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OnStar
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16 September 2008      More Car Reviews

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OnStar is a system in many General Motors' cars which uses cell phones and GPS to give drivers all sorts of help.

OnStar is excellent.

It's easy! I never needed to read any manuals. OnStar's voice-controlled navigation, with real human operators who listen to your requests, is superior to any GPS I've ever used.

I see no reason to pay extra for old-style navigation systems with LCD screens and maps. Lets face it, you're supposed to be driving, not risking your life fiddling with buttons or taking your eyes off the road to look at a screen. A second's distraction is all it takes to cause a deadly accident.

OnStar's telephone and navigation works with the radio on or off.

I never even noticed there was an OnStar manual, but there is one in addition to the owner's manual in your manual package in the glove box.

 

Navigation        top

Navigation is easy and excellent. OnStar is superior to any map-based system, because instead of risking your life piddling with a GPS while driving, all you do is:

1.) Push the OnStar button.

2.) Tell the girl where you want to go.

3.) Your system is sent directions, and directs you to your destination. Easy! All you do is turn as told, just like having a poindexter guy in the back seat.

Radio

OnStar works with the radio on or off.

If the radio's playing, the radio mutes completely and you'll hear your command. On the 2009 Buick Enclave CXL, OnStar also shuts down the fans for a moment if they're running fast enough to be noisy.

It would be better if the radio's level merely reduced, and not 100% muted.

Inflight Information

OnStar told me the estimated distance when we started out, but never told me the estimated time of arrival.

Wrong Turns

OnStar is only fair if you miss an exit. Instead of silently recalculating and just getting you there, an automated woman's voice interrupts you, probably as you're trying to negotiate a difficult intersection with freeway ramps closed due to construction, and asks stupid questions. If you answer them correctly, OnStar will do what it should have done in the first place and just get you there.

My Garmin GPS does this much better. It just gets you there.

Stopping for Lunch

If you turn off, you'll have to answer questions as above. It asks a lot of questions, and I never figured out how to tell it "later." I just gave up, turned off the car, and had lunch.

Navigation starts up automatically when you return, and just gets you there.

Gender Engineering

GM does it right.

OnStar uses a women's voice to ask you secretarial and administrative questions, like "would you like to continue?," and uses a man's voice for actual commands and directions.

 

Telephone       top

The telephone is the best I've ever used.

It's easy! I never read the manual.

Make a call

1.) Press the phone button on the steering wheel or rear-view mirror.

2.) Tell it what you want: to call someone, simply say "dial" and tell it the number.

Easy! You'll see your minutes remaining on the center console.

Get a call

When someone calls you, the radio audio mutes if you were listening.

You'll hear a sound exactly like what you hear when you're calling someone else. Once you realize that since you didn't call anyone else, it must bo someone is calling you, so press the phone button on the steering wheel to pick up.

You'll see the caller's number clearly displayed as "123 456 7890" in the center console. This is nice and clear, unlike many cell phones which jumble the punctuation and spacing. I don't know if it always does this, or simply recognized my wife's number from me having called her first.

Talk all you want, and press the hang up button to hang up.

Make Another Call

I simply guessed and said "redial," and it did. Bravo! I wish everything works as well as Onstar.

Verizon

You may or may not be able to couple a Verizon account or number to the OnStar phone.

 

Limits       top

OnStar doesn't help much if you can't see the sky for the GPS to get your location, or if you're away from cell phone service.

OnStar is always on, 24/7. If you park your car at the airport for the week, OnStar shuts off after 5 days to keep from running down your battery. This also means if someone jacks your car after 5 days, if they don't turn it in, OnStar can't help you get it back.

 

Recommendations       top

I'd prefer using OnStar to a GPS or any other kind of phone in a car.

I'd very seriously compare the cost of an OnStar subscription to the expense of an old-style dedicated GPS system. IN fact, the cost of an OnStar subscription is probably the same as what it would cost you just to buy map updates for your GPS each year.

 

PLUG

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Thanks for reading!

Ken

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