Hands on Ford Sync 3 review: It's not CarPlay, it's not Android Auto: it's both (and a bit more besides)

Not yet rated

Latest version of Ford's in-car nav and entertainment tech really does have something for everyone

Reasons to buy
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    3 auto OSes for the price of 1

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    Easy touchscreen control

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    Growing app choice

Reasons to avoid
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    Competent rather than exciting

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    Voice control not perfect yet

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    (Face facts: it never will be)

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Ford Sync has, since its inception, been a solid if not amazing ents 'n' nav system for your Focus, Fiesta, Kuga or Ka. Like Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto, it lets you use your car a little bit like an absolutely huge, grossly over-simplified smartphone. With its third stab at the genre, however, the brand seems to have finally nailed it.

Ford is showing the new version off at MWC, alongside the new Kuga that it'll first hit the UK's roads in. Now, unlike CES, MWC really is still a tech show, as opposed to an ever-expanding car expo with a slightly shop-soiled tech show hanging on to its coat tails. That's quite an interesting, dare I say it ballsy, move… And not the only one that the motoring giant has pulled here.

• Mmmm, yes that Kuga is quite Shiny. Our favourite SUVs are right this way, guv…

First up, Sync 3 now boasts a much improved, intelligently simplified interface. As an example, sharing your location via the Glympse app used to take up to an entirely mad 11 touchscreen presses. It now takes three.

Voice control, triggered by a button on the steering wheel, has also been improved. Needless to say, it didn't work flawlessly at MWC, but it generally worked eventually, which is more than we can say of some in-car voice-command systems.

Who uses voice control anyway? Talking to your car is just not British, dammit.

There are dozens of apps compatible with Sync, with most of them, as you'd imagine, relating to in-car music and location services. Both Android and iOS are supported with plug-and-play ease. You don't even need a Ford Sync app installed on your mobile.

Navigation - not, obviously, that we could navigate anywhere from the halls of MWC - seemed simple enough, with voice and direct text input for addresses, the option to store favourites and all the usual GPS gubbins. Solid, no doubt.

The Kuga will have an eight-inch, S-VGA touchscreen, with other models adopting ones that suit their size. That's not exactly going to set HD-obsessed spec-sheet masturbators purring with delight, but for the three simple interfaces on offer here, it's perfectly adequate, and visibility seemed good under the excessively bright lighting of MWC's Fira Gran Via

There is another. And another…

However, arguably the real killer feature of Ford Sync 3 can be seen here, in the settings menu.

Yep, that's right: as trailed at CES, if you don't fancy using Ford's in-car ents/info/nav system, you can simply turn on Apple CarPlay or Android Auto instead.

• Which one's best? Our verdict is here.

As far as we could see, both work exactly as they do on any other compatible touchscreen, ie: like a child's version of an Apple or Android phone, witha greatly reduced range of apps, accessed viaeasy to prod, oversized icons or Siri/Okay, Google.

T3 Early Verdict

Sync 3 now appears much more user-friendly, and the decision to add CarPlay and Android Auto is a very welcome one.It does raise a question about Sync's ultimate longevity, though.

That's because, surely, if two very similar, rival, in-car, smartphone based operating systems is company, three's a crowd. Perhaps that's why Ford is showing off Sync 3 at MWC in what appears to be a high-tech tombstone. Foreshadowing.

However, for the foreseeable future, the fact that Ford is serving up a much-improved remix of its own OS whilst allowing iOS and Android users to turn on their favoured alternative at will seems like pretty much a perfect solution.

The truth is that nobody who's used to the whizz-bang versatility and excitement of smartphones is going to find any of these in-car operating systems riveting, but that's not what's required on the road; you want solidity and ease. And Sync 3 looks very solid, and easy like Sunday morning.

T3.com Hands On Reviews are based on our first impressions after having used the tech in question for a short period of time. A full review will follow soon.

Duncan Bell

Duncan is the former lifestyle editor of T3 and has been writing about tech for almost 15 years. He has covered everything from smartphones to headphones, TV to AC and air fryers to the movies of James Bond and obscure anime. His current brief is everything to do with the home and kitchen, which is good because he is an excellent cook, if he says so himself. He also covers cycling and ebikes – like over-using italics, this is another passion of his. In his long and varied lifestyle-tech career he is one of the few people to have been a fitness editor despite being unfit and a cars editor for not one but two websites, despite being unable to drive. He also has about 400 vacuum cleaners, and is possibly the UK's leading expert on cordless vacuum cleaners, despite being decidedly messy. A cricket fan for over 30 years, he also recently become T3's cricket editor, writing about how to stream obscure T20 tournaments, and turning out some typically no-nonsense opinions on the world's top teams and players.

Before T3, Duncan was a music and film reviewer, worked for a magazine about gambling that employed a surprisingly large number of convicted criminals, and then a magazine called Bizarre that was essentially like a cross between Reddit and DeviantArt, before the invention of the internet. There was also a lengthy period where he essentially wrote all of T3 magazine every month for about 3 years. 

A broadcaster, raconteur and public speaker, Duncan used to be on telly loads, but an unfortunate incident put a stop to that, so he now largely contents himself with telling people, "I used to be on the TV, you know."