Let's start with a bit of a confession. Despite having reviewed quite a few OnStar-equipped vehicles from automakers under the General Motors flag, I rarely, if ever, reach up to press that little blue "On" button while driving. There's something about asking for directions that just doesn't sit right with me. So, it's a bit ironic that my first major immersion in the OnStar ecosystem happened in a Ford vehicle equipped with the OnStar FMV.
The OnStar FMV ("For My Vehicle") is a universal, standalone OnStar receiver that replaces the rearview mirror of almost any vehicle. Our tester arrived preinstalled in a 2010 Ford Explorer 4x4. We couldn't help but wonder why this particular vehicle had been chosen as our test bed, eventually concluding that GM (OnStar's parent corporation) also sees the irony in having its product installed in a rival's vehicle. There's also the fact that the Explorer's mass downplays the bulkiness of the FMV unit itself. The replacement mirror is downright massive, measuring about 1 foot wide and several inches deep at its thickest point. A large rearview mirror is great for increasing rearward visibility, but may end up looking a bit silly installed in smaller cars.
Along the bottom edge of the unit are a Phone button, the blue OnStar button, and a red Emergency button. Along the top edge are buttons for volume control and button backlight brightness, as well as status icons for in-progress navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, in-progress call, and an error indicator. Out back is the unit's internal speaker--the FMV doesn't use the vehicle's speakers like OEM OnStar systems. Finally, an external microphone is installed somewhere else in the cabin; ours was located on the vehicle's headliner.
Tapping the Phone button initiates voice command for calling. Users can make calls using the OnStar FMV's built-in cellular connection or by Bluetooth-pairing a phone and using the handset's dialer. By saying "Virtual adviser" when prompted, users can also have the unit read out traffic updates, stock quotes, and local weather forecasts. Saved destinations and destinations sent from Google Maps can also be accessed using voice commands here. I like to think of the Phone button as the "Self-service button," because everything that happens under the phone menu is automated by voice commands without interaction with an operator.
The blue On button is the one that most people think about when discussing OnStar. Tapping it initiates a call to OnStar's concierge service, where you'll interact with a real, live person. For FMV service plans, the concierge is mainly useful for helping to find a destination. Just tell them what you're looking for or give an address and OnStar's operators can send a destination to the FMV unit for turn-by-turn directions. They can even initiate a hands-free call if, for example, you'd like to call ahead to make a reservation at the restaurant you're navigating to.