OnStar FMV Review & Rating

A dedicated GPS will spit out directions to anywhere you want to go, but can it send an ambulance if you’re in an accident? or dispatch a mechanic to fix your flat tire? how about help find your car if it’s stolen? Nope. but OnStar can do all of those things—and more. the service, once found only in General Motors vehicles, is now available as an add-on rearview mirror kit that’s compatible with a long list of cars from various manufacturers. At the press of a button, OnStar FMV serves up quick, accurate turn-by-turn voice directions, connects hands-free phone calls, and delivers various forms of vehicle assistance to make you feel safe when you’re on the road. It’s a unique and well-implemented idea, but when you factor in installation and subscription fees on top of the cost of the hardware itself, you’ll find that behind-the-wheel peace of mind doesn’t come cheap.

Pricing, Design, Features Before we dig in, let’s get the pricing part out of the way: the mirror itself has a list price of $299, but requires professional installation, which the company expects will run between $75 and $100. Initially, beginning July 24, OnStar FMV will be available exclusively at best buy, while other online and brick-and-mortar retailers will follow. (Some best buy stores will also offer installation.)

OnStar FMV

You also need to pick one of two service plans: Safe & Sound, which only includes OnStar emergency and security services, costs $18.95 per month (or $199 per year); Directions and Connections, which includes emergency and security plus unlimited turn-by-turn navigation features, runs $28.90 per month (or $299 per year). If you spring for the full range of services, you’re looking at an initial outlay of about $700 the first year. That’s tough to swallow when, these days, most people carry cell phones to call for help in an emergency, along with Bluetooth headsets that provide hands-free calling in the car. you can also get a very solid GPS device with free lifetime map and traffic updates for about $150. on the other hand, FMV puts all this functionality in a single console that’s a permanent feature of your vehicle. If you invest in the OnStar system, when you sell the car, it will likely add to its value.

The OnStar FMV consists of two pieces: the 23-ounce mirror measures 3.4 by 10 by 1.9 (HWD) and looks a lot like your typical car rearview mirror. but at almost 2 inches deep, it’s bulkier than your typical mirror, though you can’t tell that from looking at it straight on. There’s also a small, unobtrusive black plastic external microphone. in my 2010 Toyota Camry test car, the mic was mounted to the right of the mirror on the car’s fabric ceiling, so the driver’s voice could be heard clearly.

The black frame of the mirror holds a number of illuminated buttons for various functions. the most important, the blue OnStar button, which is used to interact with the system, is front and center on the bottom edge. It’s flanked by the Phone Button on the left, and the Emergency button on the right. up top, above the reflective glass are Volume and Button-Brightness controls.

OnStar FMV Side

The FMV integrates Bluetooth, a cellular radio, a GPS radio, and an accelerometer. the system uses the cell radio to communicate with OnStar and to make hands-free calls without a Bluetooth-enabled phone. the GPS is for navigation, to send emergency and roadside assistance, and can help track your vehicle if it’s stolen. the accelerometer is part of the emergency system, and determines if the car has flipped over in a crash. If it has, an OnStar advisor is automatically alerted. Alternatively, if you get into an accident, pushing the red Emergency button places a priority call to OnStar for help. you can also use the Emergency button to respond to an AMBER alert or get crisis help and evacuation routes.

OnStar on the Road: Navigation, Hands-Free Calling Unfortunately (or luckily), I wasn’t able to test the OnStar FMV’s Emergency or Security systems. but on a weekend trip from New York City to Washington, D.C., I put the FMV’s navigation system through its paces. overall, it performed admirably, providing virtually identical routes and maneuvers as a nearby Garmin nüvi 3790T ($349.99, 4 stars), our Editors’ Choice high-end GPS.

Driving directions are voice-only, and since there’s no screen, you can’t view your location on a map. instead of typing an address, like you would with a GPS, you press the blue OnStar button to call an advisor, who looks up the directions and sends the route to your FMV after telling you how many miles you’ll be traveling. This might be a dealbreaker for some, but I got used to the voice-only navigation pretty quickly. Automated voice prompts were sufficiently loud, completely understandable, and came at the appropriate intervals. Just like with a GPS, you hear a tone when you’re supposed to make a particular maneuver, and if you miss a turn or leave the route, the system asks you if you want to recalculate the route or cancel it and enter a new destination. If you return to the route on your own, it commences the directions, which is nice if you’re just leaving the route temporarily to, say, fill up your gas tank. Besides actual addresses, you can ask OnStar to send you to the nearest gas station, restaurant, or point of interest. (During testing, it helped me find a much-needed bagel shop nearby.) all of your navigation interaction is via voice. If you missed the last maneuver, press the Phone button and say, “Repeat” and you’ll hear your direction again.

What I missed most was visual lane assistance and traffic reporting. Many GPS devices, including the nüvi 3790T, clearly show you what lane you need to choose at complicated interchanges, and will reroute you if you’re headed into traffic.

OnStar eNav is a neat feature that lets you research your trip in advance on a PC with Google Maps or MapQuest and send the directions to your car. Once you’re in the car and ready to go, you just push the Phone button and say “Virtual Advisor” and the route is sent to the FMV. eNav worked well in my tests, retrieving my pre-determined routes quickly and accurately.

You get two options for hands-free calls. you can use a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone, or you can purchase minutes for the mirror itself and use it to place and receive calls. the FMV easily paired with my iPhone 3GS and I was able to voice dial my contacts through the system. (Not all phones are compatible; OnStar’s website provides a list of supported handsets.) with both Bluetooth and OnStar’s Hands-Free Calling, transmissions didn’t sound great, with some background static, but were loud and, for the most part, clear.

Overall, the OnStar FMV system is a well-implemented, multifaceted solution to vehicle safety and navigation. It’s a bit of a tough sell, though, especially when you could use an inexpensive GPS device or a smartphone for navigation (plus you get map visuals that way), and a cheap Bluetooth headset for hands-free calling in the car. What you can’t really get elsewhere are the safety features, but opting for only the Safe and Sound service plan means you still have to buy the system and pay to have it installed. If you’re willing to make the investment, OnStar FMV delivers all it promises: Effective navigation services, and peace of mind thanks to its extensive safety features.

More GPS Device Reviews:•   OnStar FMV•   TomTom 1.8 (for iPhone)•   TeleNav GPS Plus (for iPhone)•   Magellan RoadMate 2.0 (for iPhone)•   TomTom GO 2535 M LIVE•  more

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