Handsfree Driving

This is a brief review explaining my experience with the S4 by BlueAnt. I have it installed on my wife’s Pathfinder. Because of the short USB cable I needed to put it near the power socket. It’s not the most comfortable position but it’ll have to do. I think the S4 is one of the most beautiful Bluetooth speakerphones I’ve ever seen. The product design folks at BlueAnt did a very good job. It is plenty loud, too. The S4 magnetically connects to a harness, which easily clips to the sun visors. I didn’t like this position because when you actually use the visor the S4 is flipped out of sight, which is another reason why it is down low beside the power outlet. The S4 is claimed to be a true handsfree voice-controlled Bluetooth speakerphone:

With the BlueAnt S4, there is no longer any need to touch your phone or car speakerphone while driving. For the first time, drivers can communicate on the road, making and receiving calls and accessing a world of information, using only their voice.

I have to confess. I’ve been testing the S4 for about a month now and I still don’t know how to activate it so that it’ll start listening to me. I’d start out with, “BlueAnt, talk to me.” Then, “BlueAnt, listen to me.”

“BlueAnt, I want to make a call.”
“BlueAnt, make a call.”
“BlueAnt, I’m talking to you!”
“BlueAnt, listen to me!”

After unsuccessfully communicating with the BlueAnt S4 I would wait for a stop light, locate the middle button and touch it. I’m not sure why the buttons are touch-buttons; I think it would be a lot easier for drivers to keep their eyes on the road if the buttons were real physical buttons with a solid tactile response. The secret mantra? “BlueAnt speak to me.” But then, there’s a second part to that mantra. The S4 asks what I’d like to do, so I respond:

“Phone control.”
“Voice control.”
“Connect phone.”
“Phone connect!”
“Voice connect!”

I almost always give up. And I don’t know why I keep trying. After unsuccessful attempts the following has become a ritual: I lift my pelvic area to make enough room to squeeze my hand into my pocket and bring out my iPhone. I press the home button for a while, wait for the iPhone to buzz indicating that it is in a mode that listens to you, and then I attempt at calling someone. For instance, “Call SooSang.” I know, it’s not a common name, but he just happens to be someone I call quite often. Instead of him, the iPhone starts calling some random person. “Oh shoot!” I then have to take my eyes off the road, find the end call button, and stop the potentially embarrassing call to said random person. It is much easier to make calls using the iPhone with easy names like John, who thankfully is someone I call from time to time. I had trouble with Mr. Yi, but once I got connected we went on with pleasantries for quite some time before he asked, “Who are you?” The voice quality was excellent but Mr. Yi said that I sounded like a different person. Both SooSang and John said that I sounded fine. My bet is that I sounded perfectly fine but with a bit of a mechanical tone that threw off Mr. Yi.

We here about distracted driving and how it is becoming a killer. Handsfree units like the S4 are intended to help with distracted driving, but from my personal experience it doesn’t work very well. I’m also to blame since by now I should have committed to memory the two phrases that make the S4 work like it should. The BlueAnt S4 is well-designed inside and out (except for the touch buttons and short power cable) but connects to a less-than-perfect voice recognition engine on the iPhone. I guess the bottom line is: if you want to drive safely, focus on driving and get rid of all distractions including making calls whether handsfree or not.