Tech Junkie Review – Garmin Speak Plus With Amazon Alexa
Amazon Alexa in your car… who needs that? That was my first thought. Then I installed it and started to realize, it actually makes sense! The new Garmin Speak Plus with Amazon Alexa puts the power of Alexa, Garmin navigation and a dash camera on your windshield. Best of all, it’s in a tiny little package that most people may not even notice in your car. I put the Garmin Speak to the test.
Connecting it all together
My first thought when I opened the box was, "wow, this thing is tiny!" The window mount is tiny and the actually device is much smaller than I expected. That's a good thing! It actually looks like a tiny little Amazon Echo. On the front you'll find the camera lens (only on the plus model) and on the other side is the screen.
The Speak connects to your accessory port (cigarette lighter plug) for power, audio goes into your car via the aux in plug or bluetooth and it connects to your smartphone for internet access. As complicated as all of this may sound, it actually only took a few minutes to get things setup. The app is simple and guides you through the process.
Using your data
Keep in mind that everything you do on the Speak will be using the data connection on your smartphone. This isn't a huge deal since it won't generally use a ton of data. What you should know is that if your data connection isn't great, the Speak might not work. Near my home I have spotty cell phone coverage and it wasn't uncommon for the Speak to bring up an error message. When I was near downtown Denver with a solid connection it worked flawlessly. This shouldn't be an issue for most people but in places where coverage is spotty (the mountains, the 'burbs, etc) you could have issues when trying to summon Alexa.
Alexa in your car
Once setup, it works exactly as you would expect. Just say "Alexa" and the ring on the Garmin Speak turns blue awaiting your next comment. You can ask it anything you would typically ask Alexa. It's perfect for listening to news briefings during your commute, asking for the weather forecast or playing music from Spotify, Amazon Music or iHeartRadio. You can even add items to your shopping list while you're driving down the highway. It's easy and safer than actually using your smartphone.
The Garmin Speak is more than just an Alexa on your windshield. The magic comes when you use the Garmin skill on the device. You have to say "Alexa, tell garmin to navigate to home" to get directions to your home. You can also say, "Alexa, tell garmin to navigate to nearby gas station." I wish I didn't have to say "tell garmin" everytime but in my experience that was the only way it would actually connect with the navigation service. None the less, it worked great! Navigation activates the small screen on the front. The screen shows an arrow with your upcoming turn and how far away that turn is. Alexa's voice will also talk you through the directions. I love how the green ring starts as a small dot on the bottom and grows to the entire green ring as you get closer to your turn. It's a cool visual way to know how close you are without taking your eyes off the road.
On top of directions, you can ask things like "what is the speed limit" and it'll tell you the speed limit on your current road when you are in navigation mode. It works mostly as you would expect it to work. My only complaint is that you can't speak addresses to the device. Asking it to "navigate to 555 East Speer Blvd in Denver, CO" won't work. You have to add the address into the smartphone app first and set it up as one of your saved locations. Not a huge deal but somewhat frustrating.
Dash cam too!
The "plus" model includes an HD dash cam that works really well. It records video continuously and saves clips when it detects an accident. You can also ask Alexa to save a video clip or take a picture at any time while driving.
In addition to the standard dash cam features it also alerts you if you are too closer to the car in front of you or if you are crossing out of your lane to the left or right. Cool! Especially if your car doesn't include these features. In my testing it worked pretty well although it wasn't flawless. There were plenty of times when I intentionally veered to the right or left and it didn't alert me.
This thing is cool. Super cool! I didn't think I would use Alexa in my car but once I installed this it made perfect sense! Alexa works exactly as you would expect. The navigation features are a great touch and shows where Garmin shines. Most of us don't need a full-screen GPS devices on our dash anymore but THIS might make sense. Not only does it provide an easy hands-free way to get directions but it also lets you do a ga-zillion other things via Alexa without ever picking up your smartphone. It's safer and in some ways smarter!