It's been nearly three years since I reviewed the previous generationBluetooth car kit, so the followup Minikit Neo 2 HD has been a long time coming. Taking a look at the two devices side-by-side with my even older , it's immediately apparent that the broad strokes of the Minikit design hasn't changed over the years, but the details have been refined.
The biggest visual change is the move to a bolder plastic visor clip. Mine arrived in red, but Parrot also offers the Neo 2 HD in blue, black and green hues. The new clip is larger than the previous Neo's, but it also has a slightly larger opening and is more flexible than the previous design, which should make it easier to mount on a wider range of automobile sun visors.
What hasn't changed is the flat chassis design with the protruding central control knob. The knob points toward the driver when mounted and is the primary point of interaction with the Minikit Neo 2 HD. It can be tapped and rotated to navigate the Neo 2's spoken menus and is flanked by green and red LEDs that indicate the hidden answer and end buttons. Below the knob, aimed at the driver's head, is the Parrot microphone.
Most of the Minikit Neo 2 HD's surface area is occupied by a flat-panel speaker, which sounds OK. The Neo 2 HD features a few audio quality upgrades that improve the sound, which we'll return to in a bit.
The final physical features are a power toggle switch on one edge and Micro-USB port on the other. The power switch, obviously, turns the Minikit on and off, but it can also be momentarily pushed past the "on" position to cause the Neo 2 HD to speak aloud the current battery level.
The Neo 2 is powered by a 1,000mAh lithium ion battery that endows it with a claimed 10-hour talk time and six-month standby time. That much battery life meant that I was able to just leave the Neo 2 HD powered on for the duration of my week's test and let it auto connect to my testing phone when I got into the car.
The Neo 2 HD ships with a small 12-volt USB charger and a long USB charging cable. I was unable to test charging time because the Minikit arrived with a full charge and I was unable to drain the battery during my testing time.
Beneath the surface, the Minikit Neo 2 HD connects to the host phone via a Bluetooth v. 4.0 connection. The device supports the hands-free calling profile, the A2DP audio streaming profile and the phone book access profile for syncing contacts to the Minikit's memory.
That Bluetooth tech supports simultaneous connection to up to two devices and also supports HD Voice with compatible devices and networks, the latter boosting the audio quality of calls to near-CD-quality sound levels. That fidelity is sort of lost on the Minikit's flat-panel speaker, which has a somewhat tiny, shrill quality to its sound, but I suppose that every bit of clarity counts when you're battling road and wind noise. The HD Voice quality did seem to help callers to hear me speaking better. Overall, I found that the audio quality of the Minikit Neo 2 HD was clear and loud -- I wouldn't use it for music streaming, but it's more than good enough for calls.
The Neo 2 HD features internal voice command. After syncing the host phone's address book, I was able to tap a button and say "Call, Mom" to initiate a voice call. To help drivers keep their hands on the wheel, the Neo 2 HD also features Parrot's "Magic Word" always-on recognition. When the driver to speaks the hotword "minikit," the Neo 2 HD springs to life to accept further voice commands.
For drivers who'd prefer to use Android's Google Voice Search or Apple's Siri, the Minikit Neo 2 HD can be set up to pass the driver's voice commands along to the host phone. Though Parrot's voice command was adequate, I was more familiar with my phones' voice-command systems and preferred this configuration. In the case of the Apple iPhone, the driver can even use the hotword "Hello Siri" to fire up Siri Eyes-free mode.
Parrot also offers a free "Parrot Minikit Neo 2" companion app for iOS and Android that allows the user to check the battery level of their Bluetooth connected Minikit and adjust many of the car kit's options from the comfort of a touchscreen. Don't like the Minikit's notification tone or power-on sound? The companion app lets user record a new one using their phone's mic.
Beyond tweaking the Minikit's, the app has a few useful features rolled into it. For example, when the app detects that the phone has disconnected from the Minikit, it will automatically mark the approximate GPS location of the parked car. User can also manually or automatically activate a parking timer to remind themselves to feed the meter and avoid parking tickets. A similar driving timer can be activated upon connection to the Minikit to remind the driver to take a break during longer trips.
Another safety feature baked into the app is an auto-reject feature that, when activated, can mute SMS notifications and incoming calls and automatically send a message explaining that you're driving. For iOS devices, users can record a voice message that will be played to the caller when their call is rejected. That last bit seems a little weird.
The Parrot Minikit Neo 2 HD carries the same $100 MSRP that the previous generation did, but I was able to find it for as much as $20 off at online retailers. In the UK, buyers can expect to pay £79.00, and in Australia it costs AU$130.
Since I last reviewed the earlier Minikit car kit, the price of a decent Bluetooth-enabled, single-DIN car stereo has dropped below the $100 mark. For my money, a car stereo that uses the door speakers is the better buy than a car kit with a tiny flat-panel speaker. However, for users that can't or don't want to go through the hassle of installing a new stereo in the dashboard, the Minikit Neo 2 HD is a solid alternative that I have no hesitations recommending.