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TextBuster review:

Text- and app-blocker helps keep eyes on the road

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MSRP: $179.00
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The Good TextBuster blocks apps, messages, and services that are inappropriate for driving, while leaving navigation and calling enabled. Online management allows users to monitor the position of the TextBuster and receive notifications when geofences are crossed or the hardware or software is tampered with.

The Bad The system seems expensive for what you're getting. Alternative navigation apps are not supported. The app's handling of phone calls could use significant refinement and it lacks voice command.

The Bottom Line The TextBuster system makes good on its promise to bust text-messaging and apps, but paying hardware prices for what's basically a software solution is a hard pill to swallow.

CNET Editors' Rating

6.7 Overall
  • Design 5.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 7.0

Review Sections

When your teen driver can't keep his eyes on the road, who ya gonna call? TextBuster! Gave your kid the keys, but wanna keep Facebook on hold? Who can you call? TextBuster!

Sorry, I simply had to get the obvious jokes out of my system.

TextBuster is a product that promises to eliminate driver distraction by blocking text messages and inappropriate apps when a phone is used while in the car. It's got a clever name and makes lofty promises, but I've seen both before, so I installed the TextBuster in my car to see if the device was worthy of my catchy theme song.

What is it?
The TextBuster is a two-part system. The first bit is the physical hardware that is purchased from a retailer and installed in the car. The second half is an app for Android or BlackBerry devices that is installed on the smartphone. No iPhone version of the app is available, presumably due to iOS' restrictions on what you can and can't do with the launcher and Bluetooth connection.

The TextBuster hardware is a small black box, about the size of a large box of matches, that features a connection point for an included wiring harness and two eyelets for holding the TextBuster in place (either with the included zip ties or your own screws). Aside from a tiny indicator light that glows green when the TextBuster is powered on and ready to communicate with nearby phones, there are no physical control or indicators on the device itself.

The hardware is simple, just a black box with two wires for power and ground. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Installing the hardware is as simple as connecting two wires. One wire for power gets plugged into the host car's fuse box with an included connector. The other wire ends with a circular terminal and gets grounded to bare metal somewhere on the car's body. Zip-tie the black box and its wires out of the way and the installation is done.

Meanwhile, you install the TextBuster app and a companion TextBuster Watcher app on the Android or BlackBerry phone that needs text-busting. Search, click, and install: this bit should be significantly easier than the hardware installation.

With both installations done, start the car and look for the green indicator light on the hardware, then launch the TextBuster app. The app will prompt you to activate Bluetooth if it's not already active on the phone, and make a connection to the TextBuster hardware.

What does it do?
When the TextBuster app detects a signal from the TextBuster hardware, it assumes that you're driving and displays a TextBuster splash screen, obstructing the Android interface. Hit the home button and within a matter of seconds, the TextBuster splash screen reappears. Hit the back button or attempt to use the app switcher and TextBuster quickly smacks down these and any other interactions with the device. Notifications are also hidden.

After unlocking the app with a password, the user can make changes to the TextBuster's operation. Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

When you shut down the car's engine, the TextBuster hardware should also deactivate and normal operation of the smartphone should resume.

By blocking notifications and applications, TextBuster not only prevents the driver from interacting with text messages, but also with instant messages, games, video apps, and social-networking services while driving.

The exceptions to the rule are navigation applications and phone calls. The TextBuster splash screen includes shortcuts to either of these functions. On an Android phone with multiple navigation apps installed, you'll likely be given a choice of navigation apps due to the way that the OS handles app defaults. Unfortunately, TextBuster will recognize only Google Maps as a legitimate navigation app and quickly punted me out of alternatives such as Waze and Scout. Additionally, attempting to use Google Voice Search to locate a destination from within the Google Maps interface counts, to the watchful eye of TextBuster, as launching a separate app and caused TextBuster to send me back to the drawing board of the lockout screen.

Tapping the Phone button on the TextBuster lockout screen just brings up the stock dialer app, which doesn't really seem very well suited for in-car use. As with the navigation app, attempting to use a voice dialer causes TextBuster to send the user back to the lock screen.

Interestingly, it seems that the TextBuster hardware doesn't actually do anything aside from notify the app that the host car's ignition is on with the presence of its Bluetooth signal. This makes me wonder if TextBuster could offer a similar, less expensive product that associates with the device ID of a vehicle's OEM Bluetooth hands-free system without the need for additional hardware.

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