The last major feature of the Mini is its ability to charge portable gadgets via its integrated USB port. While the latter cannot be used to read digital audio files on generic thumbdrives, it is a useful option for charging a cell phone or digital camera while on the road.
With the Venturi Mini plugged into our test car's 12-volt cigarette lighter adapter, we immediately noticed one of the device's principal drawbacks: its proximity to the driver--and therefore its effectiveness as a Bluetooth hands-free speakerphone--is entirely dependent on your car's interior design. If, as was the case in our Jeep Liberty, the 12-volt port is buried at the bottom of the car's central console, the Venturi Mini can end up being several feet from the driver's mouth, having a significant effect on the quality of outgoing audio via the device's built-in microphone. In our test of call quality, we found that it was difficult to hear the voice of the driver from the other end of the line, particularly at highway speeds with the attendant road and wind noise.
For those in the car, the situation is better thanks to the option for controlling the volume of incoming call audio. While the quality of incoming calls is not great, those on the other end of the line are easily intelligible if you turn the sound up far enough. We found the process of answering and ending calls to be straightforward, but hindered by one design-related niggle: the Venturi Mini's ability to pivot can lead to the whole device tipping over when you try to press the answer- and end-call buttons.
Another frustration we had with our test sample of the Venturi Mini was that the phonebook transfer function did not work. Having found a phone with the requisite protocol, we initiated a transfer of contacts and watched the progress of contacts two at a time from the phone to the Mini on the OLED screen. After the transfer of 80 contacts (which took around two minutes), the process stalled, locking up the Mini, and rendering all buttons inoperative. We disconnected the device, repowered up and tried to access the contact list, but found that no transfer had taken place. Further adding to our woes was the fact that we were greeted with an error message on subsequent attempts to make a transfer.
We had more success with wireless music transfer. With the Voyager connected, we were able to stream audio directly from the cell phone to the car's speakers. Audio quality was not bad--probably on a par with a clear, regular FM broadcast--but there was some static interference at higher volumes. Similarly, with an iPod connected and streamed via FM to the car's speakers, we experienced some interference from the FM signal. When listening to music (either streamed or hardwired), the audio is interrupted for an incoming call, and automatically resumed after the call is finished--a very useful feature when driving along with hands on the wheel.
The Venturi Mini is an innovative, feature-packed device. Its effectiveness as a Bluetooth hands-free speakerphone will depend on the location of your car's 12-volt power outlet, and its phonebook transfer feature is temperamental to say the least. However, its simple design, intuitive controls, and competitive price tag make it an attractive option for those looking to bring hands-free calling, Bluetooth audio, and hardwired digital audio playback into the car.