Parrot, Renny devices help avoid missed calls at home and away
By Jim Bray
Bluetooth devices promise to make life with your smart phone even smarter and more pleasant, as demonstrated by a couple of wildly different examples from Parrot and Olens Technology, there are different ways to do this.
The Parrot Minikit Neo is a fairly conventional Bluetooth hands free cell phone link for your car, while Olens' Renny is a remote ringer/speaker for your cell phone. Both cost about a hundred bucks and are interesting examples of the Bluetooth spectrum. And they both work pretty much as advertised.
Bluetooth is arguably one of the more important – or at least convenient – wireless innovations of the past several years. The technology can not only let you stream music or audio apps from your wireless device to a compatible speaker, as witnessed by such devices as Bose's SoundLink portable speaker family and its many competitors, it can also help save your life by keeping your cell phone in your pocket – where it belongs – while you drive.
It does other stuff, too, as witnessed by the Renny Bluetooth Home Ringer. The Renny is a little, barrel-like thingy you can sit on your desk (or wherever) and which will act as a remote ringer/speakerphone for your cell phone. It lets you leave your phone on its charger yet still be able to answer it from another place in the home or office.
It's also small enough to take on the road with you, to use as a remote ringer in your hotel room or wherever else you may. It lets you leave the phone in your briefcase, a drawer, or wherever and still have access to your cell phone.
The Renny does more than that, though. It can also act as a remote speaker like the Bose mentioned above, though its sound quality is such that if you're the least bit of an audiophile you might want to think twice.
But for phone calls, it's pretty good. The maker says the Renny will connect wirelessly to any (paired) mobile phone within a 200 foot line of sight range, which it claims is the longest in this category. And if the built-in antenna doesn't offer enough performance, there's also an add-on antenna available.
What happens once you've charged your Renny is that, even if your phone is set to "silent" or "vibrate," the Renny will not only pick up the call remotely, it'll even announce who is calling (if you have call display in your plan, undoubtedly). And then you can use it as a speakerphone, basically ignoring where your actual cell phone is.
The pairing process is easy, thankfully, and while a couple of calls were dropped during the test sessions, it wasn't possible to say if it was the Renny, the phone, or the cell provider. Blaming the service provider is always the default choice, though…
Renny offers selectable ring tones (most of which – as with most such devices – suck) and the company says streaming music to the device is enhanced by its "powerful loudspeaker using 3D Digital Dynamic Bass technology." The sound is fine in a pinch but, as mentioned above, if you're looking for a wireless speaker that rocks, this isn't the one.
A nice touch is that Renny's "DualSync" technology lets you connect two mobile phones at once.
The Renny is always on (if it's charged) and just sits there relatively unobtrusively, waiting patiently for a call to come in, at which time it leaps to action. It's available in black, blue, white and – as was the case with the demo unit – a nice, deep crimson color.
When a call comes in, you just have to tap the button on Renny's side to answer it, then speak as you would with any speaker phone. Voice quality is reasonable.
The Renny could also come in handy for people who don't have a land line, an increasingly growing group these days. It goes a long way toward offering the kind of multi-room expandability you can get from the multiple handsets popular with wireless land line phones.
Polly wants a crackerjack hands free car unit…
There are many sun visor-mounted Bluetooth phone adapters on the market, but the $100 Parrot Minikit Neo offers some features designed to set itself apart from the pack. One of the niftiest is the fact that it'll turn itself on automatically when you enter your vehicle. The thing actually senses the vibration of your buttocks hitting the seat (undoubtedly as task of varying difficulty), and greets you with a little wakeup noise. And you can set it to greet you with whatever sound you choose, using an app you can download and install.
It's a sophisticated unit that's easy to pair and, like the Renny, will work with two cell phones. It also syncs with your address book and will stream audio from your smart phone – though (unlike some of the competition) it doesn't offer an FM modulator to pass the audio to your car audio system. That, depending on your wont, could be a deal breaker.
The sound quality from phone calls is fine, but the quality of the built in robotic voice isn't as good, so you'll have to listen carefully to what it's telling you. That may be part of a learning curve that gets less important the longer you use the unit, however.
"Magic" voice commands let you fire up the unit without touching its rather hard to push buttons, and the operation itself is child's play. There are really only three controls other than the basic on/off switch: the green "initiate call" button, the red "hang up" button and a rotary knob/button you can use to scroll through your contacts or the onboard menus that let you adjust a variety of the Parrot's parameters.
Parrot says you can get up to six months on a charge (charging, they say, takes up to three hours) and you can get it to tell you how much charge is left by asking it. If only kids were as cooperative!
The free app you can download and install (Android or Apple) not only lets you change the greeting sound, it also offers a full suite of other things, including a "find my car" feature that works with your navigation app (it remembers its location automatically), a parking timer to save you from tickets, an auto reply SMS feature that fires off a message to your caller if you're driving and don't want to answer, and more.
The Minikit Neo's sun visor clip is built right into the unit and isn't adjustable, and this could cause some angst among some potential owners. It should work with most vehicles, but it wouldn't clip onto the weirdly-shaped sun visors of the current Mazda MX-5 (nee Miata) and there are undoubtedly other vehicles that will cause it similar issues.
As far as its hands free phone performance is concerned, however, the Parrot Minikit Neo works very well. Its voice recognition is good – better than expected; don't overthink it and try to pronounce words more clearly that you would normally or it might get confused, though. But if you speak in a normal voice (if you have a thick accent it could cause problems, however) it picks up your words well.
Bluetooth hands free phone operation should really be installed in every new car today, as a safety feature, because it lets you keep your hands on the steering wheel. But for cars that don't come with it, and older vehicles, the Parrot and its ilk effectively retrofit the vehicle to take advantage of Bluetooth – as long as your phone offers Bluetooth capability as well.
And unlike the Bluetooth systems built into vehicles, you can take the Minikit Neo on the road with you, turning your rental cars into hands free units as well.
Just don't forget it's there and leave it in the car when you take it back!
Copyright 2013 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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