Logi ZeroTouch car kits: Call, text and navigate without touching your phone
Logitech takes another step outside of the world of PC peripherals with ZeroTouch air vent mount and ZeroTouch dashboard mounts for Android smartphones. These latest entries into the new "Logi" sub-brand of lifestyle products combine the power of magnetism to keep a phone in place while driving with a ZeroTouch app that allows the driver to activate simplified voice controls with just a wave of a hand.
The ZeroTouch air vent mount is a compact, circular puck measuring about 1.5 inches in diameter. The magnetic face is covered with a ribbed rubber surface that keeps the mounted phone from sliding around. On the backside is a rubber clip that uses friction to tightly hold onto the slats of most cars' air vents. The air vent mount is available is three colors: black, white and red.
The mount ships with a pair of metal discs to affix either directly to the back of a phone or inside of a thin case and that create a secure magnetic connection with the ZeroTouch. I also had to install a ZeroTouch app on my smartphone, which enables all of the hands-free functionality.
When the phone snaps into place, a Bluetooth low-energy (LE) beacon inside the ZeroTouch hardware is activated, triggering the ZeroTouch app into, well, inaction.
I say "inaction" because, after an initial chime and brief splash of the "Logi" logo, the ZeroTouch app runs transparently in the background on the host phone and has no onscreen interface until it is triggered into action, either by high-fiving (holding a hand in front of the phone for a moment) or waving (passing a hand in front of the phone's face). I tested it on my Nexus 6P running the latest version of Android Marshmallow.
Triggering the app brings up a simplified interface that allowed me to ask it to "send a text message to mom," "navigate home," or "call the office." Natural speech recognition means that "navigate home" works as well as "give me direction home."
For directions, ZeroTouch offered me a choice of navigation apps on initial setup, so I could use Waze if I preferred, or Google Maps. Spotify and Deezer integration allowed me to queue up a song or artist. I could also share my location with a contact via the Glympse app, which helps to eliminate those "where u at?" text messages when I'm heading to meet someone and running a bit late.
Incoming messages caused the screen to come alive and Logitech's voice software would ask "Do you want to hear the text message from Nicole?" along with a photo of that contact. If I approved, the message would be read aloud, and I'd be able to respond quickly with voice input and without taking my hands from the wheel or my eyes from the road. If another message came back from the same sender in a few messages, it would be automatically read aloud, and I could quickly shoot back another voice-transcribed response. It was very much like having an only slightly stilted conversation with someone in the car.
In addition to SMS, ZeroTouch can also read and respond to messages coming through WhatsApp, Hangouts and Facebook Messenger though, if your friends are as chatty as mine, I'd advise against it. The app can also automatically reply to incoming calls and messages with a customizable "I'm driving and will get back to you later" message.
Accuracy of voice recognition will depend on the noise levels in your car and the capabilities of your phone's microphone, but I found the app worked well and performed accurately with my Nexus 6P in my notoriously loud 1999 Mazda Miata's cabin. In the quieter cabin of, say, a Cadillac CT6, it worked almost flawlessly.
Removing the phone from the mount disables the ZeroTouch app with a pleasing chime and returns the phone to normal operation.
Because the ZeroTouch hardware uses Bluetooth LE to trigger the phone, it does have an internal battery. Logitech estimates that the ZeroTouch air-vent mount will last about two years with about two hours of connected time per day. The battery is not user-replaceable, so this is a disposable product.
I also found that, despite being compact, the ZeroTouch isn't very portable outside of the car. The Bluetooth beacon triggers when anything sufficiently magnetic comes into contact with the mount surface. So, my keys would power it on in my pocket, which would cause the app to come alive and start talking at inopportune times. Metal items in a backpack or purse cause similar issues when transporting the mount from vehicle to vehicle, which could be a problem for users who plan on using the ZeroTouch as a hands-free solution with car-sharing services like ZipCar or City CarShare. The ideal user for this product is one who installs the vent mount in a single vehicle and just leaves it there.
The vent blades in my car were too droopy to use with the air-vent mount, so I did the majority of my testing with the ZeroTouch dashboard mount, a larger version of the device that features a tacky suction cup mount. Once stuck in place, the magnetic attachment point is able to rotate up to 90-degrees on a hinge. At 2.5 inches in diameter and just under 3 inches tall, it is bulkier, but the suction cup mount is compatible with a wider range of vehicles -- attaching to most cars' dashboards, windshields or any available any flat, non-porous surface. Additionally, it has a user-accessible battery, extending the useful lifetime beyond Logitech's two-year estimate.
The dashboard mount is also more expensive than the air-vent mount. However, with MSRPs of $79 and $59, respectively, neither product is a cheap option.