Look, No Hands

By Mark Maynard

August 15, 2008 6 min read


How to pick the right hands-free device for your cell phone

Mark Maynard

Creators News Service

It's difficult enough to manage all the gadgets in our lives. Now, with five states and several state jurisdictions passing laws that permit only hands-free cell phones during motor vehicle usage, there is another layer to the question, "Which hands-free device is right for me?"

There are dozens of devices that fit a variety of lifestyles and purposes, but hands-free can mean a few choices for drivers:

* A cell phone's speakerphone.

* A separate speakerphone, handy for those who use hearing aids.

* Bluetooth-enabled calling from a newer vehicle's integrated phone system.

* A headset or earpiece.

The earpiece has been a popular choice and likely will remain the preference for those who don't drive electronically sophisticated vehicles with capabilities such as Ford's Sync system.

Despite the appearance of being an android with the blinking-blue device hanging on one ear, it is understandable why they are so appealing. Many people enjoy the freedom of movement the earpiece offers, whether driving, walking or typing.

The technology of the earpiece has also improved. Several years ago, they could only hold a short two-hour charge on an inexpensive device. Now they can be used for 10 hours, with some having little portable chargers to stretch the talk time.

While most of the devices connect and operate in a similar way, earpieces aren't one size fits all. Different devices have different shapes that might be comfortable to some but not to others. Some have a loop to go around the ear; others plug into the ear. Some have microphone "booms," which have a variety of lengths to fit the shape of the face.

Athletic users have choices for earpieces that are resistant to water, dust and shock. Some earpieces will connect with an iPod, MP3 or other music player. Earpieces can be custom-fit using a silicone impression from your ear. And even if your phone isn't Bluetooth-enabled, there are adapters to give it connectivity.

With dozens of these things coming to market, it's necessary to take the time to try them on and see how easy or complicated they are to operate. Pricing starts at less than $20. Most with advanced features are less than $100, but there are many that manage music and more for $150 and up. Just remember that the smaller they are, the more expensive they are to replace.

Despite the new advances in technology, remember that talking on the phone while driving is still distracted driving. But at least a hands-free device allows two hands on the wheel.

Here's a sampling of some hands-free devices:

Cardo S-800, $85: This is a tiny and lightweight earpiece that plugs into the ear or is fitted with a loop around the ear. It comes with a lanyard, which helps keep track of it. The S-800 has noise suppression, high-end audio speakers, eight hours of talk time and Hot Dialing (which stores and speed-dials three numbers). The headset can be used with two mobile phones and has a buzzer to help find it when misplaced. For more information, go to http://cardowireless.com.

Plantronics Voyager 520A, $100: This lightweight and comfortable over-the-ear style has eight hours of talk time and 180 hours of standby. It can be used with two phones and has a noise-canceling microphone and wind screen. The price includes a car charger and USB cable for charging. For more information, go to http://plantronics.com.

TuneBuds Mobile, $40: For the iPhone, Griffin Technology offers TuneBuds, an alternative to the microphone earbuds that come standard with the iPhone. The company says TuneBuds stay in the ear better and have improved sound quality. Its SmartTalk headphone adapter, $20, has a noise-canceling microphone and control module that works with any earphone and retains the functions of the iPhone. For more information, go to http://griffintechnology.com/products/tunebudsmobile.


Aura Mobile BT, $130 (below): The lightweight device with a dual-speaker system turns a mobile phone, home computer or cordless home phone into a high-quality conference phone. It is small enough to fit in a shirt pocket or clip to the sun visor of a vehicle. The kit includes a 120-volt adapter, 12-volt car adapter, VoIP cable, external microphone and cordless telephone adapter. For more information, go to http://spracht.com.

EGO Cup, $111: Powered by a 12-volt power point (cigarette lighter), the EGO Cup fits in a cup holder or can be mounted on other surfaces. For more information, go to http://egohandsfree.com.

Hearing-aid compatible:

ELI DirX Ear-Level Instrument, $300: This device weighs just 5.2 grams and connects with three pins to any behind-the-ear hearing aid that uses a Europlug standard direct audio input connector. The pins on the ELI DirX module rotate to accommodate a right or left hearing aid. Active talk time is 2 1/2 hours, and at full charge the battery has a standby life of 140 hours. Full recharging takes 1 1/2 hours. For more information, go to http://elihearing.com.

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