Hands-free kits do a lot more than calls

HANDS FREE: A lot cheaper than an $80 fine.
HANDS FREE: A lot cheaper than an $80 fine.

New police figures show more than 10,000 motorists were nabbed talking on their cellphone in a year.

Hands-free technology can be a lot cheaper than the $80 fine for drivers who get caught.

Most hands-free kits use Bluetooth technology, which the vast majority of phones today feature, to communicate wirelessly with your mobile.

When you make or answer a call while driving, the Bluetooth car kit picks up your voice signals and transmits them to your phone, and vice versa so you can conduct a conversation.

Some kits have built-in speakers while others route calls through your car's radio and speaker system.

Unless your phone and kit support voice commands, you'll still need to touch your phone or button on your kit to answer and make calls, allowed under the hands-free law as long as it's infrequent and brief.

Some hands-free kits go beyond simple calling, letting you stream music from your phone, answer and make calls through voice commands, read texts out to you and are compatible with multiple phones (although not always at the same time).

Your phone will need to support these features, too, in order for them to work, though so check first before you get too excited about a hands-free kit's bells and whistles.

You can either opt for a professionally installed kit, which is fitted to your dashboard, or a portable solution.

The installed kits are typically more expensive (expect to pay hundreds of dollars) but often have more advanced features such as caller ID and voice recognition. They're also fully integrated with your car's stereo system, and provide great sound quality and volume.

Portable kits usually clip on to your car's sun visor or into the cigarette lighter. Those that clip on to the visor are powered by a battery that will need recharging from time to time. If you're going for one of these kits, try and get one with an average talk time of 14 to 20 hours. Other options include:

❏ FM transmitter kits allow you to make hands-free calls, and stream music, by transmitting the audio from your phone through your car radio. They typically plug into your cigarette lighter and can often charge your phone at the same time, so you don't need to worry about wasting the battery.

❏ The cheapest option for hands-free calling is to buy a cradle for your phone (usually $20 to $40) and put the phone on speaker. This doesn't always deliver the best sound quality though, particularly compared to hands-free kits which are designed to mute out background noise.

❏ Headsets, which sit in or around your ears and have a built-in microphone and speaker, can be another cheap option. Some phones come with wired headsets but most headsets use Bluetooth and are sold separately. (Lower-end models are priced from $30, but you can also spend up to about $200). One advantage of headsets is that they are ultra-portable and you can continue your conversation outside of the car. Headsets typically have a shorter battery life than portable kits (up to eight hours talk time).


Noel Leeming says its most popular portable Bluetooth hands-free kits are the Uniden BTSC1700 and the Jabra Drive.

The Uniden model ($99) clips on to your sun visor, has voice control to answer calls and can read out text messages, an LCD display, and will last for 15 hours of talk time before needing a recharge.

The Jabra Drive ($89) will last for 20 hours of talk time, can be paired with two Bluetooth-capable mobiles and stream music.

In terms of headsets, both the Jabra Easygo (from $45) and the Plantronics M55 ($99, pictured) come recommended.

The Jabra Easygo can be paired with two Bluetooth phones simultaneously and provides up to eight hours of talk time.

The Plantronics M55 lets you answer calls with a voice command, and stream music, videos and voice directions from your smartphone.

Sources: TopTenReviews, PC World, PC Mag, Noel Leeming, Plantronics, EBay, IO.com, Parrot, Cnet, Uniden, Jabra, Dick Smith.