When reviewing a car, I always pair my phone to the cabin electronics and listen to music from it over the stereo. I can keep my phone in my pocket and just jump in the car and get going -- no need to wire it to the car's USB port or auxiliary input. While most new cars have this Bluetooth audio-streaming capability, older ones don't.
You can add Bluetooth through a car kit, like the Aukey Portable Bluetooth Receiver. With the Aukey Bluetooth receiver, you can stream music to the car's stereo from your phone, get hands-free phone calls, hear navigation prompts, and even listen to text messages.
The main component of Aukey's Bluetooth car kit is a small, circular, black pod with a permanently attached wire leading to audio and power connections. Deceptively simple in looks, the top of the receiver is a button and the upper casing twists on its base. A ring around the middle lights up to let you know the device is on.
The receiver measures about 2 inches across and an inch high. The wire leading off of it runs about 3 feet, with a split at about half its length for power and audio. Aukey includes a two-port USB adapter that plugs into any 12-volt power point in a car.
The magnetic back of the device attaches to adhesive, magnetic pads that Aukey includes with the kit. This mounting solution makes it easy to remove the Aukey receiver and stash it in the console or glovebox.
Wireless Bluetooth connectivity is the device's main purpose. Turn it on, then pair your phone to it, and any audio from your phone gets transmitted to the Aukey Bluetooth receiver. Output goes to the device's 1/8-inch audio-out connector. Plug that connector into your car's stereo, and the phone's audio comes out through the car speakers.
Although you will have to use your phone to start audio playback and choose what you want to hear, the Aukey Bluetooth Receiver offers some limited control. The button on its top controls pause and play. Give the upper part of the device a quick twist and it will skip tracks forward or back.
Aukey integrates a few other functions in these simple controls. Twist and hold the upper part of the device, and you will bring the volume up or down. Pushing the center button down and holding it activates Siri on an iPhone, S-Voice on a Samsung phone, and Android Voice on other Android phones. In voice-command mode, a tiny microphone in the Aukey Bluetooth receiver transmits your voice to the phone.
That microphone also enables hands-free phone calls. Push the button on the Bluetooth receiver to accept an incoming phone call, and you will hear your call over the car's speakers and it will send your responses through its microphone to the phone.
As the Aukey Bluetooth receiver lacks its own speaker, it must be plugged into the car's stereo, or any other powered speaker, to work at all.
Installing the Aukey Bluetooth receiver into a car is dead simple. First, I attached one of its magnetic pads to a convenient spot on the dashboard, then attached the device to the pad. Running the audio wire to the car's auxiliary audio input enabled sound, and plugging the other wire to the car's 12-volt power point turned it on.
Putting my iPhone in pairing mode, I found the Aukey's profile immediately, connecting my phone over Bluetooth to the device.
With all that done, I selected music from my phone and started driving. My tunes played clearly through the car's stereo. Hitting the button on the Aukey quickly paused music playback, and twisting the device skipped to the next track. All worked as it should. And while I couldn't use the Aukey to browse music on my iPhone, I could hold down the main button to activate Siri, then request specific music through voice command.
While driving, my phone's text alert sounded through the car's speakers. Instead of simply ignoring it, or more dangerously, pulling my phone from my pocket, I activated Siri through the Aukey and said "read my text messages." Siri's voice read the text through the car's speakers.
This system worked similarly well for navigation. Even with my phone in my pocket, I could hear the turn prompts through the car stereo.
And one area where the Aukey receiver worked particularly well for me was in its ability to automatically reconnect to my phone. When I got back in the car after a stop for lunch, I merely had to push the Aukey's center button to get music playback started again. With some other Bluetooth kits, I've noticed reconnecting can be fussy.
The Aukey Portable Bluetooth Receiver is really one of the best I've seen, although it does have a few limitations. First of all, it must be plugged into the car for power. While most cars turn off their 12-volt power points when the engine is off, not all do. If you leave the Aukey plugged in and the car sits for a long time, it might drain your battery.
Second, your car's stereo needs an auxiliary input. These inputs began appearing more broadly around 2005 and are almost ubiquitous today. However, almost every new car has built-in Bluetooth audio streaming capability, making the Aukey redundant. If you have an older car with no auxiliary input, it is often more cost effective to replace the entire head unit, as you can get Bluetooth and many more features, rather than trying to retrofit an auxiliary input.
If your car fits the profile, however, the Aukey receiver is an excellent buy and will make much of your smartphone's capabilities available on the road safely through voice commands.