I remember the first time I saw someone wearing a Bluetooth earpiece. It was a sweaty Florida afternoon. I was standing in line at my local coffee shop. The 40-something man in the Versace suit seemingly mumbled to himself while rattling his car keys in his pocket. At the time, I couldn’t figure it out: Who was he talking to? Was he insane?
Of course, that was a decade ago. Now, it is standard for people to talk to themselves (through nearly-invisible Bluetooth headsets) while in line for coffee, shopping in the mall, or driving in the car. In fact, California legislation (signed by then-Governor Schwarzenegger in 2008) states that it is illegal to be holding a cell phone while holding the steering wheel. So, everyone there looks like they are talking to themselves at red lights. More states quickly followed Gov. Schwarzenegger’s lead.
This paved the way for Bluetooth technology to become integrated into consumer vehicles. According to Cars.com, more than 30 automotive brands offer vehicles with Bluetooth capability. Bluetooth technology, as you probably already know, “allows drivers to make and receive phone calls via their cell phones but through in-car systems.” Unlike OnStar’s handsfree calling, Bluetooth actually places the calls through your cell phone, instead of forwarding them to an in-car phone. This is awesome because any time you spend on the phone is billed as part of your existing mobile plan, instead of having to pay for yet another service.
With over 30 brands offering Bluetooth capabilities, it’s difficult to single-out the best on your own. We’ve narrowed it down to four notable Bluetooth systems available:
The entire line of Acura vehicles, including base models, come equipped with this Bluetooth technology, as well as voice recognition. Acura is well-known for being an early technology adopter, including Bluetooth in base models as early as 2007. On the Acura HandsFreeLink minisite, you can check if your phone is compatible with the system, get help from Acura representatives, and see what features are included, such as phone “call” and “end” buttons on the steering wheel itself. Phone numbers are dialed through voice activation and shown digitally near your speedometer. Oh, and if you’re leaving your car mid-conversation, just tap a button on the wheel to switch the audio from your car speakers to your phone.
While UConnect is not included in stock models, for $300 the Bluetooth-powered UConnect is available on most Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge vehicles. It doesn’t just connect to your phone, though. UConnect is a complete infotainment center, featuring its own touchscreen, GPS navigation, satellite radio, and advanced Bluetooth features. The functionality is not limited to calling phones, either; it allows you to add and delete from your Contact list, comes equipped with a microphone in the back of the car so there are no audio issues, and allows for “paging, emergency assistance, and towing,” much like OnStar.
Mitsubishi FUSE Hands-Free Link System
Available on new Lancer and Outlander models, the Bluetooth-powered technology allows users to make calls, change the radio station, switch CDS (and CD tracks) and activate/control GPS systems all while keeping both hands on the steering wheel.
One of the more robust Bluetooth systems out there is Ford SYNC, available in most Ford and Lincoln vehicles. While features vary by vehicle, basic features include hands-free calling, audible text messaging, uninterrupted connections (if you’re in the middle of a call as you enter your vehicle, SYNC will instantly connect to your phone), voice-controlled media player, music search, turn-by-turn directions, traffic alerts, business search, 911 Assist and vehicle health reports. Ford takes it a step further with SYNC with MyFord Touch, available in select models. MyFord Touch (and MyLincoln Touch) builds on SYNC’s voice controls and hands-free capabilities by adding additional steering controls, 3-D navigation, a multimedia hub, and internet browser (only functional while the car is not in gear).
If you’re not in the market for a new car but your vehicle doesn’t already support Bluetooth, don’t fret. A quick search on eBay shows almost 3,000 results for kits that you can install yourself. Before buying, double-check that the device is compatible with your phone. A bit of investigation on both Ask.Cars.com and AutoNation’s Research Center show that the top customer rated Bluetooth car kit is the Parrot brand MiniKit Slim. At only $79.99, it claims to work with most phone models and can last up to ten hours before needing a recharge.