Solar power is a hot topic nowadays, and even Bluetooth speakerphones are getting in on the action. While a complete switch of the all the world's speakerphones to solar energy won't make much of a dent in total energy conservation, the idea of including a photovoltaic panel into a calling aid may give you a few extra minutes of talk time, if you forget your in-car charger.
If your speakerphone is going to be attached to your car's windshield, you might as well try to soak up some of that sunlight, right? Well, so the reasoning goes for the designers of the Anycom Solar Car Kit, a stylish Bluetooth speakerphone that differentiates itself from the pack through its solar-charging capabilities.
With its sleek design and complimentary black lacquer and matte silver-plastic trim, the Anycom Solar Car Kit is a good-looking product. Adding to its visual appeal are its rear-mounted solar panel and its large, multifunction button, which acts as the primary interface for most of the device's controls. The simplicity of the Solar Car Kit's design does, however, have its drawbacks.
Besides the main button and two volume buttons, there are no other controls on the device, meaning that a large number of features are shoehorned into a single control interface: from taking, ending, and switching calls, to pairing, setup, and status check for battery levels and solar charge, the three unmarked buttons have to work extrahard. This can lead to a complicated and unintuitive user experience, which requires drivers to remember a number of arcane button commands.
Another gripe we have with the design of the Anycom Solar Car Kit is the placement of the volume buttons, which are located on the right side of the device. According to the instruction manual and our experience of using the device, it is most likely that drivers will stick the speakerphone on the leftside of the windshield (to avoid blocking the view in the middle of the screen).
This placement means that the up and down volume buttons are on the wrong side of the device for intuitive use: with the buttons on the right side, drivers are required to use their right hand to push the buttons (thus traversing the line of sight and crossing arms while driving); or to use their left thumb, which can be tricky while on the move.
Features and Performance
The headline feature of the Anycom Solar Car Kit is its solar panel, which, according to its manufacturers, gives the device 30 minutes of talk time after being exposed to 3 hours' worth of direct sunlight. In order to ensure that the device gets the maximum exposure to the sun, it comes with a handy suction cup mount, enabling the device to be attached to a car's windshield.
While we are impressed with the originality of the solar panel, we're not entirely convinced of its usefulness. In the unlikely coincidence that the device is out of juice and the charger for it is not in the car, would-be callers will have to drive around for at least an hour in direct sunlight (assuming that there is any) to get any value out of the solar cell. Furthermore, it is unlikely that anyone will leave the device stuck to the windshield to charge with the car parked, as it is presents an open invitation to gadget thieves.
For more conventional charging, the device can be connected to a standard 12-volt cigarette lighter outlet or to a PC via a USB cable. According to the instruction manual, the Anycom Solar Car Kit provides "more than 7 hours of talk time." In testing, we found the device to more than fulfill this requirement ,with an impressive observed talk time of more than 15 hours. And we particularly like the simple battery status test, which involves pressing both the up and down volume buttons simultaneously, resulting in a number of beeps and flashes of the battery indicator that correspond to the remaining life: four beeps/flashes, if the remaining battery life is above 7 hours, three if it's above 5 hours, two if it's above 3 hours, and one if it's fewer than 3 hours. (Ideally, we'd like another indication that talk time is less than 30 minutes or so, as well.)
For such a simple-looking device, the Anycom Solar Car Kit has an impressive number of control options. Users can take and end calls; mute (and unmute) the incoming-call tone; mute the built-in mic; transfer to a call waiting; and check battery and solar power.
All of these features and settings are controlled through a combination of the device's three buttons, with many features being activated using the same input with the speakerphone in different states. For example, pressing the "-" button once while a call is incoming mutes the ringtone, while pushing the same button during a call mutes the internal mic.
Similarly, pushing the main multifunction button "briefly" (i.e. for less than 1 second) answers an incoming call, while pushing the same button for exactly 1 second rejects the call. We're not sure about the wisdom of this design, as it means a split second makes the difference between talking to someone when you don't want to or rejecting a call that you want to take.
When you are finally connected, call quality via the Anycom Solar Car Kit's built-in speaker is generally clear, albeit with the same distant, tinny sound that we have come to expect from Bluetooth speakerphones. In contrast with the Sony Ericsson HCB-120 that we tested recently, the Anycom device did, at least, deliver sufficient volume to be heard above the road and wind noise while driving along. From the other end of the line, we apparently also came through clearly, although our test caller did notice a lot of background noise getting through when driving along the freeway.
Besides its solar panel, the Anycom Solar Car Kit differentiates itself from the masses of other Bluetooth speakerphones in a number of ways. Its slender design and impressive talk time recommend it, but its fiddly and difficult-to-master controls make it a challenge to use without some time with the instruction manual.