yes, I would like to have this kind of unit available to me. Despite some issues with getting re-routed I loved the way to GPS work and I was impressed by the Bluetooth speakerphone. I also loved knowing I had the extra safety measure available. At the same time, it is rather pricey. You need to spend the initial money on the mirror and its installation and then the actual cost of the service is potentially prohibitive to my mind.

Fortunately, the company has reduced the price of the actual system. Here’s what pricing now looks like.

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You can learn more and order yours here on the OnStar FMV website.

What I Like: Great, clear Bluetooth; Good GPS guidance; Added safety features are nice; Works with many different car models

What Needs Improvement: Rerouting could be flaky; Can get pricey

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