For many older cars, plugging your phone into the auxiliary audio input is one of the easiest, most universal ways to bring your digital audio library and a wide range of streaming media apps with you on the road. The problem with this analog connection is that it's unidirectional; you still need to touch the phone to simply skip tracks. In many states, touching your device while driving is frowned upon. What's a safe driver to do?
This is where a device like the iSimple BluClik comes in. It pairs with your Bluetooth phone -- in many cases, even if you're already paired with a Bluetooth hands-free calling or audio streaming system -- and puts a selection of oft-used commands at your thumb-tip. The device promises that you'll be able to play, pause, skip, and adjust the volume without taking your hands off of the wheel or your eyes off of the road. It even integrates with Siri and Google voice search. Sounds promising.
The iSimple BluClik is a small, coin-sized Bluetooth remote that attaches to your car's steering wheel or dashboard. On its face is a collection of buttons. Volume up and down are located at the 12 and 6 o'clock positions, respectively. Skip forward and back are at 3 and 9. In the center is a big, round microphone button.
Along the edge of the unit is a Micro-USB port that is used for charging the BluClik with the included USB cable. That cable's only about 3 to 4inches long, so you'll have to get pretty close to whatever you're charging it from -- either a powered USB port on a PC or a USB wall adapter. BluClik doesn't include a charger in the box. The instructions state that you'll get about 60 hours of use out of an hour's charge. Since the unit automatically sleeps when not being used, I'd wager that you could get weeks or months of use between charges depending on how much tapping you do.
The BluClik unit affixes to your steering wheel with a velcro strap and bracket that seemed to hold in place securely during my testing. The product is modular, connecting to the bracket with a combination of magnetism and friction. It's easy to pop the unit off of the bracket for a quick charge, but it holds firmly enough that it'd be difficult to accidentally knock it free while driving.
The BluClik also ships with a second, adhesive-mounted bracket that can be used to affix the product to a dashboard.
Finally, the BluClik ships with a two extra metallic trim pieces to help it to match your vehicle's decor. These pieces simply snap off when you want to swap them.
What it does (pairing and operation)
When removed from either cradle and flipped over, the BluClik reveals its power/mode switch. This three-position switch has settings for Android and iOS devices at either end, with the Off setting in the middle. You'll want to choose the mode appropriate for your paired device. Some functions, such as simple skip and volume commands, will work regardless of what mode you've chosen, but to gain access to your OS of choice's voice command system with the microphone button, it's a good idea to be in the matching mode.
I paired the device with my Android phone, strapped it to my steering wheel, and hit the road.
The BluClik performed as advertised... mostly. Skipping and adjusting the volume were handled almost as easily as OEM steering wheel controls would have. I'd have prefered more definition and a slightly larger button area for these rim controls, but the limited number of buttons and their cardinal placement made it easy to tap without looking. I also liked that the buttons' actuation was light, so I didn't have to press hard and potentially unsettle the velcro attachment.
The central microphone button, when tapped, paused and unpaused my currently playing audio source. Holding the microphone for a few seconds should have fired up Google's Voice Search, which it kind of did. On my device, instead of hearing the "bloo-doop" of the voice command system, this command would call up the Android Launcher's search bar. From here, I could say "OK Google" and then launch into a voice query, but I was annoyed by the extra step. Additionally, I was unable to launch into Google voice search when my phone's screen was locked, which it often is when I'm behind the wheel.
Admittedly, there could just be a weird setting on my phone that I have missed which is causing this annoyance, so I'm not counting Android's handling of voice command against the BluClik hardware, which performed exactly as advertised.
In contrast, iOS users will instead call up Siri with a long press of their microphone button and enter Siri's Eyes Free mode.
Lack of feedback
There are no lights, no speakers, and no indicators on the BluClik hardware. But while I am grateful not to have to look at another glowing LED while driving at night, I think that the BluClik needs to give the user some sort of feedback and notification of its status in certain situations.
As is, you've no way of telling that the battery is dead until the BluClik simply stops responding and no way to tell if the battery is charging when plugged up, or when it's full. Most devices have some sort of light that shines when you're charging them to let you know they're receiving the juice, but the BluClik does not, which leads to a lot of uncertainty. I'd left the BluClik plugged into a USB port for hours only to return and realize that it hadn't been charging at all. A small, multicolor LED near the USB port would have let me know this immediately and could give other users some visual feedback of the charging state, if the battery's about to die, or if it is already dead.
By design, the BluClik pairs with your phone using the keyboard Bluetooth profile, so your phone basically things that you've hooked up a tiny keyboard. This is fine under most circumstances, but if you want to input a navigation destination before you pull out of your parking spot or pull over to respond to an urgent message, you may notice that the onscreen keyboard won't appear until you temporarily disable the BluClik's control over your phone. On an Android phone running KitKat, you can do this from the notification shade, so I wasn't too annoyed. If anything, this is a subtle deterrent to texting while driving and could encourage more use of voice commands.
The BluClik works as advertised, making interacting with digital media on the road safer by putting controls for play, pause, skip, and volume control at the tip of the driver's thumb. Voice integration with Android phones can be wonky, but that's almost par for the course with that OS; iOS users who are also fans of Siri will appreciate quick access to the eyes-free voice command system.
I found the lack of power and charging indicator lights frustrating; I was never sure if the product was charging, fully charged, or dead. Thankfully, a long-lasting battery means that charges should be few and far between.
The BluClik is currently available at an MSRP of $39.95.