Depending on your needs, you may find a lot to like about Lenntek’s Hookup Bluetooth Kit for iPod ($130), a wireless receiver and transmitter package designed to let you both hear iPod music and take cell phone calls without pulling out or changing your earbuds. Like several other Bluetooth accessories we’ve seen, Hookup requires only a brief setup period with your Bluetooth 1.2-compatible cell phone, and virtually none with your iPod, before you’re automatically interrupting iPod music with incoming or outgoing phone calls, all heard through your favorite pair of earphones. But an unusually poor microphone and some smaller issues limit Hookup’s promised appeal, even if it does a good job of letting you hear iPod and cell phone audio.
Lenntek’s package contains a Bluetooth 1.2 transmitter attachment sized to fit and match the black, 30GB fifth-generation iPod, a combination Bluetooth receiver and iPod remote control, a charging USB cable, and two neoprene cases. You put the transmitter on the bottom of your iPod – even if it’s white, or a thicker 60/80GB model – and carry both in the larger case, then connect your headphones to the remote control and carry or belt clip it in the other case. Together, the remote and transmitter are promised to run for around 10 hours on a fully-charged 5G iPod, but in our tests, came closer to 5 with a 30GB model. The transmitter has a pass-through Dock Connector port on its bottom, and runs off of iPod battery power – even that of a nano, which it fits awkwardly – while the remote recharges with the included USB cable via connection to your computer.
The remote serves two primary purposes: its volume, track, and play/pause buttons control the iPod from roughly 20 unobstructed feet away, and its headphone port lets you hear whatever’s playing on the iPod. When a call comes in, your iPod music is muted, not stopped, and you use the play/pause button on the remote control to accept it. The same thing is true when you make an outgoing call – Hookup mutes but doesn’t stop your music, allowing you to hear the call’s audio fully through your earbuds. When the call ends, typically via another press of the play/pause button, your music becomes audible again. The best Bluetooth kits we’ve seen pause your music rather than mute it, so we found Lenntek’s alternative a bit less exciting.
A more significant problem was with the remote’s microphone, which might well be the worst we’ve yet tested in a device of this sort. As it seems to be hidden behind the play/pause button, and not especially sensitive, you need to hold the remote right up to your mouth in order to talk on the phone. Even when we did this, we found our voice volume level to be surprisingly low to listeners, and the location of the remote highly impractical for everyday use. Clearly, Lenntek needs to update Hookup with a superior mic solution, as this one basically renders the device useless for its primary purpose.
There are some other issues worth noting, as well. While connected to the iPod, the remote flips the iPod’s screen on every minute or two; from what we’ve heard, this is a result of a trick that some developers use to keep power flowing to their accessories, but not the correct way to do it. Additionally, audio quality is roughly par for the Bluetooth 1.2 course – pretty close to what you’d hear from the iPod’s headphone port, only a little less detailed, and with less high-end sound. Finally, we weren’t totally impressed by the fit and finish here: Hookup’s electronic components come close to matching the iPod, but look a bit bare – their only nice touches are matching, fading blue power LEDs. It’s obvious that Lenntek tried harder on industrial design than most iPod accessory makers, but between the neoprene and the otherwise bland faces of its components, it hasn’t fully succeeded in the looks department.
Overall, this version of Hookup strikes us as a promising Bluetooth device that got a bit screwed up in execution – an alternative to the Altec iM402, GlobalSat iWag, and TEN Technology naviPlay, only with such poor microphone functionality that it blows half of its appeal. If you’re just looking for a semi-wireless (read: with earbuds) way to listen to iPod music, it’s fine – hence its C-level rating rather than a D-level one – but it shouldn’t be relied upon for making or receiving cell phone calls in its current state. Given that the device can’t be found anywhere yet for its supposed $130 asking price – the lowest we’ve seen it since our First Look back in November 2006 is still $190 – that’s especially disappointing. As Lenntek has two more versions of Hookup forthcoming, one for cars and one for the iPod nano, we’re hoping that it radically improves the mic functionality in both. Tests of an early version of the nano Hookup Lanyard sounded better than this; perhaps Lenntek will go back and fix the original Hookup’s mic, as well.
Company and Price
Company: Lenntek Solutions
Compatible: iPod 5G, nano*