2008 Ford Focus SES
2008 Ford Focus SES. Click image to enlarge

Manufacturer’s web site

Ford Motor Company of Canada

Review and photos by Michael Clark

Photo Gallery:
2008 Ford Focus

Technology: you can either embrace it, or babble incoherently about how simple things used to be as you’re run over by a steamroller load of Bluetooth, USB ports, and cryptic text message abbreviations. With my personal odometer now reading 39, I’ve begun to realize that the babble has begun. I may not be able to crank out text messages as quickly as the 16-to-24 demographic, but I continue to believe that to embrace technology, you have to jump in thumbs-first. That leap brings us to this week’s Ford Focus follow-up; the Sync system, available in select Ford vehicles. This joint techno-venture between Ford and Microsoft aims to simplify the connectivity conundrums associated with in-car use of Bluetooth-capable wireless phones, and portable media devices for music on the move.

At press time, 51 current phone models are Sync-approved.
It's best to consult the how-to guide, to minimize frustration with what you think should be a simple command, and what Sync knows.
Of particular note is the ability to download your personal phonebook into the Sync system, (Sync1) accessible by steering wheel tabs, centre stack keys, or voice commands
At press time, 51 current phone models are Sync-approved (top); and it’s best to consult the how-to guide, to minimize frustration with what you think should be a simple command, and what Sync knows (middle); of particular note is the ability to download your personal phonebook into the Sync system, accessible by steering wheel tabs, centre stack keys, or voice commands. Click image to enlarge

While most of my brethren would prefer that the use of in-car telephony receive an all-out ban, one only needs to glance at their fellow traffic friends to realize that the situation has reached epidemic proportions. The development of Sync reminds me of the original concepts that gave today’s motorist supplemental restraint systems, AKA air bags. Engineers quickly realized that seat belts, while easily one of the most important innovations for auto safety, required people to think about putting them on. When the masses think, the return answers don’t always match up with the engineers. For those who decided that seat belt use was not in their best interest, the auto industry gave us airbags. They were out to make motoring safe, in spite of our exercises in free will. Bluetooth in-car telephony is simply a way to get both hands back on the wheel, where they belong.

The website propaganda describes Sync as a “fully-integrated, voice activated in-car communication and entertainment system”. The question this week is whether or not Sync is a friend or foe for your daily heel and toe.

Let’s chat:

The good news for Bluetooth connectivity is the adoption of common platforms across the wireless spectrum. The Sync website continues to update which phones have been tested, as well as which functions are supported. Of particular note is the ability to download your personal phonebook into the Sync system, accessible by steering wheel tabs, centre stack keys, or voice commands. At press time, 51 current phone models are Sync-approved, including this author’s Blackberry Pearl. Unfortunately, the Pearl does not support the text messaging functionality, which can translate a text message to audible form, including such over-used abbreviations as LOL. Manual dial can be done via voice, or the numeric keypad on the centre stack.

The author's 2004-vintage Creative Zen Micro was sadly not Sync-compatible
The author’s 2004-vintage Creative Zen Micro was sadly not Sync-compatible. Click image to enlarge

Bluetooth set-up is relatively painless, providing the required input key code for the device. Sync designates one phone as the primary unit, while still being able to add up to 11 additional Bluetooth-equipped phones, for large, chatty families. As with most voice-prompt systems, it’s best to consult the how-to guide, to minimize frustration with what you think should be a simple command, and what Sync knows. Annunciation is usually key to getting where you want, though Sync did provide the wrong listing in the phonebook query on four separate occasions.

The Sync system states support of your own ring tone, but this was unable to be proven. There are three embedded ring tones within the Sync system, each with its own unique level of fright-factor to get your attention. Considering that the system automatically cuts out the tune at play, one would think that a comforting tone with escalation would be less apt to cause an unplanned lane change.

Can you hear me now?

The best test is real world for hands-free voice quality. Our Runner-Up Award goes to this quote from the Clark Inner Circle; “It sounds like you’re underwater.” The Winner goes to this description; “It sounds like you’re inside a bag of potato chips;” hopefully ripple chips.

iPods and Nanos and Walkmans, Oh my!

A low-dough USB jump drive loaded with Rare Earth tunes worked very well with Sync, with the system quickly displaying a track listing on the display screen
A low-dough USB jump drive loaded with Rare Earth tunes worked very well with Sync, with the system quickly displaying a track listing on the display screen. Click image to enlarge

Note to self; steer clear of cut-rate deals on MP3 players. My 2004-vintage Creative Zen Micro was originally purchased with the thought that the iPod was headed in a Beta development direction. (Who knew?) As punishment, the Zen software support was one firmware number away from working in the USB dock. Sixty players are identified as being Sync-ready, with firmware versions provided at the website. Select units can also be charged through the USB hub. On a whim, I decided to load Rare Earth’s Greatest Hits onto a low-dough USB jump drive. I was bobbing my head to “Get Ready” in seconds, with the track name listed on the centre stack screen. The Sync dock also has a traditional auxiliary jack plug-in, as well as two 12-volt DC powerpoints.

The verdict

For all of the hoopla surrounding it, Sync seems just a smidge too basic to receive the love of product branding. The saving grace here is the ability to navigate your plug-in audio via voice commands, which keeps the Fiddle Factor to a minimum on the move. The screen display needs a little more love, and a lot less clock radio, even on a vehicle like the lowly Focus.

All in all, a good first effort: 3.5 stars.

Next week: 2008 Ford Taurus X

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