Bluetooth speakers usually either focus on hands-free phone support or portable audio, but the Coda One straddles both functions, and then adds a little extra. However, it also embodies the phrase, "Jack of all trades, master of none."
The device is a little bit longer and thicker than a typical smartphone, although narrower. It features speakers that round out each end, and two microphones sit near the bottom speaker. The rubbery skin makes the Coda One easy to grip, but the matte-black surface tends to hide the buttons embedded on the front and sides. However, each button can easily be found by touch.
One side of the Coda One features an on/off switch and a mini-USB charging port, while the other holds volume up and down buttons, and a mode button. The front surface of the device features what bCoda calls a Multi-Function Button (MFB). Icons on the front light up to indicate Bluetooth connection, call, and battery status.
The Coda One lacks a 1/8-inch audio output jack, which would be convenient for bypassing its own speakers to use a car or other external audio system. An audio jack would be especially useful when using the Coda One for music playback in the car.
The Coda One package includes a magnetic clip, suitable for mounting the device to a car's sun visor, charging cable, and a 12-volt power point-to-USB adapter.
Charging over USB is pretty standard for this type of device, but always welcome as it greatly broadens where it can be powered. bCoda claims 40 days of standby time and 20 hours of talk time with the Coda One's lithium-ion battery.
Supporting Bluetooth version 3.0, the Coda One works as a hands-free phone speaker and offers A2DP for audio streaming. However, compared to the highly-rated Parrot Minikit Neo, the Coda One's phone features cover only the basics. The MFB lets you answer or hang up a call, and the mode button lets you switch the audio from the device to the phone. With an iPhone paired, holding down the MFB launched Siri, opening up the ability to use the phone's voice command for making calls.
The user manual says the Coda One will require a PIN when paired with a smartphone, by default set to 0000, but the iPhone we paired it with did not ask for a PIN. When switched on, the Coda One flashes its Bluetooth connection light, and speaks out loud that it is searching for a paired phone, then announces it has paired with a phone once it finds one.
The most unique thing about the Coda One is that its design resembles a handset, making it a much better design than a typical smartphone for actually making phone calls. As one example, we initiated a call using an iPhone 5. When the other party complained about the call quality, we switched to the Coda One, improving the call quality on both ends. The Coda One seemed less prone to the audio cut-outs that happen with some frequency when using the iPhone as a handset.
Although there was a bit of background fuzz during calls, possibly related to the cell network, the sound quality was more robust than with the smartphone. The Coda One's dual microphones greatly enhance outgoing call quality, while the top speaker rests comfortably against an ear, making calls easy to hear even in noisy environments.
Setting the Coda One down on a desk or clipping it to a car visor resulted in easily heard calls, although the background fuzz remained present. The Coda One had no difficulty with the distance from driver to visor in the car, and allowed reasonable distance when set down on a table. The sound from the unit came through so loud that we had to turn down the call volume.
Using the Coda One for music playback, it sat conveniently on its side, speakers facing towards the room. For this use, the MFB was basically useless, not acting as a pause/play button as we would have expected.
The sound quality was good, much more so than from some single speaker devices. Music came through clearly, and the background fuzz we heard during our phone testing was gone. The Coda One lacked the dynamic range of a more dedicated wireless music player like the Jambox and was especially weak on bass. It emphasized midranges, probably due to a focus on hands-free phone functionality over music playback. But as an occasional portable wireless speaker, used in a hotel room for example, it is passable.
The Coda One's multiple usage scenarios make it a decent value. Its most stand-out feature comes from its form factor, giving it the ergonomics of a traditional handset. As a speakerphone for the car, it lacks some of the more advanced features of other devices, but its two microphones and speakers give it excellent audio quality. The same cannot be said for its use as wireless speakers for music playback. In that scenario, its audio quality is only good enough for occasional personal use.
The Code One is made in Korea, and its marketing in the U.S. is not quite settled. The device can be found listed on the manufacturer's site, bCoda. That company sells some of its products in the U.S. through its DriveNTalk Web site, although the Coda One is not listed there as of this review. The Coda One should retail for $99.99 when it becomes available.