For most people, using a speakerphone in your car isn't something you'll think you need until you've tried it. Even if you, like this reviewer, only drive your car for short distances every day and only sometimes break the law by answering your phone while driving, a speakerphone will not only keep you from the long arm of the law but also make speaking and driving so much easier.
If this introduction to speakerphones has piqued your interest then we suggest you check out the Jabra Freeway. In this niche segment of consumer technology there are only a few key players, and Jabra is on top of its game. The Freeway has most of the features you could ask for in a device like this, and its performance is first-class.
The Freeway has an attractive look with a soft-touch plastic finish in black. There's six buttons on the top of the unit, one for making and ending calls, volume controls plus a dedicated mute key, a button to switch on the FM transmitter and another for activating voice control. A power switch and a USB port are located on the right hand side (once mounted on a sun visor) though this is obviously designed for European cars as the USB cable hangs over the unit and across your vision when charging in a right-hand drive car.
Voice control and feedback are key parts of this proposition; you can request information like remaining battery life using specific voice commands, and by using the Bluetooth Phone Book Profile the Freeway can read out the names of contacts when you receive an incoming call. This is a great feature, though we have had great difficulty having the Freeway understand our broad Australian accents. We've yet to place a successful phone call using voice, and it only recognises a request for battery life if we use our best "learned from TV" American accents.
Like the Motorola T325 we reviewed last year, the Freeway has a very handy auto on-and-off function, though unlike Motorola, Jabra uses a motion sensor rather than the microphone to make this detection. This feature has worked flawlessly. Though it doesn't tell you it is switching off, every time we've jumped back into the car the Freeway automatically repairs with our phone and lets us know. With this system in place Jabra estimates you should get 14 hours talktime and 20 days standby time out of this speakerphone.
The three-speaker setup beneath the Freeway's cloth cover.
The most important metric to examine is the Freeway's ability to route clean, loud audio while you're on the phone, and in this regard we've been very happy with this device. Whether we were on the phone or streaming music from our phone, the audio coming out of the Freeway's speakers is top-notch for a device of this size. The Freeway uses three speakers to deliver what Jabra describes as surround sound, though this seems like marketing bluff to us after using it. There is more bass present than you'll probably expect to hear in a speakerphone, so much so that we actually preferred listening to music through the Freeway than out of the stock stereo system in our car.
When in a call, most of the people we spoke to told us that we sounded "distant", an unfortunate characteristic that isn't uncommon in Bluetooth devices. We also thought that the Freeway's volume controls could have been a bit more sensitive — the seven volume levels you can choose from can jump from too loud to too quiet depending on your preference.
If you don't have Bluetooth connectivity built into your car, the Freeway is an excellent way to go. The speakers are probably the best we've heard in a device like this, and extras like voice commands and auto on and off make this an easy recommendation.