Sony Ericsson HCB-120
Sony Ericsson's HCB-120 is an in-car speakerphone that actually looks like a speaker. Its compact chassis, sleek controls, and colorful display make it easy on the eye, although its limited volume settings make it less easy on the ear. While it doesn't provide a means of manually dialing out, the HCB-120 does support voice recognition for appropriately equipped paired phones, and can be used to continue calls made from a phone handset. Despite its good looks, however, the HCB-120 has some significant usability issues when paired to some non-Sony Ericsson phones.
The Sony Ericsson HCB-120 is a stylish accessory designed to mount on a car's sun visor. Its cloth-covered speaker and classy matte silver controls differentiate from many bulkier in-car calling devices, while its built-in microphone obviates the need for an unsightly boom. We also like the simplicity of its four buttons, which are sized and labeled sufficiently to enable drivers to use the device while driving. We particularly like the one-touch call mute button, which is perfect for telling the kids to keep it down in the back when that important call comes in.
Drivers can customize the color of the device's single-line display according to their car's interior (or their mood), although some colors--such as dark blue--are difficult to see in daylight against the black background, especially through the glossy reflective display cover. On the positive side, the HCB-120 has a built-in accelerometer that turns the text the right way up depending on the orientation of the device. The HCB-120 can be paired with up to five different phones, each of which can be assigned a separate text readout color.
Features and performance
The Sony Ericsson HCB-120 can be used to transfer calls made with a cell phone handset or to make and end calls using voice commands. Pairing the device to a phone is a straightforward process: Search for the device using your Bluetooth-enabled handset, enter a PIN code, and you're good to go. For our test of the device, we paired two phones, the Samsung SGH-T619 and the Sony Ericsson W880i.
Having dialed a number using the paired Samsung phone, the call automatically transferred to the HCB-120, allowing us to continue our conversation hands-free. One of our principal complaints with the Sony Ericsson HCB-120 is that its volume--even when set to maximum--is too low to clearly hear the caller on the other end of the line when driving on the freeway or with the windows open. When you can hear the caller on the other end of the line, sound quality is crisp and clear, as it is from the other end of the line.
While we had no trouble muting the call using the speakerphone, we were unable to hang up using the End call button, meaning that we had to end the call using the phone itself. There were no such issues with the Sony Ericsson phone, however.
For voice dialing via the HCB-120, the Samsung phone--surprisingly--proved to be more capable than the Sony Ericsson phone. This was thanks to the Samsung's Voice Signal software, which indexes all the names in the phone's address book making them available to dial by voice and can also understand spoken commands for numbers. With the Samsung phone paired, we just had to press the Talk button on the speakerphone, bark out "Call work/ John/ pizza/" etc., and the two devices conspired to do the rest, asking for confirmation and then placing the call. By contrast, the Sony Ericsson handset requires users to create individual voice tags for each entry in their phone books and doesn't offer spoken-number dialing.
While voice dialing via the Samsung phone, one major gripe that we have with the speakerphone was that it did not allow us to make more than one call. Instead, we had to turn the device off and back on to make a second call by voice--a flaw that drivers will soon find annoying. Again, the Sony Ericsson phone showed no such problem. Accordingly, the HCB-120's voice-dialing functionality is only as good as that of the phone to which it is connected.
With the right cell phone paired up, the stylish Sony Ericsson HCB-120 has the potential to be a very useful in-car hands-free calling interface. Just make sure you test your phone with it before you splash out more than $100 on this device.