Review: OnStar FMV Mirror Gives Aftermarket a Stellar Traveling Companion
What if your mirror was more than just a reflective piece of glass that provided your eyes with visual cues as to your surroundings? What if it could connect to your phone and broadcast voices through tiny but perfectly audible speakers, offer hands-free calling, alert emergency services in case of an accident, provide you with turn-by-turn directions, and track your car in case of vehicle theft? Introducing the OnStar FMV, an aftermarket system that provides all of the same services once reserved for late-model GM cars and trucks.
The OnStar FMV runs $199 retail (with a limited time $99 instant rebate promo) for the mirror itself and can be had from big box retailers like Best Buy as well as online merchants such as Crutchfied. Installation will set you back about $100 with the labor completed in around 90 minutes or so depending on the vehicle. Just having the mirror is fine and dandy but, without any add-on services, it doesn’t provide much value. The two choices are the Safe and Sound plan which, for $18.95 a month, provides emergency and security services or the Directions and Connection plan which, for $28.90 monthly, gives you the full monty including voice-based navigation.
The OnStar FMV system consists of the mirror unit as well as a small external mic. The mirror is pretty chunky and weighs in at 23 ounces. From the side it’s thick but from head-on looks just like a regular mirror. The microphone is typically tucked into the fabric along the ceiling above the driver’s seat, as was the case with our test vehicle.
The FMV consists of the aforementioned mirror, Bluetooth, a GPS radio , a cellular radio and an accelerometer. As one would expect, the GPS radio is used for navigation, emergencies and road-side assistance. The accelerometer tracks the vehicle’s behavior and can sense if you are in a collision or have flipped over. The cellular radio handles all communication duties including calls to Onstar as well as calls involving phones that don’t have Bluetooth.
The device is very simple and easy to interact with. A few well-lit and well-labeled buttons take care of essential duties. The blue OnStar button calls an operator, while a Phone button on the left syncs up with Bluetooth and an Emergency button on the right lets home base know when you are in trouble. Along the top is a Volume control and a Button-Brightness setting.
In typical usage, the OnStar FMV is a compelling offering. Hands-free calling is a must these days both for legal compliance (in many cities) and ease-of-use. Pairing a Bluetooth-enabled phone is quick and easy, call quality is excellent with sufficient volume, and dialing contacts by voice is a breeze (though not all devices are supported). I just used my cell phone with the loaner but the system provides the option of buying minutes (to make or receive calls) for the mirror itself.
The vehicle was not stolen during our stint nor did we get into a wreck so, as much as we were tempted to hire a street thug to requisition our vehicle or slam into a light pole for testing purposes, we wisely exercised restraint. We can only assume that the system performs as admirably with these services as it does with the rest of its offering.
Voice-only driving directions take some getting used to since, between my cell phone and handheld GPS units, I’ve been spoiled for quite some time. You can’t view your location on a map, receive any kind of visual lane assistance or get traffic details but the system is so simple and easy to use that you quickly forget about the advantages these other devices provide. Instead of typing in city, state and address, you simply press the blue Onstar button and call a super-friendly advisor to help plan your trip. Once they find the location they inform you the distance you will be traveling and send the info to your FMV unit and navigation begins pretty quickly.
The voice-prompts are totally understandable, short and to the point and given at intervals that provide both adequate timing for action and a frequency that is not aggravating or overly intrusive. If you stray from the course, either on purpose or by accident, the system engages you and asks if you want to recalculate or cancel the current guidance and start fresh. If you get back on track by your own devices it will automatically assume you have corrected course and continues with the current trajectory. Those with diminished short-term memory will be happy to know that pressing the Phone button and saying “Repeat” will give you the previously stated directions again.. That said, my favorite function allowed me to hit up OnStar and get directions to things like the nearest gas station or Starbucks.
If you are more proactive and want to plan your own trip, you can also employ the OnStar eNav function which lets you use any computer with Google Maps or Mapquest to plan your route and send the directions to your ride. When you are ready to go, just click the Phone button and say “Virtual Advisor” and it will get you on your way.
If you are a budget-minded consumer, the OnStar FMV may not be for you. At roughly $400 for the device and installation and anywhere between $200 and $300 a year for the two services, this is one expensive rear-view mirror. Also, if you use you cell-phone for navigation and have a solid speaker phone or Bluetooth headset you won’t be compelled to switch. That said, for pure ease of use, peace of mind and convenience, the OnStar FMV is truly outstanding. If you’re concerned about loved ones, just knowing that emergency services, road-side assistance and a helpful operator are just a push of a button away may be enough to seal the deal. For other folks, hands-free calling (with or without Bluetooth) and voice-navigation may be the two missing ingredients to make their daily travels pleasant and easy. And for theft-averse (or paranoid) people, the security services and vehicle-recovery capabilities may be enough. Whatever the case, the OnStar FMV is a solid and attractively priced alternative to maintaining multiple devices as it creatively packages in one unit the most necessary features for safe and comfortable motoring.