The 2018 model year Camry is at dealerships now, and carries with it Voicebox’s speech technology! Having been part of developing that system, we at Voicebox have seen the software running in our labs and evolving over the past two years. Now that it’s on the market, I thought I’d check out the full in-car experience. Big thanks to the friendly folks at Michael’s Toyota of Bellevue for letting me try out a brand new Camry XLE.
The first thing I noticed was not the voice system. The first thing was that this is a very nice car. The seats were quite comfortable with plenty of legroom for my long frame, the interior appointments are elegant, and oh, that new car smell!
I started with the simplest voice command I could think of. The radio was already on, so I tried turning it off by voice. One tap of the Speak button on the steering wheel, waiting for the beep, and saying “Turn off the radio” was all it took. The music stopped and the car said “Audio Off.” Easy enough!
My family recently returned from a summer vacation road trip, during which finding gas stations was a constant concern. I asked the car to “Find me a gas station near here,” and after a moment a list of nearby stations appeared on the console. This functionality is part of the car’s built-in fuel management app, which was happy to give me fuel remaining and range — two other features I would have appreciated on that trip.
The voice interface can also control the car’s air conditioning and other interior systems. But to get the full voice experience, the car should be paired over Bluetooth with a smartphone running the Entune 3.0 App Suite.
I had downloaded Entune ahead of time, and after checking that Bluetooth was enabled on my phone, the car and the phone connected without difficulty. After granting access to my contacts list and other information on the phone I could try out texting and hands-free dialing.
Texting, which is an ever-growing concern in cars these days, was easy to do by voice. The car automatically processed my contacts list so it could recognize the names of all my contacts (and I wish there was space in this article to talk about how that works under-the-covers!), so I could press the speak button and say “Send a text to Adam Williams.” It understood correctly, and on the first try!
Instead of letting me dictate a text, however, the car offered a menu of pre-set text messages, with common responses and helpful options such as letting the recipient know you’re driving right now and can’t talk to them. With the 2018 models, Toyota seems to have taken the issue of driver distraction seriously.
The Entune App Suite includes infotainment options for sports, stocks, traffic, navigation, music, and several others. I did not have time to try them all, but I played with the music, navigation, and traffic options.
After making sure that Pandora was logged in on my phone, a simple “Launch Pandora” command was all it took to start Pandora running on the car’s console. From there, I could play any of my pre-existing Pandora stations. Given how many individual song ratings I’ve invested in my Pandora stations, I was pleased not to have to create new stations for the car. The iHeartRadio app was also very easy to use, allowing me to find and play music by genre and in other ways that differ from Pandora. Between the two, you should be able to access just about any music on the road, without taking your hands off the wheel or eyes off the road.
Navigation led me into another neat capability of the Entune system: its downloadable apps. The car does come pre-installed with every possible Entune app. Because I was only sitting in it at the dealership, I could download and install the Scout GPS app onto the car’s console. This was a pleasingly straightforward process, taking only a couple of taps on the console screen and waiting a minute or so. It’s nice to know that Toyota can expand the Entune App Suite over time to keep the car up-to-date with new apps and services.
Once Scout GPS was running, I could do all the expected navigation functions by voice: finding places and helping me get there with turn-by-turn directions. Naturally it knew national brands like Starbucks, but was also able to locate local businesses, such as John Howie Steakhouse, by name.
Overall, the system worked very well. I had to get used to waiting for the beep before giving my commands, but once I had the hang of it the system was pretty easy to use. What surprised me most was how integral the voice interface feels to the whole car. I went in thinking I was just going to play with the voice commands for a while, but quickly found myself using voice to access the fuel system, AC, radio, and all the other things that I have to punch buttons for in my own car.
The 2018 Camry isn’t just a car paired with a smartphone: It truly is a smart car.