Got three numbers you call over and over? If you use your driving time to make calls to the same folks regularly (hands-free, of course), you’ll like the speed-dial feature that comes with Kensington’s Bluetooth car speakerphone. The unit lets you save three phone numbers to three corresponding buttons on its front. This speed-dial option is one of several nice features on Kensington’s kit; unfortunately, though, call quality was disappointing–and it’s pricey at $120 (MSRP as of 8/6/09).
The Kensington unit’s design impresses: It comes with a preset clip, and though the clip is thin, it isn’t flimsy by any means. The speakerphone attached securely to my car’s visor with no slippage during testing: After one shove onto the visor, it didn’t budge.
The controls are easy to find by feel alone. The power button, with a ridge on the surface, is on the side; the call button, which you use to accept and end a call, and to initiate voice-dialing, can be accessed by pressing any part of the unit’s upper portion; the programmable speed-dial buttons are in the lower half, also with ridges on the surface. And all these buttons are large–a huge plus when your eyes are on the road.
Overall, however, call quality using the Kensington car kit was disappointing. Callers could understand my babblings, no problem; but, at best, my voice sounded slightly muffled and far away. And it was always obvious I was on a speakerphone–not a headset or a handset. Conditions improved slightly when I tilted the visor down, so that the microphone pointed toward my mouth.
At worst, my voice came across as splotchy, metallic, and unnatural, and some words broke down. One party complained about the hollow sound during a couple of calls, and reported that I seemed like I was calling from the back of a cave.
Voices coming into my car generally sounded clear and natural. However, even with the volume knob up at the max, I had trouble hearing my soft-spoken friends, especially with the windows rolled down or my tunes going strong. That said, at the other end, the Kensington unit did a good job blocking out traffic noise, windy gusts, and music. But during a couple of test calls, listeners picked up the banter from my noisy front- and backseat passengers.
I like how easy it is to assign the numbers to the three speed-dial buttons. As long as your phone supports speed-dialing, you initiate the call to your chosen ones. Then, during the call, simply press one of the buttons on the front of the unit until it lights up–and voilà, your number is stored. (If your phone lacks a speed-dial capability, you can still program the buttons. You need those parties to call you, and you do the deed during the call.)
The Kensington kit comes with two battery packs. This doubling up is a great bonus–and unique to this product, compared with other Bluetooth car kits on our chart. As long as you keep the backup fully charged, you don’t face any down time. Each battery needs to be inserted into the USB battery charger, which you can also hook up to the car charger. (The unit shuts off after 15 minutes of inactivity to preserve battery life.)
One final quibble: The Kensington car kit does not offer a redial function. I missed that. Maybe it’s just me, but I use my phone’s redial feature often.
When it comes to ease of use and a spacious design, Kensington fares well with its large controls and easy access. Just be prepared for shaky calls some of the time.
For shopping advice on Bluetooth headsets, stereo headphones, and car kits, check out our
Bluetooth products buying guide.