How to Buy a Bluetooth Headset or Car Speakerphone

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Bluetooth-Speakerphone Buying Tips

First of all, you need to accept--these days, anyway--that your conversations over a car kit will sound exactly how they typically would on any speakerphone. Factor in varying levels of interference and noise inside and/or outside the car, and decide whether you can live with that.

To buy or not to buy: Determine whether your hours in the car on a daily basis would warrant a speakerphone purchase. Perhaps you can make do with a Bluetooth headset--unless your ears tend to get sore.

Follow the letter of the law: If you are interested in a windshield-mounted speakerphone, such as a solar-powered unit, find out whether it’s legal in your state to drive with something attached to your windshield. (Check the Web site of your state’s motor vehicles department or highway patrol.) Windshield-mounted devices should have an alternative installation option--they should be able to attach to your dashboard or sit on it. But remember that dashboards vary in texture and shape from vehicle to vehicle, so your dashboard may not be flat enough to accommodate a windshield-oriented device.

Figure out if portability is a priority: You might want to be able to move the speakerphone several times a day, such as from car to desk or from one vehicle to another on weekends. If so, select a model that doesn’t require more than a couple of seconds of positioning. You may want to avoid, for example, an installation scenario where you must first attach a clip to the visor, then align the unit’s magnetic plates, and then lock the speakerphone into place. (Undo. Repeat. And so on.)

Consider your parking locations: If you park your car in a garage or in a secure parking lot, you probably don’t have to worry about leaving your device attached to a visor or on your windshield. In that case, you can opt for a unit that can clamp tightly onto your visor--since removing a speakerphone from a tight position multiple times a day can be a pain.

Be aware of flashing lights: The great thing about headsets is that they can blink all they want, and the wearer won’t notice the lights while the doodads are on the ears. Many car kits, though, sport blinking lights. At night especially, that blinking can make them extremely distracting--enough to make you want to switch them off. If a constant blink will drive you demented, shop around for a unit that lacks lights or keeps any illumination to a minimum. The Jabra SP700, for example, offers a night-driving mode, in which you can switch off the lights entirely.

Use natural resources, if you can: Some Bluetooth speakerphones are solar-powered, meaning that they can recharge simply by having their solar panels exposed to sunlight regularly--no AC adapter or USB charger required. (Note: You do need to charge the unit when you use it for the first time.) This is great if you live in an area where the rays are guaranteed. If you don’t, then such a device loses its appeal.

Buy no more than you need: Some speakerphones let you stream music from your phone and broadcast your calls through your car’s stereo system. Such features might sound appealing, but do you really want to pay for them? (The listening experience isn’t anything to get excited about, after all.)

Take a test drive: If a friend or colleague already has an in-car Bluetooth speakerphone, go out for a jaunt just to see (and hear) the product in action. If possible, head out at night so that you can witness the flashing lights (if any).

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