BlueAnt S4 Bluetooth Stereo Speaker review: BlueAnt S4 Bluetooth Stereo Speaker

Performance
We conducted our testing of the S4 with the Motorola Droid.

The S4 features two power modes selected by moving the power switch. The first position is a power saver mode. In this mode, the S4 will only remain in trigger mode for 2 minutes at a time, after which it will stop listening for the "BlueAnt, speak to me" command. When this happens, the green listen light will go out and users will need to tap the device's touch-sensitive edge to wake it back up.

The second position is an always-on mode that keeps the BlueAnt alert and listening until it is either unpaired or powered off. This is the true hands-free mode that requires no physical interaction from the users, save for swiping to adjust the volume or tapping to manually end a call.

When attempting to update the phonebook, the S4 would get stuck in a loop, repeating "Updating contacts" over and over for minutes at a time or until we got annoyed and hit the cancel button. We're not sure if this was an issue with our Droid or a bug with the S4, but it was quite annoying. This seemed to only be an issue with updating, not the initial sync. Disconnecting and re-pairing the phone seemed to fix this issue.

External services
The BlueAnt S4 comes preloaded with shortcuts to Microsoft's Bing-411 services that are completely accessible via voice command. Speaking the trigger command followed by "Favorites" then one of the Bing commands--such as Movies, Traffic, or News--dials into Bing's servers to receive spoken information about a variety of subjects.

Users can ask Bing about movie times, stock quotes, news updates, weather and forecasts, sports scores, etc. There is also the option to get spoken turn-by-turn directions and the latest traffic conditions. Verbally entering your information can be a bit time consuming and the call counts against your cell phone's available airtime, but it's a good option to have especially for users who don't have smartphones and who just want to occasionally look up a movie time. The turn-by-turn directions system requires a constant connection, so if your call gets dropped while you're en route, you'll need to redial and restart navigation from your current location, and because the system isn't GPS-based--like OnStar or Ford Sync turn-by-turn systems--finding your current location can be tricky at times.

BlueAnt also offers a BlueAnt app for Android, available in the Android Market. This app offers help with pairing an Android Phone with the S4, lists the available voice commands, and can read received text messages aloud through the S4's speaker.

The S4 is also compatible with the Vlingo SafeReader app for BlackBerry and Android phones, but we were unable to locate the app in the Android marketplace for testing. An iPhone version of the Vlingo app is said to be coming soon.

In sum
The BlueAnt S4's lack of its own internal voice dialer is a bit of a black mark on BlueAnt's claim of the device being the first "true" hands-free system, putting the speakerphone at the mercy of the capabilities of phone with which it is paired. Users of, for example, Android phones will find this to be quite an annoyance.

However, for users of the phones that feature their own built-in voice dialing system and users who don't initiate many calls while behind the wheel but want to be able to safely answer incoming calls, the addition of the BlueAnt S4's voice-triggered hands-free system has the potential to elevate vehicle safety by allowing drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times. Additionally, for users who don't have smartphones, the S4's tight integration with Microsoft Bing voice service also adds a degree of utility to the package.

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