Review: SuperTooth Crystal Bluetooth Handsfree Kit
One year ago, SuperTooth released Buddy, a basic but extremely affordable visor-mounted car speakerphone for iPhone users. Now the company has released Crystal ($69), which keeps the same shape, modestly ups the price, and tweaks the features; only one issue -- a very position-sensitive microphone -- keeps it from being a complete improvement over its predecessor.
Buddy was plasticy from edge to edge, shifting to metal solely for a magnetically-attached clip that remained in place on your car’s visor even when the speakerphone was detached for battery recharging. SuperTooth has switched the top surface to brushed metal, using a laser to cut slits for buttons, as well as a pattern of increasingly large pill-shaped holes for a speaker grille. The design is very attractive and distinctive, nicely matching Crystal’s shape, though the metal is just a little rough around the unit’s edges. Buddy’s and Crystal’s back sides are nearly identical, each featuring a micro-USB charging port and a single magnet for the aforementioned clip. A micro-USB cable and car charger are included in the package.
SuperTooth’s other changes aren’t as obvious, but they’re almost all welcome: the new car recharger is smaller than before, using the shotgun shell-sized flush design of many modern power adapters, and the Bluetooth 2.1 chip inside Buddy has been upgraded to Bluetooth 3.0 for Crystal, promising the same 20 hours of active use or 40 days of standby time. The new chip pairs almost instantly with iPhones, adds eight-device multipoint pairing with two-device active monitoring, and can automatically reconnect with your iPhone when a jostle indicates that you’ve entered your car. All of these features are nice improvements over Buddy.
Also added are stereo music streaming and GPS instruction announcement support—features that normally were found in more expensive in-car speakerphones. The good news is that if you want to use Crystal to speak turn-by-turn directions or play songs, it can reliably do both, with your choice of loud or fairly clear sound. On the other hand, these features aren’t Crystal’s strong suits; music streaming sounds very flat and AM radio-like; they will also drain the battery faster than just making and taking the occasional phone call. It’s nice to have the options, but you’ll only want to rely on Crystal to stream music if you have no other in-car options.
Crystal performs best when it’s placed in a specific position: perhaps not surprisingly, this is when the microphone’s off to the left and the speaker’s pointing downwards towards you from a car’s visor. SuperTooth has so maximized the microphone for unidirectional performance that callers told us that we sounded very good when the unit was so positioned, but found us all but impossible to understand when it was on its back—the way you might normally place it on a desktop for use indoors. If your only hope is to keep Crystal in your car, this won’t be a problem at all; otherwise, you might find other models to be better for your needs. Also of note: the noise cancellation works pretty well, reducing the impact of even nearby ambient sound on your voice; only the very best options we’ve tested do a better job of making in-car voices appear to be isolated under all circumstances.
Overall, SuperTooth’s Crystal is a good follow-up to Buddy, and offered at such a small premium that its features generally more than justify the added dollars—it’s certainly one of the best in-car speakerphones we’ve seen at this price level. That having been said, it is narrowly tailored for the specific purpose of being used on a car’s visor for telephone calls and turn-by-turn directions, both of which are handled quite well. While it’s capable of performing music and/or being used indoors, it’s not particularly great at either of these things. It’s worthy of the same strong general recommendation as its predecessor, though users will definitely get a lot more out of it for the $69 price.