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The best in-car technology

  • Story Highlights
  • Today, cars offer a dizzying array of features that can do almost anything
  • "Infotainment" is the modern intersection of information and entertainment
  • GM launched OnStar, the auto world's first experience in telematics, 12 years ago
  • AT&T takes their CruiseCast system live this spring
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By Rex Roy
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New Cars, Used Cars, Kelley Blue Book Values at AOL Autos

(AOL Autos) -- Not all that long ago, this author owned a car that had no working electronics.

Ford introduced SYNC last year. Developed with Microsoft, SYNC has a powerful speech engine.

Ford introduced SYNC last year. Developed with Microsoft, SYNC has a powerful speech engine.

The engine had a carburetor and a mechanical ignition. What electronics it did have were broken ... another way of saying the radio didn't work.

Unlike some of today's cars that will provide a complete weather forecast, back then if I wanted to know the temperature, I rolled down the window.

Today, cars offer a dizzying array of features that can do almost anything a 21st century driver wishes. Most of these features are classified as "Infotainment", that modern intersection of information and entertainment.

Currently, no one manufacturer offers everything, but read on to see who offers what today and if it's worth spending your money.

General Motors' OnStar

GM launched OnStar 12 years ago. It was the auto world's first experience with telematics. Using a wireless connection and GPS technology, GM crafted a powerful communications system that has saved thousands of lives by contacting a nearby emergency service provider in the case of an accident.

Early OnStar features were geared toward providing extra safety, but today OnStar is expanding services as more GM vehicles are equipped with OnStar hardware. One of OnStar's newest features is eNav, an enhancement of their Turn-By-Turn Navigation service. AOL Autos: Research Chevy cars and trucks

If your GM vehicle has OnStar and you're a subscriber, you can use your computer to find your destination, and then MapQuest sends the route directly to your vehicle. Simple voice commands let you access the route. See more at OnStar.com.

Cost: Comes installed but plans start at $18.95.

Ease of use: Easy, you'll be using it right away

Ford SYNC

Ford introduced SYNC last year. Developed with Microsoft, SYNC has a powerful speech engine. This is the key to giving drivers voice control over their car's entertainment systems as well as linked external devices (via USB and wireless connections). With SYNC, when you talk to your car it will really hear you. AOL Autos: Research Ford cars and trucks

Once you've wirelessly linked to your Bluetooth phone and MP3 player (via USB), these devices can be voice-controlled, but it takes practice. Unlike GM's On-Star that uses built-into-the-car cellular hardware, SYNC provides services like emergency response and traffic routing using a paired cell phone.

Learn more about SYNC at syncmyride.com.

Cost: $395, rolled into the price of the vehicle. No monthly charge.

Ease of use: Easy-ish. You'll be using it in 15 minutes

Acura Link

Acura is Honda's luxury brand. In typically humble Honda fashion, in the years since the first Acura debut in 1986, Honda has quietly expanded its line of high-quality premium automobiles. In addition to featuring one of the best audio systems (ELS Surround Sound), Acuras have optional features suited for traffic and weather junkies. AOL Autos: Research Acura cars

If you're addicted to traffic and weather info but have tired of reports from local AM radio, then Acura's real-time traffic and weather are for you. In addition to trip routing, this NAV calculates real-time routes based on current traffic flow.

Other screens show local weather radar and 3-day forecasts. Get more at Acura.com.

Cost: Technology package, approximately $3000.

Ease of use: Easy. You'll be using it right away

Lexus' navigation system

New Lexus vehicles equipped with NAV feature casual-speech recognition. Systems like OnStar and SYNC require specific verbal commands, but Lexus eases things up. You can say, "Call Bob at home," or "Gimme a Japanese restaurant," instead of regimented verbal cues. AOL Autos: Research Lexus cars

More details at Lexus.com.

Cost: Technology package, approximately $6000

Ease of use: Easy. You'll be using it right away

AT&T CruiseCast

This spring, the old phone company takes their CruiseCast system live, offering 22 TV and 20 radio channels. A small satellite receiver on the vehicle's roof pipes entertainment to an A/V system. Never hear "Are we there yet?" again. Check out CruiseCast.com.

Cost: Hardware is $1300, fees are $28 per month

Ease of use: Easy. You'll be using it right away

Chrysler and Sirius offer Backseat TV

If you're shopping for a new family hauler and want a simple-to-use, kid-quieting A/V system, consider the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan with the 2-screen option. It pipes 3 channels of kid's shows into twin overhead monitors. Kids listen over wireless headphones. AOL Autos: Research Chrysler cars

See more at Chrysler.com

Cost: $2000

Ease of use: Easy. You'll be using it right away.

AudioVox amps up aftermarket A/V

If you already own a capable family hauler but want the latest in rear-seat entertainment, AudioVox offers several choices. Headrests matched to your interior include a monitor and DVD player, but the monitors auto-link for 2-player video game action. Satellite TV is a new-for-2009 option. Details at AudioVox.com.

Cost: Approximately $400 per headset

Ease of use: Easy-ish. You'll be using it in 15 minutes

Chrysler 200C -- glimpse of the future

The Chrysler 200C easily ranked as one of the most significant concept cars at this past January's 2009 Detroit Auto Show. If the striking shape didn't stop you, news of its electric powertrain would. However, the most innovative feature of the show car was its gesture-based instrument panel. The technology provides a glimpse of our driving future.

It's no surprise that the company behind the iPhone's gesture-based instrument cluster (Nartron) also works with Apple and other major electronics suppliers. The reconfigurable LCD display shows a glimpse of what the future of infotainment will look like. The button and switchless dashboard integrates multiple video monitors, GPS units, Internet access and much more.

Cost: Not for sale

© 2009 AOL, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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