Is Bluetooth Making You Blue Too?: Parrot 3400LS-GPS

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Like most of you, I imagine, I have been using Bluetooth earpieces for quite some time now. At first blush, the BT headset is the ultimate in wireless- true handsfree conversation. And, aside from its convenience, I find it an essential part of driving as it eliminates the dangers and risks (not to mention driving tickets- here in NY, it’s illegal to talk and drive) associated with talking while driving. I have long lamented though, that these ear pieces tend to become uncomfortable after extended periods of time, causing me to take them off; thus effectively defeating
their purpose. So, what to do?

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The obvious solution, it would seem, is something that our technologically savvy friends in Europe have been doing for years now- a car kit that wires directly into your automobile’s speaker system. Parrot is the established market leader in this regard, and when offered the opportunity to look at their 3400 LS-GPS unit, I didn’t have to think twice. When it came, however, I realized after looking at all the wires that the wired car kit scenario does have an inherent disadvantage as compared to the headset option- headsets do not require installation (unless you count those poor folks who can’t seem to figure out how to put them on in the first place)). This installation costed about $150 at a local auto shop- pricing will vary based on the shop and complexity of the wiring in your car. The actual installation time was surprisingly quick- done in under 45 minutes.

Car Cosmetics:

Your dashboard scenery will not change all that much. The unit itself is fairly small and discreet, so I wasn’t too worried about theft. For those of you who are, I hear that Parrot is working on a version with a removable display- similar to the 3200Plus, but with a GPS antenna. The microphone is mounted unobtrusively behind or near the sun visor. It is an omni-directional mic, and it has a pivoting swivel base so you can aim it toward your mouth for optimal pickup. The display was mounted with a special Velcro style adhesive onto my dash, right near the CD player- this was an arbitrary location, and should you be lucky enough to boast more dashboard/front panel real estate, you may find a better place. Obviously, try to position it where your arm feels most comfortable while driving. The user interface is quite similar to the Conferences’, and therefore suffers from the same limitations- it is slightly counter-intuitive for certain tasks and lacks cues, although for the most part the UI is simple and easy on the eyes.

Usage:

Control is performed by scrolling the same oversized knob at the bottom center; it is made of a solid rubber material, giving good grip while spinning it- I believe I’ve found a new favorite thing to do while mindlessly waiting for the light. There are two backlit buttons on either side of the wheel- on the right a red button for ending calls, and a green button on the left for initiating them. Like on the Conference, these buttons are also used for UI navigation- entering and exiting menus.

The car kit also announces the name of each menu item as you scroll through them. And, while in the beginning the constant announcements irked me, I found that it if you move quickly enough the voice doesn’t get a chance to start, and in the end the feature proved to be a boon for highway driving- it enabled me to scroll while keeping my eyes on the road. (The announcements can also be turned off.)

Pairing is similar to the Conference as well- scroll to Settings>Pair Phone>Windows CE, and the car kit will be in pairing mode with a pop up box showing a 4 digit number that is the “passkey†to enter on your Windows Mobile phone after finding the Parrot in Start>Settings>Connections>Bluetooth>Devices>Add new device and tapping on it. After pairing, the 3400 displays the battery strength info at the top left as well as the cellular signal strength at the top right (as long as you are using either WM6, or a WM 5.0 phone with Jetware- see below). The Network name (e.g. Cingular/T-Mobile) of the current service operator is in the middle, which you may find useful for crossing the Canadian border- as long as you are picking up the Cingular towers, you can still talk freely, even while in Canada (I think).

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The name of the device is also displayed on the bottom of the display (useful for nothing- who would forget what their phone is called, and more to the point, what’s the difference? Then again, it could help in scenarios where multiple phones connect to the device on a daily basis, or where you and your significant other share the car and are going somewhere together).

Placing a Call:

Actual placing of a call, which in a car environment NEEDS to be easy and fast, can be done in a number of ways:

A) Dial from the cell phone directly, and the car kit will display the call progress as it dials and connects.

B) Voice command: The Parrot LS 3400 supports voice command pass through to the voice recognition software of the cell phone (e.g. Cyberon’s Voice Commander, or Microsoft Voice Command- some phones, like the Q, Blackjack, and new WM6 ROM for the Dash have built in Voice Command applications).Should your Windows Mobile device not have any Voice Dialing application (or should you be so disgusted with the common “voice tagging†that HTC pre-installs), you can use Parrot’s version of “voice taggingâ€, although it isn’t much different from the phone based application-. (Phonebook synchronization required, discussed below).

C) Dialing from the car kit itself: Scrolling 3 clicks will bring up a menu item called “dial a numberâ€, which, when selected will display a numerical keypad which can be used to dial a number with out having to take out your cell phone. Turning the knob will highlight each number in turn (1, then 2, then 3, etc.) one after another and you simply push in to select; here, again, the number being highlighted is announced, making it feature is that when scrolling thru the numbers the car kit will announce the highlighted number, making it (theoretically) “eyes-freeâ€.

D) The Parrot also has a call log “memory†of recently dialed calls, received calls, and missed calls. Even better, the Parrot actually read my Cingular 8525’s memory right of the log, and synced it over- so even calls made/received when not connected should sync up.

Phonebook Sync:

One of the highly touted features of Parrot car kits is their rather unique ability to sync phonebooks (it seems the new Acura BT kits do this as well). Using the Bluetooth PAP (Phonebook Access Profile), the kit will automatically synchronize any connected device. If the synchronization is interrupted before completion then it will resume synchronization where it left off the next time you power up the car kit. Interestingly, Windows Mobile supports this, but with a caveat; the sync will not send a contact with multiple number (Work, Home, Mobile) over in one piece- instead, you end with two or three separate numbers, followed by a /H or /W (e.g. John Kennedy will come up as Kennedy, John/H, and another entry for Kennedy, John/W). This can make scrolling through a large phonebook frustrating.

There is, however, a halfway workaround using Jetware’s Bluetooth extension solution. Since the Parrot also supports the “receiving†of contacts, you can use Jetware’s application to “send†your phonebook. Properly performed, this will result in the correct formatting of numbers. Unfortunately, however, I couldn’t figure out how to stop the auto sync- which resulted in multiple numbers again, rendering the solution useless for this purpose. Jetware does tell me that they are working on this, though. For those of you in the 2 driver/1 car situation, the Parrot 3400 does not disappoint. When the specific phone is paired with the 3400, it loads the phonebook for that phone and that phone only. The 3400 supports up to 5 paired phone relationships before you will need to start deleting the pairings. An incoming call will display the caller’s number, and if the number is stored in the Parrot address book it will display the associated name as well.

Sound Quality:

Calls themselves were crystal clear on my end- and quite loud, since the unit wires directly into the car’s stereo system. The receiving party occasionally complained of the standard echo/distant effect of these kits- expect this particular issue to be remedied with the BEAMFORMING technology used on the MK6000 and the new 3200PLUS series.
The important thing that I realized here was this: I never had to switch back to the handset itself because of complaints on the other end of the line, which inevitably happens with headsets.

Other “cutesy†features include a selectable color scheme to make the glare easier on the eyes, and selectable ringtones and background images.

But wait, there’s more!

Integrated GPS antenna:
Our eagle eyed readers may have noticed the GPS appellation to the model name- and no, it doesn’t stand for “Good Phone Serviceâ€. In fact, the 3400 LS-GPS actually has an integrated GPS (Global Positioning System) antenna, or, as the good English chap who noticed it called it- a sat-nav receiver. Gone are the days of toting around a Bluetooth GPS receiver. Do not, however, get confused: You WILL NEED a PDA or other device capable of using GPS software with a Bluetooth receiver. The 3400 merely acts as the Bluetooth GPS antenna or receiver, also known as a “puckâ€, or “dongleâ€. The receiver is used to wirelessly provide the GPS coordinates to a handheld with appropriate navigation software (i.e. Tomtom 6, Route 66, or CoPilot LIVE). Software must be purchased separately. For an excellent guide on the various programs available, check out our Buyer’s Guide review on GPS software, by Myron Swartz. Although not SiRFIII, GPS satellite “fix†time was very good, and picked up 5 to 9 satellites depending on the weather. The antenna has 12 channel capabilities, which is fine. Parrot informs me that they decided against SiRF since there is no need for a low power consumption chipset, which left them with the option of integrating a high-powered antenna. Impressively, because the audio is routed through the “hands free" profile and the GPS is routed through the “serial†profile, I was able to set it up with two devices: A cellular phone (Samsung Blackjack) for voice calls, and a dedicated PDA for GPS usage. The advantage of doing this is the possibility of using a full size PDA screen (3.5â€) as opposed to the typically smaller screen of the converged devices. After the pairing, Route 66 worked fine, and I enjoyed the convenience of not having to carry
around two devices. I imagine that pretty much any GPS software listed in the above article should work fine.

Smartphone and Unit.

Customer Support:

Although there isn’t much that Parrot can do for the end consumer with this unit, support is decent, with the occasional firmware upgrade (yes, you’ll need a Bluetooth capable laptop for this) released on the forums-see below. In addition to a phone support line, Parrot maintains a wonderful forum (link: http://www.parrot.biz/forums/usa/) where you can find much information on compatibility and such. Try checking the English/UK forums first, though; it seems that some Parrot techs that hang out there.

Conclusion and availability:

The 3400 LS-GPS makes a great addition to any car. I was impressed with its build quality and sound clarity. Also, I’m impressed with the dedicated forums- although I’m not sure how many typical users will end up there. Parrot gets points off, however for the phonebook formatting problem, and the occasional echo effect.

You can get the Parrot 3400 LS-GPS now from local auto shops, or online directly from Parrot here for $369. Street price from various third party retailers is about $220.

The Bottom Line Score: (Out of 10)
For the average driver: a great all around car kit that looks decent- 7.4.

Disclaimer: Many of the units/applications I review are sent to me at no charge. Sometimes I keep these, and sometimes they are loaner unit/trial applications. Whatever the case, I do my level best to remain impartial- however, we are all only human- me included:).

Disclaimer: Many of the units/applications I review are sent to me at no charge. Sometimes I keep these, and sometimes they are loaner unit/trial applications. Whatever the case, I do my level best to remain impartial- however, we are all only human- me included:).

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