Sony Ericsson HCB-100 review: Sony Ericsson HCB-100

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The Good Support for up to five phones. Reasonable price. Easy to use.

The Bad Poor audio quality. Bulky. Average battery life.

The Bottom Line A highly functional portable Bluetooth hands free kit that’s at home in either the car or office, but is let down by poor audio quality.

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6.6 Overall

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The HCB-100 is a portable Bluetooth hands free kit that's ideal for use in the car or office and allows for hands free calling without having to wear a headset. Sony Ericsson has managed to cram in a lot of functionality, including support for up to five phones, into a package that remains small and priced similarly to its more basic rivals.

The boxy looking HCB-100 comes in either a silver or black finish with a sturdy metal mounting clip that attaches to the underside of the device. A flip-out microphone boom, with noise-cancelling, runs along the edge of the device and works best when facing away from the user. Next to this is a large loudspeaker covered by a plain fabric grid that runs into the trailing edge of the device, which houses two multicoloured LEDs. One is used for battery status -- either green or red depending on how much power is left -- and the other for indicating connectivity. This second LED will display a different colour depending on which phone is currently connected. Up to five different phones can be connected to the device; however, they cannot all work at the same time. In total, the HCB-100 contains four separate buttons: one for making or answering a call; another for hanging up or turning off the device; plus two other multi-function buttons. The first of these is used to initially pair Bluetooth devices, and then switch between these devices or to simply mute a call. The other button can turn off the LED lights or provide the battery status when pressed for a one to two second period. An additional volume wheel for adjusting the ring or conversation level is located on the side of the device.

In addition to wind and engine noise filtering, Sony Ericsson also claims that audio quality of the HCB-100 is improved by advanced digital signal processing (DSP) for digital noise cancellation and echo reduction. Pairing is made easy thanks to Bluetooth v1.2 and allows users to leave their phone in the pocket or handbag and work flawlessly with the device. Power is drawn from a 900mAh rechargeable battery, which can either be charged by plugging it into your car's cigarette lighter or your PC's USB ports using the supplied cables.

Setting up the device involves pairing it to your mobile phone and then finding a suitable location to mount it. In the car, it's best to attach the HCB-100 to your vehicle's sun-visor, but while in the office, it can be placed on a desk and used as a speaker phone for conference calls. The SE Web site claims that the battery lasts for 15 hours of talk time and close to 350 hours on standby. In our tests, with fairly extensive usage, we found the battery to last just over half of these claimed figures -- well down on its competitors. At least its wireless range faired better than the claimed 10m, with our tests reaching close to 15m. Despite the inclusion of a noise cancelling microphone and DSP audio enhancement, the quality of sound was not as good as we had hoped. Respondents claimed that there was distortion during calls and often felt that the line was dropping out. The speaker is very loud and clear, but with the windows down or the stereo on at a moderate level, it's almost impossible to hear a call. The Sony Ericsson HCB-100 had so much going for it, that it's a shame that it couldn't get the basics right. Its ease of use, portability and inexpensive price tag do make the device seem favourable in comparison to permanent Bluetooth car kits, but not in comparison with portable models such as the Motorola T305.

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