Using your Cell Phone Hands-Free
This past summer, California became the most recent state to mandate that drivers get off their cell phones while driving, or face fines if caught ($20 for the first offense, then $50 for each additional infraction)—but hands-free devices like headsets and speaker phones are specifically allowed by the legislation. While it’s still safest to pull over when making a call, these gadgets will at least help you stay on the right side of the law.
Plantronics Voyager 855
This sleek headset works much like any other: Just pair it with your cell phone and use the primary call-control button to pick up the phone when someone calls. But a couple of cool extra features make the Plantronics Voyager 855 niftier than normal. First, a sliding boom lets you move the microphone closer to your mouth by extending it outward about another inch, so your voice will be heard more clearly. Sliding the boom closed returns it to barely visible status and ends the call. Even cooler: A plug-in attachment lets you add a second earbud to turn the Voyager into a stereo headset for listening to music.
Motorola MotoPure H12
Drawing its design concept from an old-fashioned transistor radio, the Motorola MotoPure H12 has arguably the most original look of any Bluetooth headset on the market, combining a lustrous and incredibly small chassis with retro curves that turn heads. The MotoPure also works very well as a headset, with solid audio quality for both incoming and outgoing chatter. And the style doesn’t stop with the headset: The H12’s charging cradle is a work of art in its own right, holding the headset in place magnetically, so you won’t need to fumble with plugs.
Jabra JX20 Pura
Forged from titanium, the JX20 Pura, by the headset veterans at Jabra, is another sleek Bluetooth headset that won’t clash with even the most conservative executive attire. Designed by Jacob Jensen (known for his line of S. Weisz watches), the Pura forgoes flashing LEDs and overdone styling in favor of muted, sleek, classic lines. Naturally, audio quality is just fine. Hardcore shoppers might hunt around for deals; it’s available for as little as $99 from some Web sites.
When we named the Jawbone Aliph one of our essential Wi-Fi tools earlier this year (March/April), we had no idea how enduring this headset would be. But the Aliph’s combination of exceptional style and impeccable performance make it an ongoing pick for the best Bluetooth headset on the market. The Aliph is somewhat larger than other headsets, but it’s still very light; a couple of grams really don’t make that much of a difference to your ear, it turns out. The real difference, you’ll soon find, is in the audio quality: The Aliph’s noise-cancellation system is second to none, giving you crystal-clear calls every time.
Parrot 3200 LS-COLOR
$250 (plus installation), parrot.com
If you’re looking for a more permanent solution to the hands-free conundrum, consider Parrot’s 3200-LS COLOR. This matchbook-sized device must be installed by a professional; and from there, it serves as a constant dashboard connection to your cell phone. Operation is intuitive via the built-in dial/end-call buttons and a selection knob, and the kit also includes a voice recognition system that lets you dial contacts by saying their names. A small color screen shows caller ID (plus a photograph associated with the contact, if your phone supports it). Best of all: No worrying about recharging batteries, ever!
There are myriad non-headset options for drivers looking to use their cell phones without having to picking them up. If you’re just looking for a way to add hands-free features to your car without spending a lot, GoldLantern’s VisorTalk is a decent solution. For $75, you get a simple, rechargeable device that clips to your visor and works as a speaker phone with your cell. It even displays caller ID information for incoming calls. When the battery runs down, just remove it from its magnetic clip and recharge it with your cigarette lighter (adapter included).
The Refrain on the Plane
American fliers have made their voices heard in dramatic fashion on message boards, in opinion pieces and in person-on-the-street media interviews: We don’t want cell phones on planes, period. But Europeans seem to see the issue in a different light, and great strides have been made to open up the Continent for travelers who want to stay in touch while zipping from Switzerland to Sicily. After three years of hearings, EU regulators have finally paved the way for aircraft installation of systems that will bounce cell-phone signals from the plane to a satellite and back to a base station on the ground, and trials are already under way in European jets. Currently, the technology is still in the testing stage, as companies measure how much the cacophony of a dozen callers chatting away in as many languages disrupts the other passengers’ peace and quiet.
CHRISTOPHER NULL is a freelance technology writer in San Francisco.