We often talk about in-car Bluetooth hands-free systems that let you make calls without taking your hands off the wheel. In most cases, these systems still require the driver to initiate, answer, or end calls by pushing buttons on the car's steering wheel or on a central control panel. Browsing and selecting contacts on these systems usually requires scrolling through a list of names before making a call. The Parrot CK3000 Evolution lets you make calls, select contacts, and hang up all without lifting a finger. With a deceptively simple form factor and control interface, the CK3000 Evolution can also differentiate between cell, office, and home numbers, and can identify incoming callers by name. While it does take some time to initially set up, this simple device is one of the most effective aftermarket calling interfaces we have seen.
Three buttons and dial. That's all there is to the main control module of the CK3000 Evolution. On first impressions, the device looks as if it is going to offer severely limited functionality or is going to require an arcane number of button sequences (a la the Anycom Solar Bluetooth car kit we tested recently) to make it work. Thankfully, neither of these preconceptions turned out to be true. Like many other speaker phones, the CK3000 Evolution has a dedicated (green) button for placing/answering calls and another (red) button for ending them. The control module is so small that it can be easily attached almost anywhere in the cabin as can its external microphone, which on our test we attached behind the rear-view mirror. We found the installation of this and other Parrot devices to be something of a challenge because of the requirement of a standard ISO harness/jack, which we had difficulty in locating from local 12-volt stores or resellers. The device can be hooked up without an ISO plug, but this requires the complex task of connecting each of the device's wires in turn to the stereo. In the end, we took our car to a Parrot-approved professional installer.
Features and performance
The CK3000 Evolution lets drivers make, receive, and end calls via a Bluetooth-connected cell phone either manually or using voice commands. Connecting a handset to the device is a simple matter of searching for the Parrot device on the phone and entering a passcode: for our test of the device, we connected a Samsung SGH-T619, as well as a Sony Ericsson S710a. (We did not connect the two phones simultaneously; however, there is the option to do this for up to five phones at a time). Like many Sony Ericsson models, the S710a has a built-in Parrot menu, making it easier to set up calling options and push contacts to the device.
When connected, drivers can dial out using the handset, after which the call is transferred to the CK3000 Evolution with the audio routed through the car's speakers and all outgoing sound transmitted via the system's external mic. Drivers can redial the last number by holding down the green button, but there appears to be no way to dial individual numbers using the device itself. This is less of a problem than it first appears however, as the CK3000 Evolution offers an excellent voice-command system for making calls without having to touch a button.
To activate the voice-command features, drivers have to go a time-consuming one-time programming process, which involves recording certain keywords (or "magic words" as Parrot calls them) including telephone", "hang-up," "office," "home," and "cellular." The process involves recording each of the words twice--and sometimes three or four times as the system tries to understand the command. With the keywords recorded, the CK3000 Evolution gets a whole new level of functionality, as users can initiate calls just by saying the word "telephone" and hang up by saying "hang up." The simplicity of placing and ending calls this takes some time to get used to even if you are used to using hands-free calling systems. In our testing period, the CK3000 Evolution's voice recognition system responded to voice commands with an impressive level of consistency.
To make the most of the CK3000 Evolution's voice-command feature, drivers need to record voice tags for each of the contacts in a connected cell phone. This is done by pushing the contacts' details to the device one at a time as V cards (.vcf files) and then voice tagging them individually. For owners of Sony Ericsson phones, this process is made easier by the phones' built-in Parrot menu, although there is still no way around assigning voice tags one by one (we have recently raised our hands-free calling expectations because of our experiences with the Ford Sync system, which automatically downloads the phone's contact book and indexes the entries, making them available by voice command). With contacts successfully voice tagged, the CK3000 Evolution also provides a very useful caller ID service for incoming calls, which are accompanied by the name of the caller.
For our test of the CK3000 Evolution, we installed it in our Chevy Aveo test car with stock speakers. Incoming audio quality was generally good, although at higher volumes, the system suffered from distortion. We do, however, like the way in which the device automatically overrides the currently playing car audio when a call comes in. From the other end of the line, we were comprehensible when we phoned a friend, but our test caller did notice some intermittent echoing.
The CK3000 Evolution is a very useful device for making hands-free calls on the road. Considering its price tag of about $100, it offers an attractive alternative to factory-installed systems for owners of new cars, as well as a cost-effective means of upgrading older cars with an increasingly necessary safety technology. Despite the challenges of nonprofessional installation, the CK3000 Evolution's intuitive control interface and impressive voice command options make it an excellent alternative to Bluetooth headsets and chunkier standalone speakerphones.