Motorola's latest foray into the in-car Bluetooth speakerphone doesn't seem much different from its last, at least not on paper. Replacing the still-great-for-its-age Motorokr T505, the Motorola Roadster still pairs via Bluetooth and still features the FM transmission mode that won us over the first time. So what's new? Aside from a lighter chassis and an updated aesthetic, the Roadster gains compatibility with the MotoSpeak application for Android and BlackBerry devices, which is designed to keep people from texting while driving, or, at the very least, make it safer.
Along the right side of the Roadster, one will find the power switch and the Micro-USB charging point. The Roadster ships with a coiled 12-volt power cable that charges its internal battery. Unplugged, the Roadster has an estimated 20-hour talk time and a standby time of about three weeks. This standby time is greatly extended thanks to a power-saving mode that automatically powers down the Roadster after a period of disuse.
Controls are broken into two groups, separated by the Roadster's approximately 2-inch loudspeaker, which is covered by a fabric panel. Audio output from this speaker is loud and clear--almost too loud for indoor environments. You won't want to go playing with this speakerphone at your desk, but in a moving vehicle with road, engine, and wind noise, it's just loud enough. Also hidden somewhere beneath the fabric panel are the Roadster dual noise-canceling microphones.
Along the top edge of the device are three buttons that are used for interacting with hands-free calling. From left to right, there are mute, call answer/end, and voice command buttons. The mute button mutes the microphone but allows you to continue listening, while the answer/end button works as one would expect--tap to answer, tap to end, and hold to redial. The voice command button actually calls up the paired handset's voice dialer rather than one of the Roadster's own.
Along the bottom edge are controls for audio output and playback. From left to right, there are buttons for play/pause of A2DP streamed audio, minus, plus, and FM. The FM button is interesting, as pressing it swaps the audio output from the Roadster's speaker to its FM transmitter. Upon entering FM transmission mode, the Roadster speaks aloud its current frequency--for example, 89.9 FM--to which you can tune your car's stereo or a nearby FM radio to receive the broadcast audio. The minus and plus buttons normally act as volume down and up, respectively. However, when the FM mode is activated, they become tuning buttons, adjusting the output frequency down and up in 0.2MHz increments with each tap or scanning for open frequencies after being held for a moment.
The Roadster mounts on your car's sun visor with a wire clip that is removable with some effort. We've previously criticized this sort of attachment as feeling flimsy, but we've never had one give out on us during normal use. The Roadster held fast during spirited driving, its clamp providing more grip than its 3-ounce chassis required. Still, we'd be careful placing the Roadster in, for example, a backpack with heavy books, as sufficient weight could easily flatten the wire clip.
Upon being powered up, the Roadster immediately entered a pairing mode, verbally giving us basic and generic instructions for initializing pairing with our handset with a four-digit PIN. Thanks to its quick pairing function, we didn't even have to do that much. Multipoint Bluetooth connectivity allows the Roadster to pair with two phones simultaneously, although it can only receive one call at a time.
Once successfully paired, the Roadster downloaded our phone's address book using Bluetooth PBAP. However, considering that the Roadster doesn't seem to feature a dialer of its own, we're not entirely sure why it would need to complete such a sync.
Earlier, we mentioned that the Roadster features A2DP audio streaming, which is great for using the hands-free device for listening to music or podcasts (the enjoyment of which is enhanced further when you use the device as a Bluetooth-to-FM bridge to send the audio to your car's speaker). However, the main reason Motorola included this function is for use with its MotoSpeak app for Android and BlackBerry devices. MotoSpeak is a text-to-speech hands-free texting app that reads incoming SMS messages aloud and allows you to set an auto-response that lets your friends know that you're driving. Android 2.2 users can even speak responses that are translated into text messages.
The Motorola Roadster does a fine job as a replacement for the Motorola Motorokr T505, our 2008 Editors' Choice-winning Bluetooth speakerphone. The newer model is lighter, more attractive, and--thanks to a heavily revised button layout--easier to use. The addition of compatibility with MotoSpeak further enhances the device's functionality, particularly for users of Android version 2.2 or greater.
In fact, the only thing that's keeping the Motorola Roadster from reclaiming our Editors' Choice Award is that its voice controls are lacking compared with those of, for example, the BlueAnt S4 with its truly hands-free interface. That said, the Roadster is still a well-designed and well-made contender that's definitely worth your consideration.