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Best hands-free options

10th May 2013 8:06 pm

We test Bluetooth equipment that keeps you connected on the go.

In today’s world, staying connected to work, family or friends is more important than anything else. While mobile phones and the internet have made this a possibility, there are times when it’s difficult to stay in touch. For example, when you are driving, using a mobile phone jeopardizes the lives of those in the car and others on the street. When you take your hands off the wheel, driving a car becomes really dangerous. However, there are ways of using a mobile phone without having to take your hands off the steering wheel. There are quite a few Bluetooth-enabled hands-free kits available in the market. We collected a group of such devices and reviewed them to find out which one is the best.

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.

Blaupunkt BT Drive Free 411 (Rs 2,790)

This triangular teardrop-shaped device is good looking. The build quality is great and the panels fit perfectly. There are three buttons and a speaker up front. The device is mounted to the wheel using elastic straps with Velcro at the ends, and sits just below where your right hand holds the wheel. Receiving a call is easy with the ‘receive call’ button within easy reach of your thumb. The device doesn’t slide around when you’re driving, but it does get in the way a little when you’re turning the wheel quickly. Voice quality and clarity were very good, although there was some echoing at the listener’s end. The device has to be paired with your phone before it can be used and can pair up to two devices at a time. For Rs 2,790, the quality and performance it offers is great.

 

Blaupunkt BT Drive Free 211 (Rs 3,990)

The black and silver combination looks classy, but the overall design is a bit simplistic. The plastic finish is good and it 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. 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’. The price is great considering the flexibility being offered.

 

Blaupunkt BT Drive Free 311 (Rs 4,990)

Similar in build and design to the Drive Free 211, the device has nice quality finish. The front panel has a flush-fitting speaker on the left and a set of three buttons on the right. Between these is a blue LCD display. The mini-USB charging port and a mode button sit on the bottom of the device. The device has a voice command function that guides you when required; it will tell you when the device is in pairing mode and the pairing code. The device can copy all contacts on the phone and will identify callers if they are on the list – although on some phones, it only reads the number. Speaker quality was good through low and medium levels, but did deteriorate at high volumes. The device features A2DP functionality, which allows the streaming of music from your phone through the device’s speaker. At Rs 4,990, it is pretty well priced and its feature set is great too, making it great value for money.

 

Parrot Minikit Neo (Rs 7,990)

The best looking device on test here, the Neo’s curved clamshell design is stunning. It’s minimalistic, futuristic and sees use of a lot of sober colours. 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. The curved design has an integrated spring-action mount to hold on to the sun visor. Once switched on, it syncs the phone book. All 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, voice quality was the best on our test and clear throughout the volume range. This device also 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 for improved usability. This is by far the most expensive device, but its fantastic feature set makes up for the high price.

 

RD HF–10 (Rs 1,850)

The device has a matte black finish which looks nice and feels good to touch. But the lightweight build makes it feel flimsy and even the battery cover behind our test device was loosely fit. Up front is a chrome-finish speaker cover (which looks and feels cheap) and three buttons. A ‘mode’ button is found on the top and a mini-USB port at the bottom. The device comes with a metal clip with which to mount it to the sunblind and it pairs with phones without any problems. The speaker quality was average, but the caller at the other end could hear our voice clearly. You have to get familiar with the controls layout to operate them without taking your eyes off the road. The device can pair two sets of phones and you can dial the last-dialled number directly from the device. At Rs 1,850, it’s the cheapest and most basic product here.

 

 

RD HF–30 (Rs 4,105)

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. 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 disturbance at higher volume levels. The buttons work well and don’t need too much effort to use. 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. It has a good feature set, but for the overall quality and usability, it feels a wee bit pricey.

 

Supertooth Buddy R19 (Rs 4,999)

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

 

Verdict

The best Bluetooth kit here, according to us, is the Parrot Minikit Neo. It is the most expensive, but has a lot going for it. The voice quality is the finest, build quality outstanding and the voice command makes for great user experience. It is definitely worth the price. The Blaupunkt BT Drive Free 311 brings some of the same features in a cheaper and well-built package. The Blaupunkt Drive Free 411 is a good-looking device with basic features, but is still good value given the nifty design. The Supertooth Buddy is a little overpriced because of its limited features. The RD HF-10 has a simplistic design, but we recommend buying it only if you are shopping on a strict budget. The RD HF-30 feels solid with decent features, but is still overpriced.

 

 

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