Our primary way of telling each other what to do is the spoken word. But attempts to bring the same facility to digital devices have been rather less successful. That hasn't stopped manufacturers from trying. The potential of verbal control for sat-nav devices is particularly clear, and so we have the Garmin nüvi 860, the main selling point of which is its voice-activated navigation.
Garmin isn't the only sat-nav company to offer verbal control. Both TomTom and Navigon also include the capability with some of their devices. But the 860 has a unique implementation, revolving around a simple but clever innovation. This is a remote control specifically designed to be strapped to a convenient position on your steering wheel. This remote only has two buttons. The most prominent one enables the voice-activated navigation system, whilst a much smaller one turns this off again.
Previous voice recognition implementations we have come across expect you to touch the screen at some point. With the GO x40 LIVE series, TomTom has confined this to a single tap to get the ball rolling. But it will still be a distraction from driving, an action which you really shouldn't perform unless your vehicle is completely stationary. Garmin's remote removes this final interactive necessity. However, we found it not so easy to attach to a thick-rimmed steering wheel.
The voice command system itself is very intuitive, and just about the best we've seen. Instead of having to remember the right phrases to use for various functions, you can simply say virtually any of the commands you currently see onscreen - such as ‘Where to?' and ‘View map'. You can even access settings, and call up the Bluetooth options by voice alone. We still wouldn't say the recognition was faultless, but it's much more reliable than the system TomTom introduced with the GO x40 LIVE series. Nevertheless, your attention will be drawn to the screen, and yet again we would recommend caution using the 860's verbal commands when your car is in motion.
Although the voice recognition is the main feature of the 860, it is a premium device and has numerous other extra facilities. The maps cover the entirety of Western Europe in detail, plus major roads in some nearby countries in Eastern Europe. The microphone and speaker can be hooked up to your mobile phone via Bluetooth for use as a hands-free kit. There is also allegedly an FM transmitter built in, for piping sounds to your car stereo, but we couldn't work out how to set this up.