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Finally: a real hands-free Bluetooth device, well almost

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July 25, 2010

As many mobile users probably know by now, hands-free Bluetooth units that are really 100 percent hands free are not always the case.

I remember a few years ago when my Jabra Bluetooth unit always worked 100 percent and was totally hands free with my Motorola cell phone. It was hard to setup, but once it was, the Jabra would answer a call on its first ring and hang up after without me touching anything. I loved it!

Later when I switched my Motorola phone to a Samsung, I discovered that I had to press a button on the Jabra to take a call. Then it would still hangup after the call. But still, why do they call it hands-free if you need to press a button I asked myself?

Now remember that Bluetooth technology was invented and still is licensed by Motorola. They own all the rights to it, even though IBM had a minority participation in the development of Bluetooth, hence the color 'Blue' in Bluetooth. For those that don't know, IBM is often times referred to as 'Big Blue' on Wall Street.

Anyway, there are still many so-called hands-free Bluetooth units out there that sill involve pressing a button or turning a dial or something to navigate menus and trigger the device. And that's hands free??

However, with the launch of the BlueAnt S-4, a stand-alone Bluetooth car kit, BlueAnt finally makes good on the promise of keeping a driver's hands at two 100 percent of the time.

The S-4 is about as easy to use as car kits get. You simply charge it, pair it, clip it to the attached magnetic visor clip and away you go. There's almost no need for the user to touch the device at all once it's been set up, like my Motorola and Jabra combo.

Overall, talking to the S-4 feels a little more humorous and a lot less frustrating. Of course frustration is also eased by tremendous advances in speech recognition over the past couple of years.

The S-4 Bluetooth device employs a trigger phrase, "Blue Ant Speak to Me," which when spoken makes it known that you want to interact with either the S-4 or the in-built commands on your smartphone.

Some users like trying to trigger the S-4 by using the trigger phrase, but the S-4's built-in sensitivity controls were able to filter out the noise if needed.

Somehow, the S4 manages to keep it simple, with just a couple of learned commands here and there, while allowing the user a breadth of options via spoken menus, which provide access to everything from volume control to checking the device's battery level, all the time with both hands free, of course.

After using many other hands-free units, the S-4 takes some getting used to, as total voice control really is quite different than initiating a call with the press of a button. The trigger phrase works well and allows users to make outgoing calls and answer incoming calls using just their voice and will also read out the caller's name or number when the phone rings.

Another extra provided with the S-4 is the device's favorites option, which allows real-time access to various types of information provided by Bing 411. Once you've activated the favorites menu, you can say things like information, movies, navigation, news, sports, stock quotes, traffic and weather. Real cool.

As you might expect, the service isn't perfect, however.

Is anything is anymore?

Performance usage depends on your location and wireless carrier, but it's yet another step towards giving drivers more information in a way that doesn't involve tapping a smartphone screen while driving at sixty miles an hour.

Also, things get worse when using Apple products with anything provided by a third-party. We tested the S-4 using an iPhone 4, in conjunction with an FM transmitter/charger that puts an iPhone's audio through the car stereo.

Unfortunately, the device supports A2-DP audio streaming, which in some cases, is a good thing but in this one, not so much, since the unit was very erratic and totally unpredictable after about 90 minutes of intensive testing in real-life conditions.

What's really unfortunate is that A2DP interferes with how we listen to music or audiobooks while driving.

Once you're connected to the S-4, there's no going back, at least not as far as I could tell, which means that all your audio comes through the S4 until you touch the home button on the device, which kind of returns us to the non-hands-free experience. Clumsy a bit, to say the least...

We're not sure if the same thing would happen with BlackBerry or Android devices, however. While listening to audiobooks through the S4ís tiny speaker wasnít bad, music sounds a whole lot better coming through any car's speakers.

Overall, the S4's support of multipoint technology allows users to pair more than one phone with the device, as well as designate a primary phone for the unit.

When you have two phones connected to the S-4 at the same time, you can always answer an incoming call on either phone, but if you initiate a call through the S-4, then the call takes place on the primary phone or the one that connected to the S4 first, which makes sense when you think about it.

So the S4 isn't bad. It ain't perfect but it does a pretty good job, nevertheless.

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Source: HCM.

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