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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 a brilliantly convenient solution.

 
 
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Parrot DriveBlue Bluetooth HandsFree Unit

Removable in-car handsfree unit for cellphones
 

Brilliantly simple and foolproof, the DriveBlue unit requires no installation, and immediately starts working.

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

 

 

Wearable Bluetooth headsets necessarily involve some 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.

Note :  The DriveBlue has been largely superseded by the new (released 16 May 2005) Easydrive unit - similar but better than the Drive Blue.  We review the Easydrive here.

What you Get

The Parrot DriveBlue unit comes packed in a plastic display pack.  Inside are instructions, the unit, and an extension microphone.

The unit itself simply plugs into the car's cigarette lighter.  It measures a maximum of 5" x 2" x 1", and weights about 3 ounces.

Its compact size and light weight make it ideal for taking with you when traveling - simply plug it into any rental 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.

Of course, if using the DriveBlue in a rental car, you'll have to remember to remove it when returning the car!  The automatic and unobtrusive  nature of the unit might make this difficult.

The unit sells for $100-130 and has a one year warranty.

Compatibility

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

Unlike some earlier inferior model Bluetooth products, the DriveBlue contains profiles for both headset and hands-free usage, and so will work with just about every cell phone out there.

The unit can be paired with three different phones simultaneously.

Configuring the DriveBlue to work with your Phone(s)

This is tremendously simple.  Unlike many headsets, there is no need to do anything special to the DriveBlue itself to switch it into pairing mode.

Simply use your phone to find the new Bluetooth device and pair with it through the phone (the DriveBlue'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 included with the unit for most Bluetooth capable phones.

Using the DriveBlue

Get into your car, with your cell phone somewhere in the car as well.  The phone and DriveBlue automatically link up.  Any incoming calls will now ring through the DriveBlue 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 DriveBlue, or you can use your phone's keypad to dial the number and then speak to the other person through the DriveBlue 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 DriveBlue unit to do automatically on your behalf.

This is surely the ultimate in phone convenience.

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

For best results, you'll want to use the supplied microphone extension.  This has a microphone and velcro mount at one end of a 10' cord, and a plug at the other end.  Because of the velcro mount, you can easily transfer the extension microphone to other vehicles too - kudos to DriveBlue for thinking of this.

If you're using the built-in microphone, the unit works in simplex mode - that is, either you can talk, or the other person can talk, but both of you can't be talking simultaneously.  This cuts down on the echo problems that might otherwise occur.  The simplex circuitry gives you 'override' capability - if both of you are talking, then the unit will cause your conversation to be sent to the other person in preference to their conversation being sent to you.

When you plug in the extension microphone, the unit switches to full duplex mode and 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.

Other Comments and Considerations

There are two control buttons on the unit.  One, with a green handset printed on it, is your 'answer/place call/yes' button, and the other, 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 DriveBlue 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 DriveBlue 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 DriveBlue 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.

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.

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 has a recommended retail price of $129, but can be found for less on some websites.  Pro Travel Gear - the manufacturer of the Plane Quiet headphones, sell the unit for $99 on their website, and offer Travel Insider readers a 5% discount if you quote the discount code travelinsider when completing your purchase.

Comparison

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.2

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 30 April 2004, last update 02 Jul 2017

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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