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Kinivo BTC455 Bluetooth Hands-Free car kit review: Tiny Kinivo kit gives cars Bluetooth music streaming, hands-free calls

The Kinivo BTC455 modernizes your car with Bluetooth, letting you wirelessly play music from your phone and make hands-free calls.

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Wayne Cunningham
Wayne_Cunningham.jpg

Wayne Cunningham

Managing Editor / Roadshow

Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.

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Editors' note: Parts of this review have been taken from an earlier review of the Kinivo BTC450 .

Kinivo BTC455 Bluetooth handsfree car kit
7.3

Kinivo BTC455 Bluetooth Hands-Free car kit

MSRP

The Good

The Kinivo BTC455 Bluetooth Hands-Free Car Kit's shape and size make it easy to mount in a car, and its 12-volt plug includes a USB charging port. With its wireless Bluetooth connection, it supports music streaming, hands-free calls, and a pass-through for Siri and Google Voice.

The Bad

The BTC455 offers no indication when you activate its voice command pass-through, and has no display for caller ID.

The Bottom Line

For its music, voice command, and phone features, and especially its easy-to-install design, the Kinivo BTC455 is one of the better kits for retrofitting a car with Bluetooth.

Almost every new car comes off the factory line with Bluetooth hands-free phone support these days, but if you want to upgrade your old car with Bluetooth, the Kinivo BTC455 Bluetooth Hands-Free Car Kit may be the answer. The BTC455 plugs into a car's stereo, transmitting music and phone calls from your phone through the car's speakers.

Last year, I looked at the Kinivo BTC450 , and was impressed by its simple design and functionality. The BTC455 maintains all the features of the previous model, but adds support for two simultaneously connected Bluetooth devices.

The main component of the BTC455 looks like a thick disc. At just over 1.5 inches, it is small enough to attach discreetly to a car's dashboard or console with the included Velcro pads. The device features a large button on top, and two smaller buttons on one side. Blue and red LEDs, shining through the surface of the main button, serve as indicator lights for pairing and other functions.

The disc end of the BTC455 includes Bluetooth electronics and a microphone for making hands-free phone calls.

A permanently attached wire comes off the device and splits into two, one end terminating in a 1/8-inch audio plug and the other in an adapter for a car's 12-volt power point. That 12-volt adapter conveniently holds a USB port for charging phones or other electronics.

The main button on the BTC455 serves a number of functions. It initiates phone pairing, pauses and plays streaming music, and answers or hangs up phone calls. It also activates voice command, such as Siri or Google Voice, for phones with that capability. Two smaller buttons on the side of the BTC455 let you skip forward or back a song when streaming music.

The BTC455 lacks a caller ID display or any native voice command features.

Set up and go

Setting up the BTC455 in my car was simple -- I found a convenient place to stick the main disc unit on the side of the center stack using the included double-sided tape. After plugging the adapter into the 12-volt power point, I had plenty of cable to tuck away between seat and transmission tunnel. The 1/8-inch audio plug went into the stereo's auxiliary audio input.

Checking my iPhone's Bluetooth setttings, I immediately found the BTC455 as an available device and chose to pair it. The manual notes that the BTC455 automatically goes into pairing mode when first powered up, a convenient feature. To pair other devices, I had to hold down the BTC455's main button for 8 seconds.

Starting up music playback on my phone, I heard the tunes playing seamlessly through the car's stereo. Given the simplicity of the Bluetooth connection, I could play music stored on my phone or from any online service such as Spotify or Pandora. The skip buttons also worked as they should, although response was a little slow.

The quality of the playback sounded as good as any system, even factory-installed, that I've used. However, the BTC455 also supports aptX, an audio streaming codec that is supposed to deliver better sound quality than the SBC codec supported by most Bluetooth devices. The iPhone doesn't support aptX, so for me it didn't make a difference.

For phone calls, I merely had to push the main button on the BTC455 when I heard an incoming ringtone through my car's speakers. The iPhone automatically paused music playback while I was on the call. The BTC455's microphone picked up my voice just fine, letting me leave my iPhone buried in a coat pocket.

Voice command pass-through worked very well with the BTC455. Holding down the main button for 2 seconds, as instructed by the manual, sends microphone input to Siri on iPhone or Google Voice on an Android phone. Trying this, I held down the button and did a mental 2-second count. My streaming music continued to play while I held it down, so I had no cue as to when voice command was ready. But letting loose the button paused the music, so I told Siri what I wanted.

Given that Siri takes some time processing voice input, I wished the BTC455 gave some indication it was working, or maybe Siri could respond with an old-school "Star Trek" computer voice saying, "Working."

Using Siri, I could request specific music on my phone, begin navigation, make a call to someone on my contact list, or ask my phone to read a new text message out loud. However, Siri only works in areas with a data connection, and even then it can sometimes be flaky.

Among Bluetooth car kits, Kinivo's BTC455 competes most directly with the Gogroove Smartmini Aux . I like that the Gogroove comes with a built-in battery, but the BTC455's minimal design means it fits more subtly into a car. The BTC455 also has its skip-track buttons, something lacking on the Gogroove.

Kinivo lists the price of the BTC455 at $69.99 (converted, about £40 or AU$75), but it can be found on Amazon for under $50. That pricing is relatively typical for Bluetooth car kits.

A big part of whether the BTC455 will work for your car depends on whether the stereo has an audio input jack. Auxiliary inputs only became common around 2006. You can rig an auxiliary input into an older car, but it will usually be easier, and not very expensive, to just install a new stereo head unit with built-in Bluetooth.