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Using your cell phone in your car is not only potentially dangerous, but is also increasingly becoming illegal - unless used with a hands-free device.

Here's an excellent solution that combines convenience, safety, and simplicity.

 
 
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Parrot Easydrive Bluetooth HandsFree Unit

Removable in-car handsfree unit for cellphones
 

Probably the best use of Bluetooth to date is with an in-car hands-free unit.

The Parrot Easydrive can be used in any car, and with any Bluetooth enabled cellphone.

With no installation and no special knowledge needed to use the unit, this is a great safety and convenience aid for all drivers.

Part of our series on Bluetooth - more articles listed on the right.

 

 

Wearable Bluetooth headsets necessarily involve design compromises.

But here's an in-car handsfree kit completely free of compromises, and full of functionality.  Strongly recommended for all people who have a Bluetooth phone.

And, if you don't yet have a Bluetooth phone, the convenience of this unit might persuade you to upgrade.

What you Get

The Parrot Easydrive Bluetooth Handsfree Kit comes in an easily opened plastic display pack.  Inside are instructions, the main unit (which includes the speaker - at the bottom of the illustration above), and an extension control box (which includes the microphone - shown at the top of the illustration above).  Also included is a second faceplate (choose between a clear or a black colored faceplate on the main unit) and a couple of cable ties to help route the wiring between the main unit and the control box.

The speaker unit simply plugs into the car's cigarette lighter.  It measures a maximum of 4" x 2" x 2", and the smaller microphone/control box is about 2" x 2" x 1".  Altogether, the system weighs about 4 ounces.

The control box/microphone connects via a short two foot cable to the main unit.  The cable is hard wired into the main unit and connects via a mini-USB type connector to the control box.  A benefit of having the cable hard-wired into the main unit is that you won't lose the cable.

The compact size and light weight of this system make it ideal for taking with you when traveling - simply plug it into any car to enjoy its full functionality.  Or, if you have several cars and don't want to buy a unit for each car, swap the unit between your own cars.

The unit sells for about $120 and has a one year warranty.

Compatibility

The Easydrive unit is compliant with the Bluetooth 1.1 specification, which makes it compatible with most other Bluetooth devices.

Unlike some earlier inferior model Bluetooth products, the Easydrive contains profiles for both headset and hands-free usage, and so will work with just about every Bluetooth equipped cell phone out there (some cell phones have one mode, some the other).

To use some of its advanced features, such as the 'Magic Words' (see below) your phone will also need to have the 'Object Push' Bluetooth profile - this is not quite so common, especially on older Bluetooth phones, but will become increasingly common in the future.

The unit can be paired with up to five different phones simultaneously.

Configuring the Easydrive to work with your Phone(s)

The Easydrive has a manual (in six languages).  The English section is 14 small pages, and is not without its occasional puzzlement.

For example, at the end of the section, you are invited to contact Parrot's hotline for support, and even advised its hours of operation (Mon - Fri, 9am - 6pm CET).  But there's no number given - to find this out, you have to visit their website.  The number (in Paris, France) is +33 (0)1 4803-6069.

And the section on adding 'voiceprints' for people's names doesn't actually tell you how to do this - you have to go to their website and find out how from the materials there.  This is strange because, once you find them online, the actual instructions are short and concise.

Configuring the Easydrive to work with your mobile phone is tremendously simple.  Unlike many headsets, there is no need to do anything special to the unit to switch it into pairing mode.

Simply use your phone to find the new Bluetooth device and pair with it through the phone (the Easydrive's pairing code is 1234).  You'll have instructions on how to do this with your phone; in addition, there are careful step by step instructions for most Bluetooth capable phones available on the Parrot website.

Using the Easydrive

Get into your car, with your cell phone somewhere in the car as well.  The phone and Easydrive automatically link up.  Any incoming calls will now ring through the Easydrive unit, without you needing to make any changes to the phone at all.

To place a call, you can either use the last number redial or the voice activated dialing features of the Easydrive, or you can use your phone's keypad to dial the number and then speak to the other person through the Easydrive device.

When you get out of your car, your phone automatically switches back to normal operation, until such time as you return to your car.

There's nothing to remember.  Nothing to adjust or program.  You act totally normally, leaving everything to your phone and the Easydrive unit to do automatically on your behalf.

This is surely the ultimate in phone convenience.

Magic Words

This is a great feature, but will only work with some cell phones.  If your cell phone supports the 'Object Push' Bluetooth profile, it will work with this feature.

With Magic Words enabled, you record a series of key commands and then any time you say one of these commands, the phone will respond accordingly.  Commands can be used to answer a call, redial, hang up, and perform various other functions.

In addition to these 'magic words' you can also record the names of people you want to call (and who call you).  Then, if you want to make a call, you can simply command the unit by voice to call the person you want to speak with, and if an incoming call comes from that person, the unit will play the person's name to you so you know who it is.

The name recordings work for all phones, whether or not they have the Object Push capability.  I haven't made much use of that myself, because I can't always remember the recorded names for people in my phone directory.  If I really disciplined myself to be consistent with how I named each person then it would probably be much better, or perhaps I can simply create multiple entries for each person using different voice labels (eg William Smith and Bill Smith).

Obviously, using spoken commands rather than needing to take your eyes and hands off the car's wheel to control your phone is the ultimate in safe hands-free operation.  The Easydrive unit has a well developed set of such features.

Sound Quality

Of course the person you're speaking with will notice you're using some type of speaker phone, but in general, sound quality is perfectly good, and the unit has digital signal processing that results in background noise reduction, making it more practical to have a conversation while driving in a noisy environment.

The Easydrive has a volume control so you can adjust the incoming volume as it suits you.

The unit operates in full duplex mode - both you and the other person can talk at the same time, just like a regular conversation.

The unit is very good at echo cancellation - in testing, we placed the microphone close to the speaker to see what would happen, and while the person at the other end of the phone reported some echo, the level wasn't judged to be impossible.

For best results, the closer the microphone/control box is to your mouth, the better the sound quality will be for the person you're speaking to.

Swapping Between Cars

One of the most appealing features of the Easydrive is that it simply plugs into any car's cigarette lighter and instantly starts working.  So if you are traveling with a rental car, you can take the Easydrive with you (don't leave it behind at the end of your rental!) and if you have two or more cars at home, you can again deploy the Easydrive in whichever car you're currently using.

There is one slight complicating factor, but this complication is easily resolved.  In addition to plugging the main unit (containing the speaker) into the lighter, you also need to mount the control box (containing the microphone) somewhere in the car.  The control box has a small piece of adhesive tape on its back to allow it to be stuck wherever you want, but this will quickly lose its stickiness.  I've replaced this with a small piece of velcro (the loop half) and then I place a small velcro dot (the hook half) in each car where I want the control unit/microphone to be located.

This makes it very easy to remove both the speaker unit and the microphone unit when swapping cars, and because the velcro tab on the microphone unit is the soft loop part, it is soft and easy to carry.

Other Comments and Considerations

There are two control buttons on the control box plus a scroll wheel that has a push-in 'click' function as well.

The left button, with a green handset printed on it, is your 'answer/place call/yes' button, and the right button, with a red handset printed on it, is your 'hang up' button.  This is easy to understand and remember, and sufficiently intuitively simple that you don't need to refresh your memory with the product manual if it is a while since you last used the unit.

The scroll wheel is used to work through the various menus to configure the phone.  Menus have voice prompting (in your choice of six different languages).

The Easydrive does not have an on/off switch, but relies instead on your car's cigarette lighter being switched on and off by the ignition switch.  If your car's cigarette lighter stays on all the time, you would want to unplug the Easydrive when the car will not be used for more than a day or two - the current drain on the unit is not a lot (max of 300 mA and less on standby) but if your battery is only half charged and you then leave the car unattended for a week, the power taken by the unit could be enough to flatten the battery.

The unit does not hinge or pivot between the 'plug into the lighter' part and the main speaker/microphone/control unit part.  This may pose problems in some vehicles, depending on their layout.  A simple hinge between the two parts of the unit would make it much more universal.

The manufacturer - Parrot in France - has a helpful website with copies of manuals and other support materials.

There is no mute function, although this could be achieved by transferring the call back to your phone and muting it there.

The unit supports call 'flashing' - eg, to answer a call waiting call, by simply briefly pressing the green button.

One of the special features of this unit is that it is software upgradeable.  From time to time Parrot may add new features and capabilities, enhancing the unit to match the evolving Bluetooth standard.  You can download new firmware from their website, and then transfer it from a Bluetooth equipped computer (USB Bluetooth dongles are becoming very inexpensive these days) to the unit wirelessly.

Legal Issues

If you live in a state or country where it is illegal to hold your phone and have a conversation with it while driving, you should consider one of these as the best way to legally use your phone hands-free.

And even if you live in a region where it remains legal to use your phone while driving, increasingly, lawsuits are being filed against drivers who have accidents while on the phone, asserting that the drivers were prima facie inattentive (the injured party can subpoena your cell phone records to prove you were on the phone at the time the accident occured).

A hands free kit, such as this, might save your life, or, less dramatically, might save you from a major lawsuit.

Cost and Where to Buy

The unit seems to be generally priced for about $120 or a little less at present (June 05).  A Froogle search for Easydrive shows companies selling it.

Comparison

The Easydrive is noticeably better than its predecessor, the DriveBlue.  It has more functions and better sound quality, and is more user friendly.

See also our review of Parrot's CK3000 hard-wired car hands-free kit and a discussion on that page of the pluses and minuses of the two different units and approaches to in-car hands-free units.

Summary

This unit is easy to install (just plug in to your car's lighter!), and easy to use (no need to open its manual for most people).  It works well and provides a very valuable convenience for people who wish to use their phones in the car.

Because it is portable, you can use it in any car, getting full value out of it, and for sure, you'll quickly find you never want to be in a car without it.

Recommended.

Read more in the Bluetooth articles series

See the links at the top right of the page to visit other articles in our Bluetooth series.

 

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Originally published 3 June 2005, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 

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