Staying in touch on the move

In today’s world,communication is everything. Mobile phones are the norm and nobody is ever out of touch.

Published: May 18, 2013 12:03 am

A review of Bluetooth car kits that will help you stay connected when you are driving

In today’s world,communication is everything. Mobile phones are the norm and nobody is ever out of touch. Except when they are driving,of course. Using a phone while driving is a safety hazard not only to the car’s occupants but also to the pedestrians and other vehicles since your hand is not on the wheel and even your reaction time increases. No wonder it’s illegal. However,you don’t necessarily have to put your phone to your ear to take or make a call,do you? Nowadays,there are quite a few Bluetooth-enabled hands-free kits available in the Indian market that help you communicate as you drive. We collected a few such devices and reviewed them to find out how they perform.

The test

Before going into the details of each of these devices,we would like to point out a few things. Through the course of the test,we found that these devices’ batteries last for extremely long durations. Some of the devices feature in-built batteries,while the ones that had removable batteries actually used Nokia BL-05 mobile phone batteries. Standby times run into hundreds of hours and,suffice to say,you won’t be facing problems in this regard. Still,all these devices come with a charging cable that plugs into your car’s 12v socket. For our review,we used the devices over a period of two weeks and judged them on parameters like build quality,ease of use,features and performance. And here’s what we found out.

* Parrot Minikit Neo Rs 7,990

Design & build

The best looking device on test here,the Neo’s curved clamshell design is stunning to say the least. The minimalistic,futuristic design and overall quality go into making this very desirable. The controls comprise a centrally placed wheel flanked by two buttons. On the left is the on-off/battery indicator button and on the right a mini-USB port for charging.

In use

The curved design has an integrated spring-action mount to hold on to the sun visor. Once switched on,it syncs the phone book without any intervention. All the controls are accessed by pressing and turning the central knob and it’s easy to understand and get used to. It spells out each of the menu items when you use the knob and this makes navigating it a cinch. It has some difficulty pronouncing Indian names though. A voice input function means you don’t have to lift a finger to receive or make phone calls. The device was able to understand our commands just fine,but we had to really enunciate to make it understand any Indian names. Another gripe is that the power button is a little fiddly to use. However,its voice quality was the best on our test.

Testers’ notes

This device features A2DP functionality to stream and play music from your phone and there is the option to disengage this feature during pairing. You can even add voice tags to certain contacts.

Value for money

This is the most expensive device but its fantastic features make up for the price.

* RD HF-30 Rs 4,105

Design & build

The device is one of the smallest and has decent build quality. The plastic looks like it will pick up scratches over time though. The front panel has a blue LCD display with an on/off switch above it. Volume buttons are on the left and there’s a multi-function button on the right. It has a DC-5V socket for charging at the bottom,and the speaker is on the back plate.

In use

The device mounts on the steering with a slip-on clip. Once mounted,it stays put and doesn’t leave scratches either. Fitting it to the top of the wheel will block the instrument panel,but there is a way around this—the display can be inverted and the device mounted on the bottom half. The voice quality is average with a distinct noisy disturbance at higher volume levels. The buttons work well and don’t need too much effort to use.

Testers’ notes

Your phone book can be transferred to the device and we could navigate through the contacts easily enough. Although it displayed the number instead of the name when receiving a call.

Value for money

The device has a good feature set,but for the overall quality and usability,it feels a wee bit pricey.

(You also have the option of trying out the RD HF-10,which comes for R1,850. It can pair two sets of phones and you can dial the last-dialled number directly. At R1,850,the HF-10 is quite inexpensive,and its price is reflected in its basic functionality.)

* Supertooth Buddy (R19) Rs 4,999

Design & build

The device’s body is a mix of matte and glossy plastics with five buttons on it. There is a magnet behind the body onto which attaches the metal clip that mounts the device on the sun visor. There’s also a USB charging port on the back. The build quality is average,and the rounded corners and lack of protrusions means it’s not easy to grip.

In use

The flush-fitting buttons are not the easiest to operate and need more effort to press than other devices. The snap-on magnetic attachment of the mounting clip worked well and held on even over bad bumps. This also means that the clip can be left on the sun visor and the device removed and carried along for use in a conference call indoors. The magnetic clip is also useful when the visor is not in use,as the device can be mounted on the other side as well. Voice quality was clear,although the speaker on the device was prone to interference noise from the mobile signal.

Testers’ notes

The device needs to be put into ‘pairing mode’ before you can connect it to your phone. This is done by keeping the green multi-function button pressed for a long time. Doing this makes the device visible to the phone,which it isn’t otherwise even if it is switched on.

Value for money

Considering how much the Supertooth Buddy costs,you don’t get a whole lot of features to work with.

* Blaupunkt BT 211 Rs3,990

Design & build

The black and silver combination looks classy,but the overall design is a bit simplistic. The plastic finish is good—it doesn’t feel or look cheap,and while it lacks bulk,it definitely feels well made. The front panel has a speaker sitting flush with the body on the left and controls on the right. A removable earpiece is a part of the kit.

In use

The device is mounted using a metal clip either on the top or bottom of the sun visor,and has to be put in ‘pairing mode’ so that it’s visible to the phone. The voice quality is good at low to medium levels,but at the highest volume settings there was noticeable disturbance. Buttons operate with a quality ‘click’ and this is replicated on the earpiece as well.

Testers’ notes

The earpiece is useful if you want to keep conversations private,or if you want to carry on talking hands-free when you exit the vehicle.

Value for money

The price is great considering the flexibility being offered.

(You can also try Blaupunkt BT Drive Free 411 (R2,790) and Blaupunkt BT Drive Free 311 (R4,990). While the Drive Free 411’s triangular teardrop shape really catches your eye,the Drive Free 311 has a simplistic design. The build quality,however,of both the devices is quite good and both are able performers too.)

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