Tag Archives: Car

Which of these Bluetooth speakerphones sounds the best? (comparison)

Bluetooth speakerphones(Credit:
Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

Most phones sold these days have a speakerphone mode. This setting is usually good enough for an impromptu hands-free call in a quiet office. However, when you get on the road in a noisy
car, the phone’s flaws are made apparent. For example, the built-in microphone can be less than ideal for canceling the levels of road and wind noise present in a car at highway speed, which leads to poor quality on the receiving end of your calls. I’m sure that you dislike repeating yourself to callers as much as I do, so let’s look at how to improve call quality.

Visor-mounted Bluetooth speakerphones feature more sophisticated microphones with noise and echo-cancelation technology located closer to your head, which can dramatically improve sound quality. How much of an improvement should you expect? I’ve recorded outbound calls from five speakerphones (and my test phone’s internal microphone) to demonstrate.

All of the recordings below were made on the same day in our CNET test car–the 2007 Chevrolet Aveo, one of the noisiest cars that I’ve ever driven–while doing 55 mph over the same stretch of US-101 just North of San Francisco in an attempt to eliminate variations in engine noise, wind noise, road texture, and cabin acoustics.


HTC Thunderbolt
(Credit:
Josh Miller/CNET)

Baseline: HTC Thunderbolt

The phone used to test all of these speakerphones was my personal handset, the
HTC Thunderbolt on the Verizon 4G network. After suction cupping the Thunderbolt to the windshield, I recorded an outgoing call using the smartphone’s internal microphone. The recording below retains quite a bit of road noise and the spoken words sometimes exhibit a choppy, clipped quality.

Listen now: HTC Thunderbolt baseline call quality sample


BlueAnt S4 Bluetooth speakerphone
(Credit:
Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

BlueAnt S4

The BlueAnt S4 does a fantastic job, almost completely eliminating the road and wind noise between words and only betraying a hint of background noise underneath the sound of my voice. Output volume is good and spoken words sounded natural with little to no clipping.

Listen now: BlueAnt S4 call quality sample


SuperTooth Crystal Bluetooth speakerphone
(Credit:
Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

SuperTooth Crystal

The SuperTooth Crystal almost splits the difference between the baseline recording and the BlueAnt S4’s. I was able to notice the road and wind noise beneath the sound of my voice, but not in the pauses between words and statements. There’s almost no noticeable clipping of the spoken words until the last few seconds, where things get just a bit choppy. However, the SuperTooth Crystal’s sound quality has a compressed, CB radio-eque quality to it that I don’t really like.

Listen now: SuperTooth Crystal call quality sample


Plantronics K100 Bluetooth speakerphone
(Credit:
Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

Plantronics K100

I really like the sound quality of the Plantronics K100’s recording. Background noise is almost totally eliminated, both under the sound of my voice and in the silent spaces, and there’s nearly no clipping of the spoken words. Good output volume puts this and the BlueAnt S4 at a close tie for best sounding microphone.

Listen now: Plantronics K100 call quality sample


Jabra Freeway Bluetooth speakerphone
(Credit:
Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

Jabra Freeway

The Jabra Freeway is one of my favorite speakerphones for audio output because of its three speaker sound system. However, the audio quality of its microphone and noise cancellation is decidedly middle of the pack; it’s not the best in this shootout, but it’s not the worst either. If you drive a loud car and care more about hearing than being heard, this is the one to choose.

Listen now: Jabra Freeway call quality sample


Griffin SmartTalk Solar Bluetooth speakerphone
(Credit:
Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

Griffin SmartTalk Solar

The Griffin SmartTalk Solar’s recording exhibits a clipped and compressed quality that doesn’t really please my ear. Overall, it sounds better than the baseline recording, but road noise is still present under the sound of my voice. This is, to my ear, the worst sounding of the bunch. I should also note that while the SmartTalk Solar’s loudspeaker was the quietest, it’s solar charging and simple feature set make it the most hassle-free in this pack.

Listen now: Griffin SmartTalk Solar call quality sample


Conclusion
To my ear, the recordings from the Plantronics K100 and BlueAnt S4 exhibit the best outbound call quality of the pack, tying for first place. The Jabra Freeway falls, as I stated earlier, in the middle of the pack at third place, followed by the SuperTooth Crystal and the Griffin SmartTalk Solar in fourth and fifth places, respectively. Which of these speakerphones did you like the best? Which models would you like to see tested in the next shootout? Sound off in the comments section below.

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2012 Kia Sorento: The value leader


(Credit:
Josh Miller/CNET)

The new Sorento doesn’t stand out for any cutting-edge technology or unique features, unless you count the new direct-injection engine. Rather, it comes along with very usable cabin electronics at a reasonable price.

What most impressed me about it was the cohesive and attractive cabin tech interface, an area where other automakers struggle. The screens for controlling navigation, the stereo, and the phone feature a consistent look, and Kia obviously has a graphic designer or two on staff, not something all automakers can claim.

The navigation system shows traffic data on easy-to-read maps, the stereo includes all the latest audio sources, and the phone system lets you dial by name using voice command. Sure, it would be nice to have advanced features, such as app integration or Google search, built into the navigation system, but all the in-dash tech works well, doing its job without fuss.

The standard Sorento is only a five-seater, but one big option package, the same one that brings in navigation, also includes a third-row seat. The Sorento is not huge, so you will have to make a choice between two extra passengers or cargo, but maybe that is an excuse to make the in-laws take their own
car.

Kia offers a 2-liter direct-injection engine as an option in this Sorento, which gives better fuel economy and more power than the base four-cylinder engine. It pulls the Sorento along quite handily, although the available V-6 would make more sense for towing boats or trailers.

Check out CNET’s review of the 2012 Kia Sorento.

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Higher gas mileage, electric range for 2013 Chevy Volt

The 2013 Chevrolet Volt.

The 2013 Chevrolet Volt.

(Credit:
GM)

The Chevrolet Volt has been on sale in all 50 states for around a year, but General Motors’ engineers are still perfecting the extended range electric vehicle. Using driving data from existing owners, they have improved the fuel efficiency of the 2013 Chevrolet Volt, according to a press release from GM.

Engineers tweaked the 2013 Chevrolet Volt’s battery cell chemistry to increase the battery pack’s capacity from 16 kWh to 16.5 kWh. They also reduced its energy storage buffer, and the changes increase the new model’s electric range from 35 miles to 38 miles. The EPA fuel economy also gets bumped up a few miles from 94 mpg to 98 mpg. Of course, a bigger battery means longer charging times. Drivers can expect a full recharge to take 4.25 hours using a 240 volt outlet and 10.5 hours off a 120 volt source.

2011 Chevrolet Volt (photos)

It is not just better gas mileage that drivers will see, they will also experience better performance. Many owners and potential buyers worry about the vehicle’s battery performance in extreme temperatures, or fear they’ll be on the hook for replacing expensive batteries. However, 150,000 miles of tests using the new battery chemistry demonstrated less battery degradation and the ability to withstand temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius.

Likening the changes the product team made to fiddling with a cake recipe, GM director of Global Battery Systems Engineering Bill Wallace explained in the news statement, “We’ve done some work at the cell level to modify the ‘ingredients’ to make a better end result. This attention to detail will allow our customers to experience more pure EV range, which is the true benefit of owning a Volt.”

But for California buyers, perhaps the most compelling reason to buy a 2013 Chevrolet Volt will be access to the carpool lanes. Volts sold in California will be equipped with a low emissions package that makes the Volt eligible to use the state’s high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes with only a single occupant. Most HOV lanes require a minimum of two or three people in the vehicle. This year GM has reported year-to-date sales of 7,057 Volts, which is almost as many the company sold in 2011.

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2013 Dodge Dart: A compact sedan with full-size sensibility

2013 Dodge Dart(Credit:
Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

Behind the wheel of the 2013 Dodge Dart, there is no indication of its Italian underpinnings. Although the Dart was built on the same platform as the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, a small hatchback, it does not sip Limoncello or gesture excessively.

Granted I was driving the top, Limited trim model with a leather seat option, the cabin felt like a bigger sedan. The driver’s seat could have handled someone with a wider torso than mine, and if a hypothetical passenger had just downed a plate of garlic fries, the cabin is wide enough to have kept me out of the danger zone. The front seats, although very comfortable, boast slim backs, allowing increased leg room for the rear passengers. Contributing to the premium feel was the 8.4-inch touch-screen head unit, the same as in the Charger, which Dodge uses to effectively limit the spread of physical button over the dashboard.

The most innovative feature, and unheard of in a
car with a price tag of $19,995 (for the Limited trim; the base model starts at $15,995), is the LCD instrument cluster. Some people will question whether it is a good idea to use an LCD instead of good old-fashioned gauges, but I have seen probably as many failed gauges in my time as LCDs. I do not think the LCD will be any less reliable, and it lets the driver choose different configurations, bringing forward the data he finds most relevant.

2013 Dodge Dart (pictures)

Click through for the full photo gallery and more details.

This Limited trim Dart was powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter engine using Fiat’s Multiair valve timing technology, similar to the engine in the Fiat 500 Abarth. However, in the Dart this engine runs quietly, with none of the roar and backfiring fun of the Abarth. Running through the gears of the six speed manual, turbo-lag made the acceleration a little uneven. Dodge’s base engine for the Dart is a naturally aspirated 2-liter, which should produce more linear acceleration. However, the 2-liter produces less power and gets lower fuel economy than the 1.4-liter. After the initial launch, Dodge will also offer an R/T version, featuring a 2.4-liter engine.

The manual transmission had a very tight shift gate, fine for a performance car but not in keeping with the bread-and-butter compact class in which the Dart lives. I would expect most Americans would prefer something a little looser, less prone to making a wrong gear selection. As most of us prefer automatics, the manual will probably not see much adoption. Dodge will offer a six-speed automatic transmission with the 2-liter and 2.4-liter engines, but the 1.4-liter gets a much more exciting option. Dodge is using the same six-speed dual-clutch automated manual as in the Giulietta. I have not driven this transmission yet, but generally these types of automated manuals offer the efficiency of a manual with the convenience of an automatic.

The roomy, comfortable cabin of the Dart would seem to suggest a springy, wallowy ride, but that was not the case. The Dart felt very solid. In my brief drive the body felt very rigid while cornering, and the ride quality was never rough. Much of that ride quality can be attributed to the Dart’s platform. Instead of using a cheap torsion bar suspension at the rear, the Dart benefits from the Giulietta platform’s bi-link suspension. Dodge did not cheap out on the brakes, either, sticking with discs on all four wheels. Some compact car makers use drums on the rear wheels as a cost-saving measure.

The compact-car segment offers fierce competition. Dodge sees the new Dart as going up against the Ford Focus, Chevy Cruze, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Hyundai Elantra, among others. From my experience behind the wheel, it is certainly a car worth considering. Its tech options alone make it one of the top contenders, and the one I drove felt like a more expensive vehicle than it was.

The 2013 Dodge Dart will begin appearing at dealerships this month, with a base price for the SE model of $15,995. Tech options do not hit until the SXT model, which has a base price of $17,995. The Limited trim model, at $19,995, comes with the most standard tech features and offers further options, such as blind-spot detection and a rear cross-path detection system, which uses radar to warn of oncoming cars when the Dart is backing out of a parking space.

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Improving driver safety with tech (Roadside Assistance)

Car technology: it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. With one edge, it can be harmful, creating a distraction to drivers. The 15-year-old Antuan had a hard-enough time operating a CD player while driving without running into everything in town. Young drivers today are expected to deal with browsing MP3 catalogs, navigation, touch screens, and incoming calls, and that’s just the tip of the tech iceberg. And they must do this while resisting the siren call of texting, tweeting, and Facebook.

With its other edge, however, cabin technology can actually cut through distraction and make the vehicle safer for the driver and everyone on the road with him or her. Voice command, steering-wheel audio controls,
hands-free calling, and driver aid systems (such as blind-spot monitoring) spring to mind as tech upgrades that help more than they harm. It’s up to each of us as individual and responsible drivers to honestly assess ourselves and choose the level of tech that matches our abilities. For example, just because your
car will let you input a destination while in motion doesn’t make it a good idea.

With that in mind, I help two users this week to decide on just the right amount of car technology.


What is a good in-dash display for an aftermarket backup camera?

Hi Antuan,
My son just got his learner’s permit. I bought a used 1996 Honda Accord for his use. It’s a nice car. I’m thinking of getting the OnStar FMV after reading your review and adding a backup camera (the dad in me can’t stop thinking of safety). I wonder if a double-DIN replacement stereo’s screen could accommodate the camera?

Thank you!
James

Yes, James. Plenty of in-dash receivers feature inputs for rearview cameras these days and most of those have reverse sensors that allow the camera to automatically take over the screen.

Magellan rearview camera system

When choosing a rearview camera for a teen driver, parents should weigh the potential distractions of a 2-DIN receiver against the simplicity of a standalone camera system.

(Credit:
Josh Miller/CNET)

There are a few things that you might want to consider before you buy. The first is whether you want to upgrade to a double-DIN infotainment system or if it would be better to stick with a standalone camera system with a dedicated monitor. Your son may be a much better driver than I was at that age, but you should consider that with a new receiver comes many potential distractions for a new driver who should probably be focusing his attention out of the windshield at this point.

Pioneer AVH-P2400BT DVD receiver

Because almost every 2-DIN receiver features a dedicated camera input, there’s no need to break the bank. Consider the inexpensive Pioneer AVH-P2400BT DVD receiver.

(Credit:
Pioneer)

If you trust your son’s ability and think the pros (access to navigation, safer hands-free calling, and so on) outweigh the massive con of potential distraction, then it’s time to pick a camera and receiver combo.

You’ve given me no price or feature constraints for the receiver itself other than compatibility with a camera, and just about every new double-DIN DVD or navigation receiver that’s debuted in the last 2-3 years offers a dedicated camera input. As long as you’re not looking at a much older model, you should be good to go. Additionally, most of these manufacturers (Alpine, Clarion, Kenwood, and Pioneer, to name a few) offer their own rearview cameras. It’s probably best to choose a camera of the same brand as your receiver for potentially easier installation, but there’s no reason you can’t mix and match.


What small cars offer the best Bluetooth integration?

Hi Antuan,
I’m looking for a wagon or a small hybrid car, but the most important feature is the Bluetooth technology. I currently have an Audi A8L that has pretty good cabin tech, but how does the Ford Sync compare? In order of ease of voice dialing, what cars would have the top technology?

Thanks,
Linda

This is a tricky question, Linda. If you’re looking at the cabin technology from an all-encompassing, holistic view like we do here at Car Tech, the current Audi infotainment system mostly outclasses anything that you’ll find in Ford’s small hatchback and current hybrid offerings, which are typically only available with pretty basic levels of Ford tech. The 2012 Focus and upcoming 2013 Focus Electric and 2013 Fusion Energi may change that with their next-generation MyFord Touch system, but until then Audi wins. We don’t give those Editors’ Choice Awards out to just
any
old
car.

However, you specifically asked about the Bluetooth technology and voice command, areas where Ford Sync has always stood head and shoulders above the competition. At its core, the Ford Sync system that’s standard on most of the automaker’s vehicles automatically syncs your phone book to let you dial a caller by name (“Call Brian Tong”) and get caller ID information while driving. It also syncs the music stored on a connected USB drive or
iPod to let you access your tunes with little more than the sound of your voice (“Play artist: LL Cool J.”). The voice commands are tremendously flexible and are among the most accurate that I’ve tested. Rarely do I end up repeating myself to Ford’s system.

Ford Sync Services display

At its most basic, Ford Sync isn’t much to look at. However, it’s a great listener.

(Credit:
Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

Additionally, there are other Ford Sync voice functions that vary depending on the specific Ford vehicle and your phone. Sync can read and compose text messages via voice with certain models of phone. AppLink-equipped vehicles can voice-command select smartphone apps and vehicles equipped with Sync Services gain an entire additional tier of voice command over navigation, traffic, weather, and destination data.

So, if you’re looking for good Bluetooth hands-free calling and voice command, you could be very happy with a Ford Sync setup in something like a Ford Fiesta. If you’re looking for navigation, connectivity, and cool features like automatic parallel parking, you’ll have to jump up to the Focus. (Both are available as hatchbacks/wagons.)

Then again, there are few manufacturers that don’t offer dial by name, address book sync, and caller ID (visual or audible) in their 2011 and 2012 Bluetooth systems — I’ve tested only one make of vehicle this year that didn’t: Mazda. So look for those features when you test-drive and you should be happy. Just make sure the voice recognition likes your accent, if you have one, before you buy.


CNET Roadside Assistance is a reader QA column where I, Car Tech editor Antuan Goodwin, answer your automotive and car technology-related questions. If you have a burning car technology question or just need something explained, send me an e-mail at cartech at cnet dot com. Put “Roadside Assistance” in the subject header and you might just see your question answered right here on CNET! You can also find me on Twitter and send me your questions there. Just follow @antgoo.

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Ford adds Mog streaming music to Sync AppLink roster

Ford Mog interface

The MOG interface in Ford vehicles with AppLink runs off of an iPhone connected to the car through a cable.

(Credit:
Mog)

Ford owners can now count Mog among the apps available through Sync AppLink in their
cars, letting them stream music from customized playlists or artist-based channels. Using the new feature will require a Ford model with the latest version of Sync AppLink installed and a subscription to Mog. According to the release, the Mog integration currently only works on iPhones connected to the car with a cable.

The MOG implementation will let drivers listen to a random selection of songs from a single artist, or they can broaden the selection using the car’s tuning knob to include similar artists. Drivers will have access to their saved Mog playlists as well, along with a Top Songs playlist based on the Billboard charts.

Unique to this Mog implementation will be some degree of voice control. Although drivers will not be able to request a specific artist through voice, they will be able to request the Top Songs and Favorites playlists, as well as choosing to play songs downloaded from Mog to their phones.

Probably the most useful feature for customization will be the ability to mark any currently playing song as a Favorite, saving it to the Favorites playlist.

Ford is the second automaker to show off Mog integration. Earlier this year BMW began including Mog implementations in its new 6-series. The BMW Mog interface more closely mirrors that for the mobile device and Web, allowing access to all of Mog’s curated content and the ability to choose new artists on the fly.

MOG rounds up the current list of apps supported by AppLink to 10. Ford also counts Pandora, TuneIn, Slacker, and iHeartRadio among the music-oriented apps it supports. Other selections include Scout navigation, NPR News, and OpenBeak for twitter.

Ford Mog interface

The MOG implementation is also supported in cars without the larger LCD for MyFord Touch.

(Credit:
Mog)

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