Parrot Easy Drive
Paris-based Parrot's latest Bluetooth hands-free kit, the Parrot EasyDrive, is a winner. Affordable ($99) and easy to handle, this product makes sophisticated use of voice recognition and verbal prompts to get around its lack of a text display. During our road tests, we were immediately impressed by the quality of sound on our end, and our callers said they could hear us with great clarity and loudness. Parrot says the EasyDrive is compatible with all Bluetooth-enabled cell phones, and if you're looking for a simple plug-and-drive solution, the EasyDrive is a solid choice.
The Parrot EasyDrive consists of two main parts: the audio/speaker portion and the control pad. The primary controls for the EasyDrive are not contained in the speaker horn but are actually mounted on an attractive control pod that consists of a "turn and click" knob and two flanking buttons with red and green companion LEDs. This control panel, which can be mounted on your dash with the included Velcro tape, is connected to the speaker/mic module by an 18-inch wire. There is no visual display, so all system menus are navigated via voice prompts from the device, including pairing, language selection (English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, or Dutch), and storage of memorized numbers. EasyDrive also lets you use voice commands to operate your cell phone's functions, such as accepting or hanging up on a call, so that you never have to take your eyes off the road.
Rotating and clicking the main knob lets you access features that include storing numbers for voice dialing (up to 200 names). This feature and about a dozen other commands and basic controls, such as volume, are all driven by the one knob and two push buttons. We found this interface almost too simple to handle all these commands; if you want to get maximum functionality from the Parrot EasyDrive, you'll need to become instinctively familiar with what each control does in a given mode. No single control is dedicated to a particular task; it completely depends on the current state of the device, which can be confusing. It may also discourage some users from taking advantage of the advanced features, such as automatic answer and caller ID. However, none of this takes away from the EasyDrive's exceptional performance as a wireless speakerphone for your mobile with the things that matter: volume, clarity, and ease of connection.
To set up the Parrot EasyDrive, simply plug its rather ungainly audio horn into your car's cigarette lighter/power port. This portion of the device includes the speaker, its amplifier, and an integrated microphone. When the unit is powered up for the first time, a synthesized female voice instructs, "Please pair your device." We used afor our tests and, from its Bluetooth pairing menu, entered the EasyDrive's default pairing code. After a few seconds, the voice prompt said, "Pairing successful," and that was that. Over the next couple of days, as we got in and out of the car, the EasyDrive became confused only once when it was unable to figure out if our Treo was in range and that the two were indeed authorized to communicate with each other. Still, in our experience, this is better-than-average connectivity robustness, even compared to factory-installed Bluetooth hands-free systems. Also, the EasyDrive pairs with up to five different phones, though it can actively connect to merely one at a time.
With Bluetooth hands-free car kits, nothing matters more than sound quality, and the Parrot EasyDrive delivered with flying colors. On our first call using the device, our caller was thoroughly surprised--and, frankly, didn't believe--that we were on a speakerphone. In our test car, the cigarette lighter was mounted in the center console, behind the gear shift and facing up toward the headliner, placing the EasyDrive's speaker and mic right about where our hand fell when resting an arm on the console. But even in this indirect position, our voice clarity to callers on the other end was excellent, and we would expect even better results in cars where the cigarette lighter is mounted facing the front-seat occupants. The EasyDrive's two-watt amplifier delivers ample speaker volume in a standard passenger car, although with the windows open, the small speaker is no match for road noise; you'll need to have the windows up when you use this device.