Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bluetooth Hands-Free Car Kits: Drive Safe and Legally

Effective July 1, 2008, California law prohibits the use of driving while using a cell phone (exceptions only for emergency situations). Drivers may use a headset, ear bud or other technology that frees both hands. Violation of this law is considered a secondary offense. Violators can be fined $20 for a first time offense, and $50 for subsequent offenses.

So how do you free your hands?

1) Bluetooth Headsets:

Most of the cell phones are now equipped with Bluetooth Technology. Therefore, the first solution to free your hands consists of using a Bluetooth headset (not headphones*).

A Bluetooth headset is a little earphone equipped with a microphone that allows you to have a phone conversation while your cell phone is stowed away. The can be used in your car, home or office. There is a multitude of Bluetooth headsets to choose from.

My view: easy to use, light and compact, affordable, but won't free your ears!

2) Hands-Free car Kits:

These devices allow you to have a hands-free and ear-free conversation.

You have two solutions:

- Plug-and-Play

- Wired to the car stereo (requires professional installation unless your are pretty handy!)

a) Plug-and-Play - Easy to use and work out of the box.

The speakerphones, which incorporate microphone and speaker, can be used in your car, home, office or on the go. They usually clip on your sun visor, not far from your ears and mouth. Most of them come with a great feature: the voice recognition dialing (if your phone supports it). No need to dial a number anymore. Just say it and the speakerphone will dial it automatically. Some of them also feature a caller ID.

My view: easy to use, compact (stick it in your glove compartment or purse when you leave the car). They are affordable, multi-purpose and ideal for rental cars. Buy one for each of your cars! In noisy environments such as highways or rough surface roads, the speakers are sometimes not powerful enough for clear conversation, even though the new generation, like the BlueAnt Supertooth, is offering both power and clarity.

The FM transmitters, such as the Parrot PMK5800, which plugs into your 12v socket (cigarette lighter), send the audio signal to the car stereo speakers via a FM transmission. The new Motorola T505 is an excellent unit offering FM transmission, internal speaker, and audio streaming (A2DP) through your car speakers (play music from your cell phone or a Bluetooth-enabled iPod/MP3 player).

My view: easy to use, good sound quality, compact, versatile, affordable. You can even stream music through your home stereo system with an A2DP- supported unit like the T505. Buy one for each of your cars or share several cell phones! Interference problems may occur in densely populated areas.

b) Wired Hands-Free Car Kits:

This is considered the "Royal" solution in terms of sound quality since the unit is hardwired to your car stereo system. Different budgets depending on your needs: microphone only, monochrome or color screen, GPS integrated.

My view: Unequaled sound quality and features. This could be an expensive solution since it requires a professional installation. It may also be a theft risk, because you do not have the ability to stash it away. Finally, when you sell your car, you lose (or trade!) your car kit.

* Since they cover both ears, Bluetooth Headphones are not allowed as a hands-free solution


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