While Ford got all the attention and the affection for the rather neat voice assistant feature called Sync, it was actually FIAT which introduced such a feature in the sub-Rs 10 lakh price bracket in India. Both the cars from the Italian company’s stables - the Punto hatchback and the Linea sedan, have had certain versions fitted with the Blue & Me Feature.
The basis for both FIAT’s solution as well as Ford’s setup is the same. The power is derived from an Intel Atom processor, and runs on the Windows Embedded Automotive Platform 7. Simply put, there is a little computer in there, which does all the work. But, this is really where the similarities end.
The interface: While Ford’s Sync has a proper display and a customized skin over it, FIAT’s setup is much more restrained and conventional. There is the multi-function display in the instrument console, which apart from things like time, outside temperature, next service due etc., also displays information pulled from the phone, once the device is synced. While this leaves it with not too much space for a lot of info to show up, this does mean that it is more in the “line of sight” of the driver.
This is the multi-function display that also works for Blue & Me. The operator name being shown here is first shown after the phone connects with Blue & Me, as soon as it is within range.
Message Reader does not work with the iPhone. Neither did it work with the message read-out feature in Ford Sync. Works well with Android phones, though.
Pairing with the phone is a simple task. For the one-time pairing setup, you will see a code on the multi-function display. Punch in that code on the phone, and you are good to go.
The main key for Blue & Me is the one with the Windows logo on it. Press this, and you can then proceed with the voice commands the rest of the way.
The steering controls are well laid out, and during driving, they do not get in the way at all. The only niggle is that they feel a tad stiff, in comparison to the controls in a lot of other cars. However, this could be an isolated incident.
Controls: There are a bunch of controls on the steering wheel. In the driver’s seat, the left side has four controls - the primary one being the activation key, which seems to be universal with all Windows in-car solutions. There is the volume mute key, as well as the and - options, that work with the music system as well. On the right side of the steering wheel, is the single button for making a call, the navigation arrow keys and the source key for the entertainment system which also doubles up as the select key for Blue & Me.
The Good and the Bad: Like all things, every voice based assistant has its positives and negatives. You would have seen the detailed video of how the system works. For starters, we were impressed by how well Blue & Me responds to a call to activate, and how efficiently it performs when the preset voice commands are used.. The ease with which it understands our accents was impressive, at least up till this point. For voice dialing a contact, there is the expected issue with Blue & Me understanding some names, and not understanding some others. While there is the SMS readout feature, it refuses to read out SMSes from the iPhone, just like the Ford Sync.
While the Blue & Me feature is a neat add-on to have in the car, we would suggest using it as an additional convenience feature for using your phone in the car. While we would never recommend using it while driving, we would also not suggest that you bother with any voice based assistant when on the move, because you might end up having a to-and-fro regarding the contact you wish to call, and the name the system is able to understand.
At the moment, Blue & Me has been kept very simple and easy to set up and use. You can get down to using it immediately, without any hassle. However, we believe the future iterations need a proper screen setup for configuring and using Blue & Me. This is where Ford Sync has the advantage at the moment. FIAT, globally, also has the emergency assistance feature, but that is not being offered in India yet. The fact that Ford has now done so, we could see FIAT also adding this feature to the check-list in the next update.
You can read about our experience with the Ford Sync, and the videos here.