The Gogroove BlueGate performs one very simple function that can be split into two parts. It receives a digital Bluetooth audio signal from a smartphone (or other Bluetooth capable device) and outputs an analog audio signal that can be listened to through headphones, a car stereo, or home audio system. It basically takes a wireless signal and makes a wired one.
The wireless portion of the BlueGate's functionality was performed almost flawlessly. It's the wired half of the equation that frustrated me.
The trouble with wires
The BlueGate device itself is remarkably compact and unobtrusive. The tiny matte-black box measures 1.8 inches by 1.3 inches by 0.3 inch, or about the size of a book of matches, and has the Gogroove BlueGate logo printed in glossy black on one of its flat sides. Along one edge are a small black power button and a round power input. Along another edge are a small LED indicator and a 4-inch pigtail that ends with a male 3.5mm analog auxiliary plug.
It's from the audio and power that my biggest complaints about the Gogroove BlueGate stem.
For starters, although the device charges via USB, the cable has a proprietary rounded tip rather than the more conventional Micro- or Mini-USB connections. So, if you lose the included cable, you can no longer charge the device.
Also, the audio output terminates in a male 3.5mm connection, which is fine if you're plugging into a car or home stereo, which often present their inputs as female ports. However, if you want to plug headphones into your BlueGate, you'll have to use the included male-to-male adapter cable, which is of fairly low quality.
When I plugged my headphones into that adapter to perform the first tests on the BlueGate, I was repulsed by how poor the audio sounded. Later, when testing in a car, I was surprised by how much different and better the resulting audio sounded. Later, I went back to retest the headphones and was again met with poor audio; I surmised that the weak link was the adapter cable. After a bit of connection wiggling, I was able to clean the audio up by only partially inserting the headphone plug, but you'll probably want to supply your own adapter.
Power, pairing, and pausing
The first thing that you'll want to do when you unbox the BlueGate is charge its internal battery. The device charged for me in about an hour and a half and, according to GoGroove's documentation, will stream for about 12 hours on a full charge. We're still working on battery life testing and will update the review later with our results.
To power the unit on or off, hold the power button for a few seconds until the LED starts flashing blue. To enter pairing mode, continue to hold the power button after the unit activates until the LED's color starts alternating between red and blue. The instructions indicate that the unit pairs with a four-digit PIN, but my Samsung Galaxy Nexus didn't even require that much.
The unit doesn't feature its own volume control; instead you'll have to adjust the output volume either on your phone or on the car or home audio system accepting the input. You also don't get controls for skipping forward and backward, but tapping the power button momentarily will toggle Play and Pause.
Oddly, Gogroove's Web site features a number of pictures of the BlueGate plugged into the headphone jack of various smartphones, which makes absolutely no sense, because the audio connection is an output not an input.
After pairing, I noticed yet another oddity. The Gogroove BlueGate connected to my phone with both the Bluetooth audio streaming and hands-free calling profiles, despite the fact that it lacks an internal microphone and wouldn't pass through from my headphones' microphone. You'll want to go into your options to disable hands-free unless you want to confuse your callers with the impending silence.
The Gogroove BlueGate's greatest strength is its simplicity. You charge it, plug it in, pair it, and go. It's not much harder to use than a simple 3.5mm analog auxiliary audio cable. However, the unit's physical design, while compact and unobtrusive, could cause problems for some users.
I may have been nitpicking with my complaints about the device's use of a male audio connection, but my complaint about the nonstandard power cable is an important one. Lose that proprietary USB cable and you may as well throw away your $60 Bluetooth adapter.
If you can find it on sale for less than its $59.99 MSRP (at time of this review, I'm seeing prices as low as $34.99), the GoGroove BlueGate is a good option for adding Bluetooth audio streaming to a car stereo, home audio system, or other use where you'll leave the unit plugged in to power indefinitely.
However, for those who want to use the device on the go, such as with headphones, a device like the Kanex AirBlue that uses a standard Mini-USB connection for power and a simple female audio input will offer much more flexibility for charging the device and potentially better audio quality.