Car visor-ready Bluetooth speakerphone solutions offer iPhone users an affordable way to make hands-free calls in vehicles that don’t have integrated wireless calling hardware — in fact, some of the most recent visor accessories pack features that would have been impossible to include in cars only three years ago. Today, we’re rounding up four different options from three manufacturers: BlueAnt’s S4 ($100), SuperTooth’s Buddy ($60) and SuperTooth HD ($129), and Plantronics’ K100 ($80). Besides the variations in their prices, each of these units has at least one feature that makes it stand out on paper as a worthwhile option for iPhone users; only one fell below our general recommendation level.
SuperTooth’s two units are substantially different from one another. While SuperTooth HD is expensive and high-flying in features, Buddy is one of the least expensive visor kits we’ve yet tested, though it doesn’t feel so much like a huge compromise in quality as a deliberate streamlining of last-generation features and design into an affordable contemporary option. Thinner and narrower than any of its rivals, it’s the only one of the four units here that sits in landscape orientation on your visor, with its microphone off to the left rather than right at the front. Buddy is bundled with a single magnetic visor clip, a micro-USB charging cable and car charger, which attach to the unit’s back rather than one of its sides. It gets 20 hours of talk time or 1000 hours of standby, using Bluetooth 2.1.
The features here are all fairly standard. Buddy can automatically pair with the iPhone—actually, two at once—and provides a large green button to activate Voice Control calling/iPod control features on iPhone 3GS/4 models. There’s a dedicated call end button towards the back of the unit’s face, separate volume up and down buttons, and a power button. SuperTooth also notes that there’s a noise-canceling microphone inside. No voice commands are offered, either in terms of Buddy being able to speak to you, or recognizing your voice; pressing the green button to rely on the iPhone is your only option.
For the $60 price, what you get is a speaker that’s a little louder than the iPhone 4’s, and a microphone that’s roughly on par with the iPhone 4’s—both small upgrades for iPhone 3GS and earlier users—but that’s about it. Buddy is a basic and very competent entry-level visor-mounted speakerphone that doesn’t stream music or have other fancy features, but enables you to make entirely fine calls through your visor rather than needing to hold your iPhone up to your face. Callers detected no major difference between its noise-filtering capabilities and the iPhone 4’s, and at maximum, the speaker benefitted more from its proximity to the user’s head than any other improvement to its performance. As a budget option, it does exactly what we would have expected, nothing more.
In the past, new Bluetooth speakerphones started at around $100, with only small dips and bumps attributable to extra or missing features. Buddy’s different: you don’t give up a lot when picking it, unless you really need the most modern of frills such as voice recognition and voice prompting; the speaker and microphone performance is entirely respectable, and the $60 asking price is extremely aggressive. Pick Buddy instead of one of its latest rivals and you’ll save a lot of money, losing stereo A2DP streaming and better-than-iPhone 4-caliber noise cancellation, neither of which will be critical for many users. Given what it does for the price, Buddy is worthy of a strong general recommendation and B+ rating.
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