Review: Garmin Speak adds Alexa to the car with navigation cues, but expect limitations

In the run-up to the HomePod’s delayed release, I’ve been experimenting heavily with Amazon Alexa in various forms. While Alexa is most present at home where I’ve placed Echo Dots throughout my house for controlling lights, I’ve also tried Alexa in the car using Garmin Speak which is a dash-mounted GPS with Amazon’s voice assistant built-in.

I’ll cut to the chase with this one. Garmin Speak isn’t for me as I prefer Apple’s CarPlay, but it does have a few interesting features that make it worth considering for Alexa fans.

If you rely on your iPhone for GPS and want a simple dash-mounted display, Garmin Speak is a handy and compact navigation solution. It features a small screen that displays navigation cues like your next turn direction and distance, and Garmin Speak even displays lane guidance which Apple Maps only added with iOS 11.

Navigation is controlled by voice search which is powered by Amazon Alexa. Using the Garmin Speak app on your iPhone, you can pre-set addresses like home, work, and school, then ask Alexa to give you directions to those locations when you’re driving. Garmin Speak also lets you use Alexa to start navigation to nearby gas stations or specific locations at your request.

Garmin Speak also includes voice navigation as its name suggests, although you’ll hear a different voice for directions then you’ll hear for everything else. The unit isn’t a dedicated GPS, however, as it requires your iPhone and uses cellular to work.

While the unit itself is powered by your car, the connection between Garmin Speak and your iPhone is wireless over Bluetooth, so there’s nothing to connect and disconnect each time you go for a drive. Compare that to Apple CarPlay which requires the Lightning cable to work except in new BMWs and one aftermarket head unit. You can optionally use the included AUX port if needed for a wired audio connection to your car stereo while the unit connects to your iPhone over Bluetooth.