In part 2 of our series on Bluetooth, I will cover the various types of handsfree devices that are available. Mobile phone use while driving is becoming a national issue. Many states have passed laws banning the use of mobile phones while driving unless a handsfree device is being used. There is currently a law working its way through Pennsylvania’s legislature that would mandate the use of handsfree devices while driving within the borders of the state. I will cover several of the options that are available and the pros and cons of each.
Portable Earpieces and Headsets
These are the most common Bluetooth handsfree devices. If you have a pulse, you’ve seen someone with a Bluetooth earpiece walking through the mall and appearing to talk to themselves. These devices are relatively simple to use. You pair them to your phone and then when your phone rings, you press a button on the unit and start talking. Depending on your handset, in many cases, you can place calls by pressing a button on the earpiece and then “voice dialing.” Either way, you keep your hands on the wheel for the vast majority of the conversation. Prices on these devices range from $29 to several hundred dollars.
Many of these earpieces also support the A2DP audio streaming profile. This allows you to stream music directly from your A2DP enabled device right to your headset wirelessly. More on this in part 3 of this series.
Pros: Prices range from very affordable to insane. Basic models are within the budgets of most mobile phone users. Units can be taken anywhere and are not limited to just one vehicle.
Cons: Can be uncomfortable or clunky to wear. Sound quality is usually decent at best in the lower end models.
A good quality Bluetooth Handsfree device can be added to most any car. There are many different types of these products available. Some fit seemlessly into the dash and look virtually stock. Others attach with a mount much the same way a satellite radio tuner would. Both options will usually have an outboard microphone that can be mounted up high near the rear view mirror. This allows you to sound quite a bit better to the person on the other end.
Different systems play their audio through different methods. Some have an integrated speaker built into the unit. This is usually the least desirable because you are limited to where the speaker will be placed. Others offer a separate speaker that will mount under the dash. These sound a lot better than the integrated speaker setups. The best option is to tie directly into the vehicle’s audio system. When a call is in progress, the audio from the radio is muted and the caller’s voice is played through one or more speakers in the car. This tends to work out the best but is more costly and requires professional installation.
These add on devices offer a wide variety of features. Some are just a basic button mounted into the dash. Press it to place or receive a call and press again to end the call. Others offer video displays that indicate caller ID, show a picture of the caller and can even stream video from certain handsets. Most systems today will interface with the phone book on your handset giving you voice access to all of your contacts. Voice dialing is the norm on almost all of these devices.
Many portable navigation units currently feature Bluetooth Handsfree functionality. This eliminates the need for an additional device on your dash. These units typically play the callers voice through an integrated speaker.
Add on handsfree devices start out around $50 for something extremely basic and can exceed several hundred dollars on some high end models that require professional installation.
Pros: More feature rich and better sound quality in the better units
Cons: The better units tend to get pricey. Some can appear bulky on the dash.
Vehicle Integration Interfaces
New vehicle’s electronics are designed around a data bus. This can be looked at in much the same way as a computer network. Various devices are all interconnected and can talk to one another. You can add additional devices by simply plugging into the network. Several aftermarket manufacturers have come out with Bluetooth handsfree interfaces that tie directly into a vehicle’s data bus. Caller information is displayed on the factory in-dash screen along with full phone book access on screen (on most phones). When a call comes in, the radio is muted and the caller’s voice is played through the factory sound system.
While this is ultimately the best alternative, these setups are currently only available on certain vehicles and are relatively expensive. Undoubtedly, more applications will become available as time goes by. These systems require professional installation.
Pros: 100% seamless integration without any additional controls, buttons, or cosmetic changes to the vehicle
Cons: Limited vehicle applications and cost
Replacement In-Dash Radios
The most popular form of Bluetooth handsfree that we install and sell at Mobile Edge is the Bluetooth equipped aftermarket head unit. These units take the place of your factory radio and often give you much better sound and a larger feature set than your factory radio. In addition, they serve as a fully functional Bluetooth handsfree kit.
After installation, you simply pair your handset to your new car radio. When a call comes in, your radio will notify you and, if you answer, it will mute the audio and play your conversation through one or more of your vehicle’s speakers. Depending on the handset that you have and the in-dash unit selected, you can access your phone book from the in dash unit and read incoming text messages on the display. The sound quality at both ends or the conversation is generally very good.
These units tend to be affordable when you consider that you are gaining a great deal of other benefits. Most of these units have the ability to interface with your iPod, play satellite radio and HD Radio, and offer a better sound quality than the factory radio. Some units also have the Bluetooth A2DP profile which allows you to stream music directly from your handset into your vehicles audio system.
There are several quality head units (replacement radios) that are available with Bluetooth handsfree built-in. We recently did a post on the CD5030 from Eclipse. For the money, this unit is hard to beat.
Pros: Improves the sound and functionality of your audio system while adding Bluetooth handsfree. The better units offer excellent in-call sound quality.
Cons: Vehicle dash is no longer 100% stock. In most cases though, a trim kit is available that looks excellent in the dash.
Whatever your budget is, there is a Bluetooth handsfree solution available for you. Mobile Edge sells and installs everything that was mentioned except for earpieces. As with anything that we sell or install, we offer only good quality equipment. If you are in the market for a Bluetooth handsfree solution, please take the time to visit us. We will assess your needs and recommend the best solution that is available. Hope to see you soon!