With many states recently passing hands-free laws banning the use of handsets while driving, we're seeing a flood of new Bluetooth devices into what is already a pretty crowded market. The Funkwerk Ego Cup is one such device, promising clear calls without fear of a citation. It stands apart from similar devices by mounting it in a cup holder, which can be a blessing or a curse.
The nice-looking Ego Cup feels pretty cheap, lightweight, and hollow. The main interface is a large silver speaker that sits beneath an expanse of glossy black plastic. Visually, this is pretty pleasing, but like most glossy devices, the Ego Cup is a fingerprint and smudge magnet. There are what appear to be soft-touch contacts for answer, end, and volume inlayed into the plastic, but upon closer inspection, we found that they are actually labels for four regular buttons hidden beneath the plastic. They require a firm press to register and make a sort of cheap clicking sound.
However, the Ego Cup isn't a device that users will spend a lot of time holding and examining up close. The "Cup" in Ego Cup refers to the fact that the hands-free system is designed to fit into your vehicle's cup holder. The base of the device holds it snuggly into place and allows it to fit a variety of different size cup holders. Once firmly in place in our test vehicle, the cheap feeling we mentioned earlier wasn't as much of a factor, and after a while we hardly noticed.
We expected some sort of display to be hiding behind that expanse of glossy black plastic, but sadly there is none to be found. This means no caller ID, so your phone will have to be visible if you want to know who is calling. However, the device did work well with our mobile phone's voice-activated dialing and spoken caller ID features, which lessened the sting of not having a display.
In the box, we found a 12-volt adapter cable, a noise-canceling microphone that attaches to the top of the device, the cup-holder fitting, a user manual, and the Ego Cup itself. Completely assembled, the device is about the size of an 8-ounce can of soda.
The cup-holder fitting is the marquee feature and utilizes an array of radiating rubber fins to hold the device in place during spirited driving. This is a surprisingly simple solution that eschews moving parts, yet still allows it to fit into a wide range of sized and shaped cup holders. Retractable cup holders, such as the ones in our test vehicle, are a bit tricky to get the device into and out of, requiring a little more pushing and twisting than we expected.
Power is supplied by a standard cigarette lighter/USB adapter cable. We think this is a great feature, because similar adapters are easy to find. This means that you won't have to order a proprietary power cable if you lose the included one. This also extends the functionality of the device by allowing you to use the Ego Cup anywhere you have an available powered USB port, increasing the product's value.
The buttons on the face perform the standard hands-free functions of answering, ending, and rejecting calls, and increasing and decreasing the volume, as well as redialing the last number and activating voice commands on supported phones.
Setting up the Ego Cup was a breeze. We simply attached the external microphone, plugged in the 12-volt adapter, and dropped everything into the nearest cup holder. The device was immediately recognized by our Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone and paired with the supplied PIN.
Call quality was relatively clear and echo-free on both ends of the conversation. The noise-canceling microphone didn't completely block out the background noise but did a very good job of distinguishing our voice from engine noise and passing trucks and buses. The microphone is rotatable and can be aimed to increase sound quality, though there isn't very much to be gained or lost from tweaking it. Generally, it sounds good as long as it isn't pointed away from you.
The built-in speaker, on the other hand, struggled to make itself heard above the sounds of the road. We found that even with the windows up and at low speeds, the Ego Cup only sounded clear at max volume. We can foresee this being a big problem at highway speeds in vehicles with more road noise. This is most likely because the low-down position of most cup holders is suboptimal for such a tiny speaker.
Ultimately, the Ego Cup is a satisfactory product for drivers looking for a low-cost, in-car speakerphone. At about $100, it is a bit pricey for a device with no display. But with its clear calls and unobtrusive design, it's a solid product for most users. In noisier vehicles, a visor-mounted hands-free or a device with a louder speaker would be a better solution.