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Your guide to voice control in the car

Tips for using Siri and Google Assistant on the road

Dash with Siri hands-free

Thanks to virtual assistant devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, voice control is quickly becoming a mainstay in the modern smart home. Voice control devices offer an incredible range of hands-free help, from reciting recipes in the kitchen to DJing in the den. But how can voice control help in the car, where hands-free use is so essential?

Making the most of your smartphone in the car

With a Bluetooth® connection to your car stereo, you'll have quick access to the suite of voice commands available on your smartphone. If you use an iPhone® or Android™ device, you may be familiar with some of what Siri® and Google Assistant can do for you. If your vehicle's factory system isn't equipped with Bluetooth, there are several types of Bluetooth solutions that extend voice control from your phone to your car's audio system. An external microphone captures your voice, while audio responses play through your car speakers or your new solution's built-in speaker. Prompting your vehicle's voice control is usually done with the single push of a button, but depending on compatibility, speaking "Hey Siri" or "Ok Google" can work if activated in your phone's settings.

Smart phone screens

All kinds of useful voice commands for the car

It's no secret that hands-free calling is a must when you're driving (in fact, it's a requirement in many states). With voice control, tasks become even more streamlined. For instance, calling home is as simple as waiting for a prompt and then saying, "Call home."

But what about if you need directions to a decent restaurant on a road trip? Or if you need to switch up the music? Or send a text to tell your friend you're running late? You can do that and a whole lot more than you may realize without taking your eyes off the road. Here's just the tip of the iceberg:

Voice control essentials

  • Check your voicemail: If you couldn't catch a call, find out what you missed by saying, "Play last voicemail."
  • Text a contact: If you compose a text for someone in your contact list, Siri or Google Assistant will double-check that the message is correct before sending it, so that your Mom doesn't receive a text that says, "Hey, I have a fish on my head," That is, unless you want her to.
  • Listen to your texts: "Read last text message" will prompt Siri or Google Assistant to walk you through your latest messages (and give you the opportunity to reply). The more specific your command, the better the results.
  • Set a reminder, an alarm, or dictate a brilliant thought for later: A lot of important thoughts come to you while you're driving. Use voice control to make sure you don't forget them.
  • Check business hours: Save yourself from driving someplace only to be greeted with a "Closed" sign by asking for an establishment's business hours on the way there.
  • Check the weather: Driving to a hiking trail? Siri or Google Assistant can tell you whether to bring that extra layer or leave it in the car.
  • Call an emergency number: Whether it's 911 or your local fire department, voice control helps you stay in the moment if you're witness to an accident or emergency.

Make music easier

  • Ask for downloaded songs by name: If you have music files saved to your phone, you can simply request them. Feel free to think ahead too by requesting, "After this, play..."
  • Even streaming music can get a little easier: If you have a favorite app for streaming music open, try commands like "Next track," "Last track," "Resume," and "Pause." Mastering some simple voice commands can make playing music easier in the car.
  • Adjust the volume: While you won't be able to make adjustments to your vehicle's stereo, you can adjust the volume of the audio source, your phone.

Let your phone guide you

  • Ask for directions: Getting where you need to go can be as simple as "How do I get to...?"
  • Double-check traffic: After a long day at work, it never hurts to check on traffic to make sure you get home as soon as possible. Start a dialogue with Siri or Google Assistant about the best possible route by asking "What's the traffic like on my way home?"
  • Status check: Towards the end of long road trip, it can be tempting to fumble for your phone to check on your ETA. Instead, consider asking, "How long until I reach my destination?" for the answer.

Fun stuff

  • Get local movie times: Win parent-of-the-week by asking "What movies are playing near me?" and take the kids to an impromptu afternoon flick.
  • Settle a bet: "How many stars in the sky?" Let Siri or Google Assistant resolve whatever quandaries come up on a long car ride.
  • Can't decide where to eat? Ask Siri or Google Assistant to "Flip a coin," and you'll get an answer (like it or not).
  • Open a 3rd Party app: Voice control is integrated into a number of 3rd Party apps. Grant access to that essential app in your device's settings and take advantage of cool features.
Sony Controller

We got hands-on with voice control in the car

Asking for directions to Chipotle only to get the weather in Half Moon Bay can prompt uncharacteristic aggravation — we get that. As a result, it's easy to write off the whole feature out of frustration. But with a little practice, you might discover that the stuff voice control does well can be a huge benefit while you're driving.

One of our graphic designers, Travis, is a big iPhone® fan and avid user of the "Hey Siri" function. He generally gets great results from Siri because he's well-versed in what it can and cannot do. He keeps his voice commands clear, and he's excited by new additions to the Siri universe. So, we asked him to compare his experience at home with his experience in the car.

Using his Siri-compatible touchscreen receiver, he was able to call his wife, send her a text, and navigate to our local airport, all using voice control. He was satisfied with all of his testing and was even surprised by how much he enjoyed using basic voice commands with Spotify®. It's worth noting, however, that using any car audio device, like a receiver, as a middleman between you and your phone will cause a very slight delay when using Siri or Google Assistant. But as Travis put it, he'd always prefer waiting a moment for results and keeping his eyes on the road than being tempted to look to his phone and fiddle with it.

When he used Sony's RM-X7BT Bluetooth smartphone controller, an add-on solution for customers not looking to replace their radio, he had similar results. The one exception was that Sony's built-in protocols prompted Siri to prohibit the launch of 3rd Party apps like Spotify while in a vehicle. However, the convenience of Sony's intuitive super-button controller, much like steering wheel controls, made play/pause and track skipping easy when streaming music on Spotify.

Garmin navigator

Not a big smartphone user? Voice control is built into other devices

There are still a lot of flip-phoners out there, and if you're one of them, you can still benefit from voice control in the car. Our selection of portable navigation devices makes adding GPS to your vehicle straightforward, and in the case of Garmin's DriveLuxe 51LMT-S navigator, voice control is an important feature.

I took that Garmin device for a spin in my vehicle. Setting destinations on the fly, asking for service and restaurant recommendations, and rerouting were all intuitive once I learned Garmin's menu of voice commands. Garmin's large, color display with easy-to-see landmarks was a huge step up from my phone's display. And with my phone synced to the navigator via Bluetooth, I was also able to use its mic and speaker for hands-free calling. Garmin even gave me the option to call the restaurant I was headed to by using voice control.

Garmin doesn't stop at their navigators with voice control. If you're interested in a dash cam to record the road ahead, Garmin's Dash Cams 55 and 65W integrate voice control for a quick way to save recordings, take pics, and also initiate the Travelapse™ feature, which turns hours of footage into a kind of highlight reel.

Get comfortable with voice control and improve your drive

As with anything, the more you use voice control, the more comfortable you'll be with the feature, and the more you'll get out of it. So, try using it once a day on your smartphone for a task you normally do by hand. Bit by bit, you'll become a Siri or Google Assistant pro like Travis, and you'll discover how it can benefit you best in the car.

When you're ready to enhance your vehicle with voice-control equipped gear, give us a call. One of our advisors will help you find the right solution for your needs.

Oh, and if you use voice control often, share your tips in the comments of this article!

Please share your thoughts below.

  • Mark R from Portage

    Posted on 8/17/2017

    I installed the Sony AX100 in my older tundra several months ago. The unit is a large touchscreen that is bright enough in the day and auto dims when you turn your lights on. The price for the unit is steep and most of the features worked better after Sony updates the firmware but for the most part between the phone and the apps it can be very buggy. If you're tech savvy it can be manageable but for those who aren't as up on things it can be frustrating