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Garmin Speak Plus review: Amazon Alexa-controlled dash cam keeps you focused on just driving

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People don’t seem to care about opening doors into other vehicles, and car prowling is prevalent in Washington State. Thus, our family purchases older model cars to avoid car payments, high insurance premiums, and concern for minor damage caused by reckless people.

This also means that my 1992 Honda and 2002 Acuras do not have the latest technology inside, and I have to look to other means to enable GPS navigation, lane assist, collision avoidance, and dash cam capability.

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Last year, Garmin partnered with Amazon to release the Garmin Speak. This year, at CES, it announced the Garmin Speak Plus that adds an integrated camera and features that utilize camera technology. The Garmin Speak Plus is $80 more than the Garmin Speak, but after using it for a couple of trips I think the camera functionality is worth the premium.

Specifications

  • Display: 17.2 x 9.6mm, 114 x 64-pixel resolution OLED display with LED light ring
  • Storage: MicroSD card slot, supporting up to 64GB capacity
  • Dash camera: Resolution support up to 1080p/30fps and 82-degree field of view
  • Dimensions: 35.7mm diameter x 37.7mm deep and 438.8g

The Garmin Speak Plus retail package includes the Speak Plus unit, magnetic mount with adhesive backing plate, and auto adapter with long cable to microUSB end. Garmin also included an 8GB microSD card for testing.

Hardware

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The first thing that struck me after I removed the Garmin Speak Plus from the shipping box was the small size of the device. It’s only about 1.5 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches tall, so it is easy to position on any windshield and tuck away in the a top corner.

The Speak Plus is constructed of plastic with a matte black finish. The camera is centered on the front with a speaker grille around the camera lens. The voice is very clear and crisp. The integrated speaker works well, but it is better to have the Speak Plus connected to your car stereo system if you want to hear it in all road conditions and also enjoy music through the Speak Plus.

An OLED display is integrated into the back, but you cannot see the display until you have the Speak Plus plugged in and turned on. The display font is crystal clear in all lighting conditions and looks almost like an electronic ink display on the Speak Plus. I was immediately impressed by the display and found the visual directions, arrows, and LED colors to be very helpful.

A LED light strip is located around the perimeter of the back. This lights up in blue when Amazon Alexa is functioning, green when approaching a turn, orange when transferring photos and videos, and other colors appropriate to the action occurring on the device.

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There is a ball joint positioned on the top with a small arm that is connected to a mounting pad. This has a magnet at the end that fits into a magnetic adhesive pad for mounting on the window. Try to figure out a place to secure the Speak Plus because the adhesive is not easy to remove and re-position later. One extra adhesive pad is included in case you want to mount it in two vehicles.

There are two buttons on the left side: One is for mute, and the other is to power on the device and make selections. The microUSB port for the power cable is on the right side. A microSD card slot is positioned on the bottom of the Speak Plus. There are mic openings on the bottom and back of the Speak Plus.

The Speak Plus has a Bluetooth radio, so you can connect it to your smartphone and to your car’s audio system. If you have older vehicles like I do, there is a 3.5mm aux port on the end of the vehicle plug so you can connect to your car’s stereo system for a much better speaker experience.


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Smartphone software

While the Garmin Speak Plus supports Amazon Alexa, this functionality is provided through a smartphone and its wireless connection to the internet. The Garmin Speak Plus does not operate as a standalone device, so your smartphone must first be setup to enable all of the features.

The first app you need to install is Garmin Speak. This app is used to setup the Bluetooth connection between your phone and Speak Plus, choose where to navigate to, manage the dash cam functions, toggle driver assistance functions, and customize navigation, audio, camera, and other settings.

Dash cam functions include toggling the record feature off or on (it is on by default when you start your trip), choosing to save a video manually, and choosing to have the Speak Plus capture a photo while in the car.

Navigation settings include toggles for units, carpool lanes, ferries, toll roads, and more. Audio settings let you choose if the Garmin Speak app or your vehicle (over Bluetooth) is where the audio will play. Camera settings let you select quality (1080p or 720p), whether audio is recorded, data overlay info, automatic event detection, and window placement. Driver assistance settings toggle the sensitivity of forward collisions, toggle an alert for departure, and toggle alert for lane departure.

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Driver assistance options include forward collision avoidance, lane departure, and go alerts. I don’t drive close enough to drivers in front of me to fully test the forward collision, but I was able to test lane departure alerts.

The Speak Plus has an integrated gyroscope, so if there is a collision, then it will capture, record, and save the video from the incident.

In order to use the full capability of the device, really of your smartphone, you need to install the Amazon Alexa application on your smartphone. With this installed, you can then use any Alexa skill through the Speak Plus. You also control the Speak Plus experience by speaking, “Alexa, ask Garmin…”. It’s a bit odd, but I quickly became used to it as we drove across Washington State and back for a basketball tournament.

You can enjoy Amazon Music through the Speak Plus, check your calendar, make and receive phone calls, and perform virtually any of the Alexa skills while you or someone else is driving.

The last app you will need if you wish to view your video and photo gallery is the Garmin VIRB app. This is the same app that is used with the Garmin VIRB cameras, and if you select to view the gallery in the Garmin Speak app, then a pop-up will appear stating that a Wi-Fi Direct connection between the Speak Plus and your phone will be made. You can then view the videos and photos captured and choose to download them to your phone or share them.

Video is recorded automatically to the microSD card, and if your card reaches its capacity, then video will record over the oldest video content. This way any microSD card you insert will ensure video is recorded, but it will eventually be overwritten. The Garmin VIRB app lets you save this content outside of the microSD card for other purposes.

Pricing and competition

You can purchase the Garmin Speak Plus with Amazon Alexa now for $229.99.

Garmin has three other dash camera solutions with the Dash Cam 65W at $249.99, Dash Cam 55 at $199.99, and Dash Cam 45 at $149.99. These other dedicated dashboard cameras have higher resolution and wider angle options, but they do not have navigation functionality.

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There are a number of low-cost dash cameras, including from many China-based brands I have never heard of, but Garmin is a name I trust for quality and reliability.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The Garmin Speak brought Amazon Alexa to your vehicle, and the Speak Plus builds upon this with the dash camera. However, the dash camera is pretty basic with an 82-degree field of view and 1080p video resolution. Garmin makes better dedicated dash cameras, with voice control, for less money.

While I typically use smartphones for navigation while driving, I prefer the Speak Plus experience with basic visual cues and voice navigation that lets me keep the phone plugged in and out of my hands.

As you approach your turn, the bottom of the LED ring turns green and then that color moves up and around so that the full circle is green when your turn is to be completed. I also found the lane guidance particularly useful for left exits off the freeway, which are not that common, as the OLED screen shows all lanes as arrows.

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If you are an Amazon Alexa user that wants that experience in the car, then this is an excellent solution. I am not much of an Alexa user, as I’ve adopter Google Home in my house and also found it a bit odd to talk to the Speak Plus through Alexa. It works well — you just have to learn the proper commands to accurately control things.

Wirelessly controlled outgoing phone calls do not work, but you can accept calls. It’s really best not to make or receive calls while driving though, so I am fine with not having this functionality. You also cannot yet use Spotify, which is my preferred music service, but Amazon Music works just fine.

The $229.99 price is a bit high when compared to other dash cams, so I would love to see it go back to the $199.99 pre-order launch price. If you want a dash cam with solid navigation and spend a lot of time in your car listening to Audible books or completing other Alexa skills, then it is easy to justify the current price.

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