If you live in California or Washington, you know that as of July 1
you must go handsfree when using your cellphone while driving your car.
On July 1, 2008, these two states become the fourth and fifth states to
enact laws that ban the use of any hand-held mobile device while
When it goes into effect, the California law will also prohibit ALL cell-phone use -- including hands-free devices and texting -- by drivers under the age of 18. Violators will face a possible $20 fine for a first offense, and $50 for subsequent offenses.
The law does allow non-minor drivers to use a wireless telephone for emergency purposes, drivers of commercial vehicles to use push-to-talk phones until July 1, 2011, and drivers of emergency response vehicles to use a cell phone without a hands-free device.
For technophobes, the solution is as simple as stopping off at your favorite wireless store, nearby Radio Shack, or local Target or Walmart to buy an inexpensive wired headset to allow you to make those important calls without the distraction of having to hold your phone. However, if you're a technofan like me, then you know a wireless Bluetooth device is the only way to go.
confess: my first adventures with Bluetooth earpieces were unpleasant.
Sound quality was poor. Callers often complained that I sounded as if I
was in a tunnel. We were often bombarded by distracting echoes that
made it impossible to talk. The devices became disconnected from my
phone so that I would lose my connection mid-call. Battery life and
talk time were poor. But that was a couple years ago, and the
technology has improved greatly since then. Going wireless with a
Bluetooth device is now simple, and offers a variety of choices to fit
your personal tastes and technical comfort levels.
Motorola was kind enough to send me three devices to test out, offering a variety of handsfree options for cellphone users. All these handy gadgets feature Bluetooth 2.0 technology promising universal connectivity with most cellphones, improved call quality, less interference, and faster connections than previous standards.
The first handy gadget can be clipped onto your car's visor: The Motorola T305 portable handsfree speaker is perfect if you don't want to wear your handsfree device (or are afraid you'll lose it in your cavernous purse) and offers as much as 14 hours talk or 200 hours standby time from a single charge (which means it's not the end of the world if you forget to turn it off when you leave the car). Touch one button to turn it on, touch another to place a call; a pair of buttons on the side adjust volume. During my real-world tests, I was able to hookup this this handy palm-sized gadget while sitting at a stoplight, and kept it in my car all week long without depleting its charge. None of my callers complained about sound quality, and I could hear them loud and clear. Official PR materials say it offers "Full duplex capabilities" which means you can talk over each other and still hear, just as in face-to-face conversations. Suggested retail is about $70, and it comes with a car charger. The only drawback is that your cellphone conversations will be shared with all your passengers, so you'll have to do your surprise birthday party planning in a more private location. The device is sensitive enough to pick up most noises in the car, so you'll also want to turn off your radio, roll up your windows, and shush your children to spare your callers from experiencing the full ambience of activity inside your car. You'll also want to be sure you close your sunroof completely when you leave your vehicle to prevent would-be thieves from plucking the useful device off your visor. (Click here to view an online demo)
The second device is the lovely and feminine H680 Earpiece in Frost. This attractive earpiece comes with its own charging station and a pretty little satin carry bag, so you'll always be able to find it. Promising talk times up to 9 hours and standby times up to 300 hours, you should be able to wear this device practically all week long without requiring constant recharging. Even though it is meant to be worn in the ear, its small size was designed for women so I found it very comfortable to wear, with a pleasant array of sounds to signal when it was powering up and down, when it was connected to my phone, and when calls were coming in. It boasts a 30-foot range, which means you can leave it in your purse -- or even step out of the car to get your mail out of the box -- without dropping your call. As pretty (and easy to wear) as earrings, it's priced at about $80 on the official Motorola site, though it can be found for less by shopping online at such places as amazon.com.
The third device, the functional H710 Earpiece, is a more traditional design that flips open to be turned on and off, and is worn over the ear (as opposed as pressed into it). It promises 25% noise reduction technology that automatically compensates when your surroundings get louder, and its earpiece volume also increases to help combat background noise. It promises talk time of about 6.5 hours or standby time of up to 200 hours, and features a handy illuminating button to indicate how much battery time remains, so you won't be surprised by a dead earpiece. My favorite feature of this headset is that it can be paired to two cellphones at the same time, which means that if you are one of the unlucky ones who must carry both a work and a personal cellphone, you can take calls from both using the same earpiece. Priced just under $100 at the official Motorola site, this earpiece comes with a wall charger and can be found for much less by shopping online at such places as amazon.com.
I used all these Bluetooth devices extensively during the six weeks prior to writing this review. During that time, I always asked my callers for their feedback, and none of them complained about the issues I had encountered during my previous trials. They all paired quite easily with my own phone, and connected seamlessly when I turned them on for use. They each have specific features that make them useful and can be found at discounted prices online that make them an affordable alternative to a traditional wired headset. Thanks very much to Motorola for sending these items out for our review!
Handsfree legislation is currently pending in Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, Not sure what the handsfree laws are where you live? Then click to download this useful chart that identifies the specific laws and penalties in place by state and region. And remember: The use of wireless phones while driving can still cause distraction, so even if you're wearing a headset, discontinue your call if you can’t concentrate on driving.