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The Ford SYNC system reads text messages... in theory

Consumer Reports News: August 04, 2010 02:49 PM

Ford has equipped much of their lineup with a rapidly evolving infotainment system called SYNC. Lately, we have become accustomed to the little Microsoft badges in many of our Ford and Lincoln test cars announcing this hardware that can combine an audio system with Bluetooth connectivity, MP3 playback, and voice recognition.

Among the many innovative features, SYNC can read texts off of your mobile phone. We were all intrigued when we heard of this capability, and it has become even more relevant now with new laws against texting while driving. Only one problem: Not one of us to date has ever been able to make it work.
  I might as well admit that I'm a smartphone geek. Although I never owned a BlackBerry or an iPhone, I had a family of Palm Treo's and now have an HTC Touch Pro 2. While Windows Mobile is very capable, it has never had the cachet of an Android, iPhone, or BlackBerry handheld. I have had to endure sneers (and system crashes) in the past due to my choice of phone, but slipping into the seat of our new red Mustang GT Convertible test car, I was feeling pretty good when I spotted that little Microsoft badge on the center console. Now I would be able to access all of those cool SYNC features, right? Wrong.

When I tried to activate text to speech, I was greeted with a dreadful "Not Supported" display. I racked my brain. Did I do something wrong? After all, my phone was equipped seemingly with every feature known to man. The Touch Pro 2 has Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, A2DP (streaming stereo music), voice recognition, and a bunch of other stuff than most people will never figure out how to use. But most importantly, it was powered by Microsoft - just like the SYNC system on this 2011 Mustang. In fact, the Touch Pro 2 has Microsoft's very latest operating system: Windows Mobile Professional 6.5

Needing guidance, I went to Ford's SYNC website. It proudly touts the text-message-to-speech capability without a single asterisk. But with some digging on the site, I was able to download a 12 page PDF document that listed supported phones. (There is an interactive Sync compatibility guide here, as well.) While I had naively assumed that my high-tech Microsoft phone would work with all the features of "SYNC powered by Microsoft," the document verified that this was not the case. But then it got weird. Text to speech wasn't supported by the fabled iPhone, either. Was this a snub to Apple? Apparently not, because not a single Android phone or BlackBerry was listed that could support the feature, either. What was left? Text to speech would only work with a small handful of "dumbphones" that aren't very popular anymore. Anyone remember the Motorola Razr? That phone was pretty cool a couple of years ago...
What does this mean? Ford deserves props for pushing the connectivity envelope and making it available throughout their lineup, but getting the phone manufacturers to agree on a standard for anything is like herding cats. While most SYNC features will work with most phones, don't expect all the advanced features will. Despite what you might think, just because your new phone has Bluetooth doesn't mean it's going to work with your old car that has Bluetooth, and vice versa.

Ford's new MyFord Touch will supplement SYNC in future vehicles. It uses a new protocol that promises to have improved connectivity, including a text-to-speech capability with new BlackBerry devices. What is still unclear is whether new Android, Apple, BlackBerry, or Microsoft phones will support the feature. It is also unclear if Ford will update the old SYNC systems (our 2011 Mustang hardly seems old) to support the new standard. Clearly, your mileage may vary.

What you can do:
Most car manufactures list which phones support what features in their cars. ( See the Ford list.) Consult these before upgrading your phone. However, just because the phone is not listed does not mean it will not work. It seems crude, but a Google search may turn up owner forums where other users can confirm successful car-to-phone pairings. Your car dealer may also be able to update your car with latest software to work with more devices.

Jake Fisher

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