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Saturday, September 20, 2014         

TECH VIEW


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Bluetooth speakerphone holds up in road test

By John Agsalud

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On Oahu the simple act of holding a cell phone while driving has been against the law for more than two years now. Neighbor island counties have similar bans, and such laws have taken hold across the country. But in Hawaii and across the mainland, not a day goes by without seeing someone on their phone, often driving recklessly. Why these people don't take advantage of hands-free technology, which is permitted just about everywhere, we'll never know.

Until recently, folks desiring hands-free technology were constrained to only a few viable options. First, and most popular, is the Bluetooth earpiece. Such devices range in size from small earpieces to large headsets and cost as little as $10 to more than $100. You definitely get what you pay for. The more expensive models have better battery life, noise-cancellation features to improve the quality of the call, and even stereo.

Many new cars are now coming with Bluetoothenabled communications systems. Such systems come with microphones and speakers that allow surprisingly high-quality, hands-free calls while in the car. Typically these are luxury-class automobiles. After-market "kits" allow Bluetooth communications to be installed in any car, but this often costs a few hundred dollars. Buying a new car or investing a few hundred in a clunker are not popular options these days, though.

Another excellent option we've come across is a portable, Bluetooth speakerphone. While we were initially skeptical of such a device, we tried out the S3 from BlueAnt. Listing at $79, the S3 is primarily available via Web-based merchants. Our skepticism was almost immediately refuted.

The S3 is a small, cellphone-size device that is designed to clip to a car's sun visor. But don't let its size belie its power. According to Scott Pringle, product manager for BlueAnt, the S3 provides full-duplex capabilities (meaning, you can talk and listen at the same time) and is equipped with superior wind, noise and echo cancellation to ensure clear audio. Actual trials support Pringle's statements. Even flying down the freeway at … uh … 55 miles per hour, the driver can hear the other party's voice loud and clear.

The portability of the S3 allows it to be moved from car to car. It can also provide connection to both driver and passenger's phones, answer calls on either phone and switch between calls on both phones.

While initial setup is simple, we recommend that users read the manual to take full advantage of its rich feature set. If there is one nit to pick, we have found the volume control to be somewhat nonintuitive. Ironically, the end result is that it's too loud, and as anyone who's used a Bluetooth device before can tell you, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Other features of the S3, such as auto-connect, and voice controls that allow you to answer calls without touching your phone easily outweigh any shortcomings. BlueAnt touts 20 hours of talk time between charges and 600 hours of standby time. The S3 also conveniently announces when the battery needs charging.

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John Agsalud is an IT expert with more than 20 years of information technology experience in Hawaii and around the world. He can be reached at johnagsalud@yahoo.com.






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