Driving, talking on your cell phone just don't mix


POSTED: Sunday, April 26, 2009

Everyone knows that texting or getting distracted with your cell phone in an automobile is a dangerous practice. Some people get so engaged in their conversations that they run red lights or stop signs and wreak havoc. It's a serious matter, and most states (and foreign countries) ban this practice.

I'm happy that the City Council has approved a ban and sent the bill on to Mayor Mufi Hannemann for consideration. Hawaii is one of the few places in the nation (and, for that matter, in the civilized world) where using a cell phone while driving is legal.

If you must talk on the phone when you drive, there are some good ways to do it where you can keep your hands on the wheel. One of them is the Jawbone Bluetooth Headset, manufactured by Aliph. It works well, looks cool, but at around $100 is pricier than average. Voice quality was excellent.

I also had a chance to test-drive the Blue Ant Z9i Bluetooth Headset. Believe it or not, I liked it more than the Jawbone. Setup was easy and the earpiece is comfortable. I really liked the audible notifications, different beeps, to alert you when you turn it on, connect or disconnect with Bluetooth to your phone, and when a call is initiated or ended. The on-and-off button clearly lets you know when the earpiece is activated or deactivated. The device uses voice isolation technology, which cancels out most background noise.

Less expensive but equally good are the Jabra BT8040, the SoundID SM100 and the Plantronics Voyager 855.

If you don't want the cyborg look and aren't likely to use a headset outside of your car, consider a Bluetooth speakerphone that clips onto your visor. I tested two units: the “;Tritton AX Visor”; (85) and “;The Blue Ant Supertooth3.”; About the size of a deck of cards, both units are easy to set up and have a long battery life that entails 15 hours of talk time.

Both were easy to set up, particularly the Blue Ant, which took me all of three minutes. It also has audible notifications (a female electronic voice), which literally tell you that the unit is properly paired with your phone as well as other chores such as reading you “;Caller ID,”; thus saving you the hassle of looking at a number while you're driving. In general, the Blue Ant is more user-friendly than the Tritton.

The good news with using a speaker phone is you don't have to fumble with a device in your ear. The not-so-good news is that the voice quality of the speaker is not as good as a headset.

The problem is not hearing the person on the other end, it's the individual on the receiving end hearing what the other person is saying. Of the two, I give the Blue Ant ($84) a clear acoustic edge over the Tritton ($88).

Despite this flaw, I still prefer using the speakerphone. The less fumbling you have to do with your hands in a car, the safer you are.

Cliff Miyake, general manager in Honolulu for Time Warner Telecom, can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).