Review: Scosche solChat 2 Bluetooth Solar Powered Speakerphone
Having tested a variety of speakerphones for the iPhone over the past couple of years, we've come to expect several things: first, a $100 price point for car visor-mounted speakerphones, regardless of the technology inside; second, fairly straightforward pairing between the speakerphone and the iPhone; and third, one or two distinguishing features that make a given unit especially good in one way but not so hot in others. Scosche's solChat 2* ($100) mightn't completely break the mold, but its performance actually impressed us enough to merit our high recommendation in a sea of similar competitors.
SolChat 2 is billed as a “Bluetooth Solar Powered Speakerphone,” which puts it in the same general category as Iqua’s Vizor Sun, another visor-mounted speakerphone that included a solar panel as a means to passively recharge its battery in certain climates. But unlike Vizor Sun, a hulking unit with an awkward button panel, Scosche’s design is one of the smallest we’ve seen, deftly incorporating a speaker that’s as loud and clear as the SurfaceSound Compact we’ve used heavily since early 2008, without requiring the same surface area. There is, of course, a compromise. SurfaceSound promised 15 hours of talk time between charges, and Vizor Sun 20. SolChat 2 gets 12, or 450 hours of standby time. This isn’t a dealbreaker, but it does suggest that you’ll need to consider charging it more often than the others. It includes twin mounting brackets—one visor, one window—plus a car charger and USB cable; you can mount it on your window with its rear-facing solar panel upwards for charging when it’s not in active use on your visor.
That turns out to be solChat 2’s only noteworthy weakness, and its strengths generally more than make up for it, particularly its integrated voice functionality. Scosche’s design starts by including clear English voice prompting, enabling the unit to speak to you to let you know that it’s pairing or disconnecting, rather than the beeps found in other units. A press of its call button activates the iPhone 3GS’s Voice Control feature, enabling users of iPhone OS 3.1 or later to speak into solChat’s microphone to dial callers. Other than learning the proper length of button-pressing time on solChat to activate this feature—a brief press, not long enough to turn off the unit—Voice Control and other features of the unit are extremely easy to use. Twin volume buttons are also located on its surface, with a mic close to your side of the device and speaker vents at the other end.
A small Mode button on its right side can load your iPhone’s contacts directory and announce callers, too; solChat 2 says “Please Wait” repeatedly while the synchronization is proceeding, then lets you know how many numbers were copied from the phone and SIM, separately. While the unit’s text-to-speech renditions of names aren’t quite as accurate as the ones the iPhone 3GS can muster when Voice Control is activated, they’re understandable, and identified as coming from a mobile, work, or home phone as indicated in your contacts directory. Some users mightn’t care about these little frills, but they do make solChat 2 a better device.
In our experience, the single biggest consideration when choosing an in-car speakerphone is whether you’re able to be heard and hear callers while you’re driving; solChat 2 delivers on both counts. Thanks to smart microphone positioning and appropriate calibrations for ambient noise filtering, callers repeatedly told us that we sounded better overall on solChat 2 than on SurfaceSound Compact—more natural, with better bass rendition, and still intelligible despite having less of a treble push. They noted that, apart from a low, standard level of Bluetooth static, noises from the car’s cabin were barely if at all audible and didn’t prevent them from hearing what we were saying. They sounded as good to us as on the best of the visor-mounted speakerphones we’ve tested, as well; clear and easy to understand, loud enough to overcome typical road noise inside a closed cabin. Those expecting to hear or be heard in a convertible will need to consider other options, such as an Aliph Jawbone headset, particularly the 2008 model.
Overall, solChat 2 is one of the very best in-car Bluetooth speakerphones available today for iPhone users, particularly iPhone 3GS owners with Bluetooth-enabled Voice Control in OS 3.1. Strong sound quality, a small footprint, and impressive handling of both voice prompting and voice control are all benefits over similar, earlier accessories, with shorter battery life a potential offset, aided for users in sunny climates by a fine approach to solar recharging. It’s certainly one of the more impressive releases we’ve seen to date from Scosche, and worthy of our high recommendation.
[* Editor’s Note: Scosche is confusingly packaging solChat 2 in boxes that say only “solChat,” distinguished from an earlier and less iPhone 3GS-compatible product only by the model number “CBHSOL2.”]