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Turn left in 500 feet... fool!
Companies are offering some surprising voices for your car's navigation system. Make room for Mr. T.
December 4, 2005: 8:50 PM EST
By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com staff writer
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Believe it or not, getting yelled at and berated by Mr. T actually becomes boring pretty quickly.

Everything he tells you to do -- everything -- starts with "Hey, Fool!" That's true even when he's telling you to do something dumb, like drive onto the lower level of the Queensboro Bridge when the upper level is the one you need.

California company NavTones has contracted with Mr. T and the actors Burt Reynolds and Dennis Hopper to record voices that can be loaded into navigation systems, giving your driving directions a little extra personality. More voices are coming, the company said.

Another company, TomTom, offers John Cleese's voice along with several "fictional" characters that include a New York City cab driver and a Freudian psychoanalyst.

Other companies are also creating customizable voices for navigation systems, said Anne Louise Hanstad, vice president of marketing for TomTom.

"The potential here is as great and as wide as downloadable ringtones," she said.

The voices don't change the directions you're given. That depends on the hardware, the navigation device itself.

The voices will work on a variety of different navigation devices but, for the time being, they will have to be portable navigation devices that can be connected to a computer.

Test drive

"What are you, high? How do you know I'm not just (b.s.)ing you, man? You think I know where you're going? C'mon!," chides Hopper in a sound sample on the Navtones.com Web site. "Are you lost yet? Are you LOST YET!?!"

With that confidence-inspiring message in mind, CNNMoney.com tested NavTones' Mr. T, Hopper and Reynolds voices loaded onto TomTom Go 700 portable navigation system.

Besides directions, each voice offers a few extra phrases here and there, but not so often as to become obnoxious, said Will Andre, chief executive officer of Wanderlust Media, NavTones' parent company.

They might need to dial back some of that "personality" a little more.

In our test, the snide asides became stale long before the first short drive was over. It was kind of funny at first, but there are only so many times I want to hear Mr. T, without apparent provocation, threaten to come out of my navigation device and beat me.

Where the typical navigation system says "You have reached your destination," Mr.T's voice follows that with: "What is that? That's where you were going? Oh, man. You wasted my time!"

Dennis Hopper sounded as if he had a bad hangover and I'd just dragged him out of bed for this.

"Turn left in 200 feet... Oh, man," he would groan.

I actually started to feel sorry for him. I wanted to let him go back inside and sleep off whatever he'd done last night.

Burt Reynolds made the best navigator. For the most part, he didn't complain and his chipper-sounding insults were at least given with a smile in his voice. I could leave him on duty full time.

Later, when speaking to an expert in computer-voice interaction, I learned that I probably liked Reynolds best simply because, of the three, the personality of his voice was most like mine. I won't say there are any other similarities.

Surprisingly, none of the voices objected when I ignored their advice in favor of my own ideas on the best way to get around in New York City. I expected Mr. T to get really irate when I refused to turn when he told me too, but he just quietly recalculated the route then barked out "Hey, Fool! Turn right in 500 feet!" I ignored him again and we just kept up this dysfunctional interchange until I arrived at the intersection where I actually wanted to turn.

NavTone's downloadable voices are expected to be available for purchase by the end of the year, said Andre. TomTom's Cleese voice, and others, are available now for TomTom navigation devices.

As with, seemingly, all fun things, there are some potentially serious downsides to having strange voices coming out of your car. To read more about that, click here.

Related story:

Car navigation: Dangerous voices?

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