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SYNC With MyFord Touch: Automotive Infotainment For All

Hands-On With Nuance's Voice Recognition

Ford uses Nuance for its speech recognition and text-to-speech features. This is the same engine that powers Apple’s Siri and Dragon Naturally Speaking. According to Ford, there are 10 000 commands available, all of which are listed deep in the system's options. Everything connected to SYNC with MyFord Touch can be controlled by voice commands: navigation, phone, music, and even climate controls. Traversing the system using voice control takes some time to get used to. But once you learn the most relevant commands, navigation works quite well.

Voice-activated navigation controls rise to the top as the most useful component of Nuance's voice recognition engine, since SYNC with MyFord Touch does not accept user input via touch-screen when the car is moving, even if it's a passenger trying to put in an address. One-shot navigation destination entry is supported, but you really have to remember to say the entire string of commands.

In our testing, we found that starting the destination input with “Navigation Destination POI” or “Navigation Destination Address” and following the prompts was the easiest way to issue voice commands. SYNC with MyFord Touch provides feedback, asking how you want to search for a POI (by category or name) or walk you through the prompts to input an address (house number, street name, city); it's very intuitive.

The accuracy of voice-based navigation input was generally quite good. We did come across a couple of problems searching for Asian shop names (such as Uwajiymaya, an Asian supermarket). But the speech recognition engine had no trouble with Todai (a sushi buffet). We naturally expected the system to stumble over more obscure names, but it was still fun to try.

When you can’t search POIs or input directions via the touch-screen, SYNC with MyFord Touch’s voice recognition is quite functional. After a couple of days using SYNC, we ended up favoring voice controls for navigation.

Using voice commands for hands-free calling works as well as it did for controlling the navigation system, so long as your name isn't Chris Angelini, which it refused to recognize as a valid contact. It was faster for us to scroll through the phone book to call our editor-in-chief than it was to fight one of SYNC's few idiosyncrasies. Oddly enough, it found “Kami Huynh” on the first try.

Although we ended up preferring voice commands for controlling the navigation and making phone calls, climate control and entertainment aren't as easily directed. Voice commands for climate control do work, but every time you hit the speech button to start voice recognition, you have to state “Climate Control,” and then “Set temperature xx degrees.” You can’t string the commands together to speed the process up. We’re not quite sure why anyone would use voice commands for climate control anyway, since the physical controls are within closer reach.

Commands for the entertainment subsystem suffer a similar pitfall. You have to name your device first (USB, Radio, Sirius, CD, and so on) before being able to tell SYNC what to do. Moreover, if you want to browse your music by album title, you can use voice commands up until you get to the album selection screen. Then SYNC tells you to pick an album using the touch-screen. To be fair, voice commands were at least accurate when we used them. SYNC had no trouble pulling up artists like N.E.R.D. and Lil’ Jon. The system also managed to play “Get Low” via voice command.

  • jhansonxi
    SYNC is the reason that Ford's . I've also met several people who have SYNC and they've all had problems with it freezing completely or controls getting stuck. These problems either require them to stop and turn off the engine (a reboot) or take the car to a dealer to get SYNC reset.

    This is shockingly bad code quality for an embedded system. I may get a Ford vehicle in the future but it won't have SYNC in it. I'll epoxy a tablet to the dash if I need entertainment that bad.
    Reply
  • jhansonxi
    SYNC is the reason that Ford's quality has dropped:
    http://money.cnn.com/2011/06/22/autos/ford_jd_power_initial_quality/index.htm

    P.S. What's up with the broken URL parsing?
    Reply
  • mayankleoboy1
    boot benchmarks for a car :O
    What is the world coming to?
    Reply
  • SteelCity1981
    never had a problem with my SYNC in my ford.
    Reply
  • TheZander
    Drove a brand new rental Ford with all the Sync options. It was nice to be able to play music straight from my phone without taking it out of my pocket or plugging anything in. It was also nice when a call came in and a simple button push switched seamlessly from my music to the call, with good voice quality I might add. The information provided is useful and placed in areas with a focus on keeping your eyes in safer directions than some layouts, and the steering wheel button placement makes sense and also works well (for the most part) once you get used to it.

    However, there are little things here and there that show the system has tremendous potential, but lacks polish you expect when it's in your automobile. I own a reasonably new Ford (2006 Freestyle.) It's been an exceptional, sturdy, and reliable car for several years now with no mechanical issues to date. My dad owns an old Lincoln Navigator with over 370,000 miles on it, still with the original engine running. Fords have been pretty good to me and my family over the years. You put in the key, turn it, and the thing runs. You push the buttons on the door and the windows go up or down. Flip a switch and the heater comes on.

    You expect your automobiles to be like this. Ford Sync does not yet feel like this. "Do I push this button this way or that way?" "What word order do I need to use for this command?" "Why do I have to re-command Sync to start playing my phone's music via bluetooth every time I start my car rather than it just start automatically?" "Why does the system hang once in a while for no apparent reason?"

    It just doesn't yet feel like it's reliable and responsive. I was intrigued and impressed by Sync, but it needs more polish, fluidity, refinement, and most of all consistency and reliability for it to please the masses day after day, and THIS is why Sync is the single worst factor in Ford's otherwise good reliability ratings being lowered, as mentioned above.
    Reply
  • danwat1234
    I like my 1999 Honda Civic. Bullet proof reliable with 226K miles, simple and fast around corners (with an upgraded rear sway bar and good all season tires). It came with AM/FM radio and that's it. I have an FM transmitter to run anything else. All of this fancy technology ... my gaming laptop and my basic 10-key cell phone is enough. But it's great that this tech is available in inexpensive cars.
    I don't think that anybody would buy a new car just for this technology, at least I hope not. But new cars also come with stability, traction, ABS, EBD and panic brake help which is nice.
    My next car will be electric, maybe a 3-wheeled Zaptera. That's a reason to upgrade!
    Reply
  • tuanies
    9532860 said:
    SYNC is the reason that Ford's quality has dropped:
    http://money.cnn.com/2011/06/22/autos/ford_jd_power_initial_quality/index.htm

    P.S. What's up with the broken URL parsing?

    We touch on that in the conclusion. V2.0 of the software fixed a lot of the crashes and issues. We did not experience any crashes during the week we had the car.
    Reply
  • tuanies
    9532864 said:
    I like my 1999 Honda Civic. Bullet proof reliable with 226K miles, simple and fast around corners (with an upgraded rear sway bar and good all season tires). It came with AM/FM radio and that's it. I have an FM transmitter to run anything else. All of this fancy technology ... my gaming laptop and my basic 10-key cell phone is enough. But it's great that this tech is available in inexpensive cars.
    I don't think that anybody would buy a new car just for this technology, at least I hope not. But new cars also come with stability, traction, ABS, EBD and panic brake help which is nice.
    My next car will be electric, maybe a 3-wheeled Zaptera. That's a reason to upgrade!

    That sounds fancy, my daily is a '90 Miata with no power steering, manual windows, no side door guard beams and a first generation airbag. Its a ton of fun though.
    Reply
  • s3anister
    This is cool tech but I wish ford would have started doing this a year or two earlier than they did. I'd love to see an HDMI input instead of composite in and a higher-res screen for example.
    Reply
  • tuanies
    9532867 said:
    This is cool tech but I wish ford would have started doing this a year or two earlier than they did. I'd love to see an HDMI input instead of composite in and a higher-res screen for example.

    HDMI input would be nice. I think Honda is the only one that has HDMI input on the Honda Odyssey, but only on the $45k Elite model.
    Reply