Sunday, March 18, 2012

Are GPS Voice Commands worth the time?

Auto GPS buyers guide

There are some features that are absolutely essential for GPS units, like lifetime map updates and lane junction views. But what about voice commands? Back when they were first introduced I can’t say that I was a huge fan as they were incredibly touchy. The mic couldn’t pick up voices with the AC going or music playing and don’t even think about having the window open. And even then, I felt like I was constantly shouting at my GPS.

Of course, technology has really advanced quite a bit since the early 2000s, and even my phone has a pretty decent voice recognition program now. So, what about GPS? Is voice command worth the time? We’ll take a look at the pros and cons, and then you can tell us your thoughts!

Generally speaking, most mid-range automotive GPS units come with voice command options, although whether the microphone is on or off by default varies with the device. Some devices have options for always listening for the command word to start the voice activation while others require users to press a button.

Voice Command Pros

  • Saves time – you don’t have to pull over to change settings or routes on your device
  • Makes searches easier – typing on those screens is awkward, no matter how you do it. Voice command cuts that painful process out
  • It’s less distracting – much like being able to talk to your phone or car, communicating with your GPS by voice is, theoretically, less distracting and should help keep your eyes on the road.

Voice Command Cons

  • Background noise is still a problem – most of the units I’ve used—especially the TomTom GO 500—were a little touchy at best. When set to ‘always listening’ it would only work about half the time.
  • Fixing errors is time consuming – Not all voice recognition algorithms are equal, and the really bad ones are, well, really bad. Trying to convince your GPS that you really meant Cherry instead of Cherokee can be both time-consuming and frustrating.
  • You have to remember the commands – Some devices have specific commands and since I’m a little scatterbrained sometimes, I don’t always remember the exact wording for some of the commands. That means I end up asking the device and then doing a search. It’s not a huge negative and won’t apply to everyone but it is a personal pet peeve.

What do you think?

Voice commands are becoming more and more common in not just GPS devices but everything. Smartphones have it, in-car navigation systems have it and Windows 10 devices will have it. Talking to your technology has become commonplace in this day and age. So, tell me… do you actually use the voice command on your device? Vote in the poll or leave me a note in the comments to let me know what you think!


  1. Pythagoras says:

    I have a Garmin and I use the voice commands all the time. It is incredibly convenient to avoid typing.

    Have you tried Cortana? I makes you never want to go back to typing stuff

    • I use Google Now on my Android a lot and it’s pretty nice… I guess I’ve just not has a good of experiences with the GPS devices I’ve tried. Usually I use my phone inside where it’s a little quieter so that might be why.

  2. I consider voice command to be a very important feature, even though I use it mostly for a very specific purpose: to mute or unmute the gps.

    It is not unusual that, while vacationing in Europe, we will decide to deviate from the planned route. It doesn’t take long for the nice lady to become annoying with her unhelpful prompts, telling us how to get back on the planned route. So: “Voice command” … “Mute” … “Exit.”

  3. it’s cool

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