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The Venturi Mini is a useful device for those looking to bring some advanced tech features into the car without investing in a new stereo or separate Bluetooth speakerphone. Using a built-in FM transmitter, which transfers all audio output to its host car's speakers via a connection with the in-dash stereo, the Mini supports streaming of wireless and hard-wired audio, and can be used as a Bluetooth hands-free calling interface. If your phone supports the required Bluetooth Phone Book Access Profile (PBAP), the device can also receive and store address books. With all this functionality packed into such a small device, it is not surprising that there are some usability niggles: the requirement for the device to be plugged into a 12-volt cigarette lighter adapter means that its accessibility is dependent on your car's design, and call quality via the Mini's built-in microphone can be sketchy. Nevertheless, the Venturi Mini is an attractive option for those looking to tech their car's cabin on a budget.
The Venturi Mini has a compact design and a flexible and adjustable profile, enabling it to be plugged into even the most awkwardly placed 12-volt adapters. Its hinged design makes it easy to adjust the orientation of the bright, white-on-black OLED display and push-button controls. Programming of the Venturi Mini's phone and music playback functions and access to its menus is straightforward, thanks to a number of intelligently designed and positioned controls. The front of the device comprises two sets of clearly labeled buttons: two Mode keys (one for music, one for phone); and two colored keys that serve as multifunction buttons for playing and stopping music, answering or rejecting calls, and confirming or rejecting set-up menu options.
The other main control interface on the front of the device is its scroll wheel, which is a very driver-friendly means of navigating through menu options. Two less-conspicuous side-mounted buttons enable drivers to access the set-up menus and to change the FM frequency at which the Venturi Mini streams audio to the car's stereo. While we have no major complaints about the physical attributes of the device's controls, we do take issue with the shrill, annoying beep sound that accompanies almost every selection and button press. This unwanted, unnecessary, and (apparently) un-turn-off-able sound is most grating while attempting to pair the Venturi Mini with a cell phone, as the device beeps and beeps and beeps until the pairing process is complete. The Twilight-Zone-esque incoming ringtone also has the potential to become annoying very quickly.
For such a small and simple-looking device, the Venturi Mini packs in an impressive number of car tech features. The device can be paired with up to four cell phones and then be used to stream incoming call audio through the car's speakers via an FM connection to the in-dash stereo. The Venturi Mini comes with its own integrated microphone with digital signal processing called Clear Voice Capture that is designed to improve the quality of outgoing audio. With a cell phone paired, incoming calls can be answered using the green Answer button and ended using the red End Call button. Like many other Bluetooth speakerphones, the Venturi also has options for muting the microphone and switching to privacy mode during a call, but there is no way to switch between an ongoing call and another incoming call.
For making outgoing calls, the options are impressive if you have the correct phone. People who have phones with the appropriate Bluetooth protocol can transfer entries directly to the device. With a phonebook uploaded, drivers can browse through contacts using the scroll wheel and a very intuitive alphabetized search options. Those without such phones have make outbound calls using their cell phone handsets or by using the "redial" option on the scroll wheel. In what is the Venturi Mini's most advanced feature, phonebook contracts and caller ID text can also be displayed on the car stereo's display thanks to its Radio Data Broadcast System (RDBS) transmitter capabilities.
The Venturi Mini has options for audio formats of both the wired and wireless variety for music playback. Drivers can use the system to play audio from digital audio players via the Mini's standard 1/8-inch line-in jack. As with the sound from incoming phone calls, audio is then streamed via the FM transmitter to the car's stereo and played though the speakers. While drivers can control volume and EQ of the audio streamed in this way, they have to revert to the player itself to select, pause, play, and stop music. The options for wireless music streaming via the A2DP (or Bluetooth audio) protocol are more advanced. Having paired up a phone that supports wireless Bluetooth music streaming (for our test we used the LG Voyager), the device can be used to play, stop, and skip tracks.
The last major feature of the Mini is its ability to charge portable gadgets via its integrated USB port. While the latter cannot be used to read digital audio files on generic thumbdrives, it is a useful option for charging a cell phone or digital camera while on the road.
With the Venturi Mini plugged into our test car's 12-volt cigarette lighter adapter, we immediately noticed one of the device's principal drawbacks: its proximity to the driver--and therefore its effectiveness as a Bluetooth hands-free speakerphone--is entirely dependent on your car's interior design. If, as was the case in our Jeep Liberty, the 12-volt port is buried at the bottom of the car's central console, the Venturi Mini can end up being several feet from the driver's mouth, having a significant effect on the quality of outgoing audio via the device's built-in microphone. In our test of call quality, we found that it was difficult to hear the voice of the driver from the other end of the line, particularly at highway speeds with the attendant road and wind noise.
For those in the car, the situation is better thanks to the option for controlling the volume of incoming call audio. While the quality of incoming calls is not great, those on the other end of the line are easily intelligible if you turn the sound up far enough. We found the process of answering and ending calls to be straightforward, but hindered by one design-related niggle: the Venturi Mini's ability to pivot can lead to the whole device tipping over when you try to press the answer- and end-call buttons.
Another frustration we had with our test sample of the Venturi Mini was that the phonebook transfer function did not work. Having found a phone with the requisite protocol, we initiated a transfer of contacts and watched the progress of contacts two at a time from the phone to the Mini on the OLED screen. After the transfer of 80 contacts (which took around two minutes), the process stalled, locking up the Mini, and rendering all buttons inoperative. We disconnected the device, repowered up and tried to access the contact list, but found that no transfer had taken place. Further adding to our woes was the fact that we were greeted with an error message on subsequent attempts to make a transfer.
We had more success with wireless music transfer. With the Voyager connected, we were able to stream audio directly from the cell phone to the car's speakers. Audio quality was not bad--probably on a par with a clear, regular FM broadcast--but there was some static interference at higher volumes. Similarly, with an iPod connected and streamed via FM to the car's speakers, we experienced some interference from the FM signal. When listening to music (either streamed or hardwired), the audio is interrupted for an incoming call, and automatically resumed after the call is finished--a very useful feature when driving along with hands on the wheel.
The Venturi Mini is an innovative, feature-packed device. Its effectiveness as a Bluetooth hands-free speakerphone will depend on the location of your car's 12-volt power outlet, and its phonebook transfer feature is temperamental to say the least. However, its simple design, intuitive controls, and competitive price tag make it an attractive option for those looking to bring hands-free calling, Bluetooth audio, and hardwired digital audio playback into the car.