2016 Wards 10 Best UX: Rating Voice Activation

August 29, 2016


Voice-recognition systems have come a long way from roughly 10 years ago, when they first started to appear in the U.S. market.

Back then, what you could say to them and what they could understand was regimented and limited, to say the least.

Many automakers and suppliers strove to make them understand natural speech, which is pretty much where we are today.

Still, in our testing for the inaugural Wards 10 Best User Experience awards, we find a range of differences.

With the best systems, such as the voice recognition in the Chrysler Pacifica, you can just hit the talk button and say, “tune to 80s on 8,” the SiriusXM 80s music channel, and it’ll do it! Oh FCA, how you spoil us!

Other systems still require weaving your way through a 2-step menu, or worse, a 3-step menu, to reach the point of asking for a particular radio station.

The most onerous systems, such as the one in the Honda Ridgeline, require you to say “Audio,” then SiriusXM, then 80s on 8. With some systems you even have to confirm the station!

In the ’17 Nissan Pathfinder, you need to say the station number, not a station name. For instance, SXM Channel 8, not SXM 80s on 8. Hope you can remember your local traffic-and-weather station number!

Sometimes you can get to what you want quicker by hitting the talk button again while a prompt is playing. This is possible in the Pathfinder.

While we aren’t fond of the multiple steps it takes to select a station in the Ridgeline, we do appreciate the range of things you can say to it.

Changing climate control settings via voice, with about eight different items to change, is possible in the new midsize pickup. You can turn up the temperature via voice, as well as adjust the fan speed. Nice job, Honda.

The biggest surprise about voice recognition during our testing is how good the systems are getting. Only rarely did they trip up. And the new Ford Escape is so fast we can barely get our words out before it performs a command! Ask the Kia Optima for a radio station and you’ll wait several seconds before hearing it.

There are a few misunderstood commands, however. In the Chevy Malibu Hybrid, “work” proves a challenging word when yours truly tried to call her office number after pairing her phone.

The Audi Q7, Mazda CX-9 and Volvo XC90 stand out as some of the worst-performing voice recognition systems we’ve come across. The XC90, while pretty to look at, couldn’t understand most commands. Hmm. Maybe if we spoke with Swedish accents?


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