Confessions of a Bluetooth convert

News.com reporter speaks out about the disappointingly simple installation of a car dash module and his first foray into law-abiding Bluetooth usage.

Thanks to California's new hands-free phone law, I have been dragged into Bluetooth land. It's not somewhere I really ever saw myself landing. I never really saw a need; I don't use my cell phone as frequently as anyone else I know, and my car tends to sit in the garage undriven for days, sometimes weeks.

With the enforcement of laws beginning in California and Washington last week, Bluetooth earpieces have become the rage --even when people aren't behind the wheel. Sorry in advance if I offend, but this strikes me as a bit odd--maybe not as odd as the Bat Utility Belt look of a decade ago when the "tech savvy" would stock their overstressed belts with pagers, cell phones, and PDAs, but certainly in the same league. So that option wasn't very attractive.

The Dual BTM60 Bluetooth module attaches to several of Dual's in-dash car stereo decks. Dual

However, about six months ago, I upgraded the stereo in my car to a model that also happened to support Bluetooth cell connections. The stereo I replaced was the factory double-din that came with it when I bought the car 13 years ago. The CD player was skipping like crazy, and my wife was about to give birth to our first child, so this seemed like the right time to spend money on a new stereo for a car I seldom drove and expected to drive even less after the child was born (it's a two-seat convertible).

So I dove into research models, options, and prices. I ended up buying a Dual XHD6425 off Amazon.com for about $100. An installer at Best Buy said he didn't think the deck would fit in my car, but a handy tool at Crutchfield.com told me different (guess who was right).

This little unit does things I wish my $300 Onkyo TX-SR605 home receiver did: in addition to playing MP3 and WMA CDs, it also receives HD Radio signals, has an auxiliary input for your MP3 player, and a USB input for flash memory drives. It also has a connector wire at the back of the unit that will plug into Dual's BTM60, a Bluetooth module that transmits voice signals to your cell phone. The audio from the person you are speaking with is broadcast over the car speakers.

Since Dual already sold a module specifically designed for my deck, the choice was an easy one. New modules that used to retail for $99 can be found on eBay for less than $25 if you are patient. Mine was delivered Saturday, and like a kid on Christmas morning, I had it up and running in less than an hour.

The Dual BTM60 includes a 3-meter cord that attaches to the back of several Dual car stereos--the XHD-6425, in this case. The two wires plug in to each other, with the guidance of two arrows. Steven Musil/CNET News.com

Installation could not have been easier--it's practically plug and play. The module itself is about the size of two wine corks and attaches to the visor like your garage door opener (that location is actually much closer to your mouth than anywhere you could place it on your dashboard), and the connection to back of the deck just snaps into place with the guidance of arrows on the ends of each wire.

The most time-consuming part was hiding the wire between those two points. It wouldn't easily pinch against the windshield, so off came the weather stripping and convertible top anchor to allow access to the driver-side A-pillar cover. After threading and squeezing the wire behind the pillar cover, tying up the wire slack under the dashboard, and replacing the weather stripping and convertible top anchor, it was time for the easiest part of installation: pairing the cell phone to the stereo deck.

Hiding the module's connection to the in-dash deck inside the A-pillar was the most time-consuming part of the installation. After the wire is safely tucked away, the weather stripping slides back into place. Steven Musil/CNET News.com

The phone and module did most of the work for me--I just had to hit a few buttons when prompted.

And it worked from the get go, syncing up my cell phone as soon as I turned the key and delivering audio quality that sounded as good as the cell phone, at least in the comfort of my garage. But how about on the road, with the top down? Just as good, although you may have to adjust the speaker volume on the dash deck to hear your calls better.

When a call comes into your cell, it rings across your car stereo. You simply push the button on the module to pick up the call. You can also use the in-dash deck to place the call, although I think it will be some time before I master that skill.

I saw plenty of people driving around town this holiday weekend with cell phones plastered to the side of their face, so I am not sure how well obeyed the new hands-free law is going to be. After all, the fine if you get caught is only $20, but it can be 10 times that with other court costs factored in. That's more than my entire stereo upgrade.

So there you have it: Bluetooth functionality without the odd factor--unless you consider that you are talking to your visor and allowing the other drivers stopped at traffic signals to listen in on your phone conversations.

Hmmmm...

 

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