Thanks to Ford SYNC, hands-free simplicity has never sounded sweeter. The automaker's in-vehicle communications and entertainment system is all about voice-activated everything -- from dialing your buddy to punching up your favorite songs to getting directions.

Since its debut in 2007 as one of the first all-in-one media platforms, the Microsoft-powered system lets drivers use their voice to make hands-free telephone calls, control tunes, connect to the web and get navigation help. And with the summer travel season right around the corner, boning up on the ins and outs of the system might make for safer, smoother sailing (er, driving) down the road.

One standout feature (no shocker here) is the audio system's multitude of listening options. We're talking stereo Bluetooth streaming, hookups for your iPod and smartphone (fire up your favorite playlist in an instant), Sirius XM, HD Radio, CD player, a standard auxiliary input, SD card slot and an extra USB port for jump drives.

Since you know that texting behind the wheel is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated, SYNC can read your text messages aloud. For its 2010 models, Ford added the ability to use your voice to tap into a cloud-based network of must-have info such as traffic, news, weather and a hefty database of 14 million business listings in the United States. For those of us who are a little, say, geographically challenged, the turn-by-turn directions feature is a lifesaver.

If your passengers are getting restless, it's Wi-Fi to the rescue. Have them simply plug their smartphone into one of the media hub's two USB ports to browse the Internet, update their Twitter feed or find local eats along the way.

In the peace-of-mind category, SYNC 911 Assist should be at the top of the list. If the vehicle's airbag is deployed (or if the car's sensors detect any other emergency), the assist feature dials 911 and uses GPS to send the location of your vehicle to first responders.

In 2012, Ford introduced AppLink to its SYNC feature -- allowing drivers to control a smattering of smartphone apps via voice control. Currently in 10 Ford vehicles, AppLink enables drivers to use such apps as Pandora and iHeartRadio.

Ford SYNC is available as either optional or standard on every new Ford sold in North America. Those in the market for a 2013 Ford Fusion or Flex are in luck, as both models will come fully SYNC'd. A new 1-year subscription costs $60 for Ford vehicles and $199 for Lincoln owners.

A safe, seamless way to listen to our favorite tunes? That's music to our ears.

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Lindsay Martell has covered entertainment news for E! Entertainment and tech trends for TechTV, CNBC, Newsfactor, and Sci-Tech Today, among others. She lives in Oakland, California.

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