Are voice commands on GPS worth it?: Ask the Editors

CNET editors answer a reader's questions about whether voice command functionality is really practical on GPS.

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
3 min read

Q: I am writing to ask you about what GPS device is the best for someone interested in traffic updates (preferably free), as well as Bluetooth capability. I also like the idea of Lane Assist because I fear missing exits. Also, is the voice response option really a practical one at this phase? Hope to hear from you soon. --Alex via e-mail

A: Hi Alex. I'll start with your last question first. Voice command functionality is just starting to show up in portable navigation devices, letting you enter addresses and perform some other tasks simply by speaking to the GPS. As with any new technology, I can understand your apprehension. Is it good enough? Is it actually useful? In other words, is it ready for prime time?

In the case of voice commands and GPS, it's not quite there yet. The idea behind it is good. The ability to enter addresses and perform certain functions with the sound of your voice would seemingly save you the time and trouble of going through various menus and tapping onscreen buttons to achieve the same goal.

Watch this: Garmin Nuvi 880

Being able to do things like increase system volume and zoom in on maps via voice commands is particularly useful since you can keep your hands on the wheel instead of reaching over to fiddle around with your PND's touch screen.

However, in practice, the technology still needs some work. Voice command functionality is available on a handful of GPS models, such as the TomTom GO 930 and the Magellan Maestro 4250, but of the current offerings, there are only two models where I'd consider the voice command feature satisfactory: the Garmin Nuvi 880 and Navigon 7200T.

These two systems returned fairly accurate results when dictating addresses, and the Nuvi 800 had the bonus of offering 30 voice commands to perform other functions, including volume control and activating the hands-free speaker system. Unfortunately, they're also on the pricier side ($700 to $1,000 for the Garmin and $300 to $500 for the Navigon), and I wouldn't say the voice command functionality is so great that it's worth the extra expense.

The rest of the voice-enabled PNDs weren't very accurate. I spent more time fixing the mistakes and in the end, it would have been easier and faster had I entered addresses using the traditional onscreen method. Plus, going forward, I'd like to see more GPS manufacturers take advantage of voice commands for more than just address entry, since most are limited to that one task. So Alex, the technology and functionality are getting there, but I wouldn't say you're missing out on anything spectacular if you were to skip this feature at this time.

As for the other part of your question, Alex, I have a couple of recommendations. I'm not sure what your budget is but the Garmin Nuvi 265WT offers free traffic for life as well as integrated Bluetooth, but it doesn't have advanced lane guidance. The aforementioned Navigon 7200T includes all the features you're looking for, but in my opinion, the performance and user experience of this GPS isn't as smooth as the Garmin, so if you can live without the lane assist feature, I'd go with the Nuvi 265WT.

Hope that helps and safe travels!