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I did get plenty of quality time with OnStar's driving-directions feature, which, I confess, didn't immediately appeal to me. Relying on a real person for routing assistance sounded suspiciously like telling a stranger I was lost and pleading for directions. What red-blooded American guy would want to do that?
Once I tried it, I got it. You push the OnStar button, and a few seconds later you're talking to a real person at one of GM's service centers. (I occasionally got a recorded message saying that all representatives were helping other subscribers, but never had to wait more than about 20 seconds total.) The reps I spoke with were cheery, courteous and, most importantly, miraculously efficient. They pulled up directions far more quickly than I could on my own. And I didn't have to request a precise address: they were just as swift when I said something like: "Is there a Barnes & Noble around here?"
The automated directions that the OnStar staffers transmitted to the FMV mirror were on a par with the ones available on in-car navigation systems, smart-phone apps and stand-alone GPS units from companies like TomTom. In my test drives, they always got me to where I was trying to go without any unintentional detours.
Getting used to the fact that they were entirely verbal, with no maps or other visual aids, was the biggest challenge. And the main downside of that was that my beloved wife was usually riding shotgun and occasionally didn't stop talking when the mirror started doing so. (If you miss a direction, you can push a button and say "repeat" to hear it again; you can also preview all the directions, three steps at a time.)
Before long, I forgot that I didn't like asking for directions. Having the OnStar team on call felt a little like discovering the joy of full-service filling stations after a lifetime of pumping my own gas. When the weekend ended and I went back to my OnStar-less Mazda3, I felt deprived.
The OnStar service's bag of tricks goes on. You can use the same phone embedded in the mirror that lets you reach OnStar to make and receive calls, although it's not cheap, starting at $39.99 for a hundred minutes. Using the mirror as a hands-free kit for your own Bluetooth phone, on the other hand, is free. You can also zap addresses from Google Maps or MapQuest into the mirror for later reference. And there are automated services for traffic, weather, and stocks although the weather one inexplicably told me that it had no information for my area.
Basically, though, the OnStar FMV buying decision boils down to two questions. Are you prepared to spend hundreds of dollars on hardware and ongoing services that might literally be a lifesaver in the unlikely event that you're in a serious accident? And if you are, are you willing to spend even more each month to get driving directions from OnStar's personable staffers rather than rely on a thriftier alternative such as a smart-phone app?
If the idea is appealing and the cost doesn't make you wince, you might find OnStar to be a delightful investment in your own safety and convenience. It's no longer a unique feature of GM cars, but it's still unique and pretty darn neat.
McCracken blogs about personal technology at Technologizer, which he founded in 2008 after nearly two decades as a tech journalist; on Twitter, he's @harrymccracken. His column, also called Technologizer, appears every Thursday on TIME.com.