Tech, Autos, & Gear in Layman's Terms Since 2006

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March 25, 2009 • Reviews

Kensington Hands-Free Visor Car Kit REVIEW

When I’m barreling down the highway meeting and greeting folks, it can be a challenge (but NOT always safe) to call whoever is deserving of a return call at that moment. I have an iPhone that allows my fingers to flip through the spinning wheel of contacts, but dialing and driving are frowned upon. Some places even have laws against such behavior.

The other time tested alternative is to wear a Bluetooth earpiece. I have a favorite reviewed here, but in some places there are fashion laws displaying such behavior. 

So what’s a road warrior to do? Kensington has introduced a Hands-Free Visor Car Kit for iPhone and Bluetooth phones that surprisingly fits the bill for those wanting to drive safely and enjoy quality chatter time.

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Included in the Kensington Hands-Free Visor Car Kit for iPhone and Bluetooth phones:

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Instruction guide, Car Kit unit, two rechargeable battery packs, USB charger and car charger with a USB power port,

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The power button is on the right hand side above the press to click removable battery port. There are two batteries supplied.

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On the bottom is a tension mounted wire clip that is one inch deep, 3 ½” long and 1 ¼” wide that easily has gripping power on any standard car visor. There is a Kensington branded cloth tag attached to the side.

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There are no controls on the left hand side or when mounted on the visor, the driver’s right hand side.

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The topside, which faces the driver, contains the microphone and volume slider.

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The setup of the Kensington Hands-Free Visor Car Kit

The setup is very simple with no complicated sequence of buttons to program. Pressing the connect button will flash a blue LED light; red if the battery is low.. From there, an iPhone or any Bluetooth phone can be enabled to connect. Once the blue LED light holds steady, the phone is paired. The same button can be used to swap out up to three phones previously paired. This setup is ideal for me, as I use a company provided Blackberry Curve in addition to a personal iPhone. By pressing the swap button, disconnecting and connecting another phone is that easy.

There are three speed dial buttons that can house three numbers – one each – which is stored by pressing and holding the desired button when an incoming call is received.

At the top is a call button. Pressing the call button can be used to answer a call, disconnect a call or activate the call waiting feature.

Kensington advertises the following features and benefits with my comments.

• High-quality speaker for crystal-clear communication with noise canceling microphone and patented technology for clear voice transmission

Communication is quite good with no complaints from the person on the other end. Of course, when the windows are up and the radio is turned down, I’ve able to talk at length in a normal tone of voice. For soft takers, the speaker volume could use a boost.

•  Three programmable speed-dial buttons store your frequently dialed numbers

I was originally hesitant about this feature, but in reality three numbers are all I really use on a consistent basis – home, spouse and work. I like reaching up and touching a speed dial button to activate a call. 

• Up to 20 hours of talk time (10 hours per battery)

With the two rechargeable battery packs, I don’t have to bring the car kit inside for a recharge, nor is it necessary to run a long power cord from the visor down to the car power port. The battery life is quite good, although I have yet to test the claim of the full ten hours of talk time on one charge. One nice feature to conserve battery life is that the kit will automatically shut off after 15 minutes when a Bluetooth connection is lost. 

The USB power port on the car charger can charge the battery with its included power adaptor and other devices using a separate charging cable such as an iPhone.

So how does it function? When I enter my car, I press the on button, the Bluetooth on the Kensington Car Kit flashes and immediately pairs with my iPhone like a ready servant for action. Should a call from one of my programmed number comes in, the corresponding programmed button blinks with a ring tone. I just press the button and the call commences. The Kensington Car Kit is simple to operate. Initially, I was struck by the list price of $119.99, but a good quality Bluetooth headset worth its salt will be competitive. 

I’ve never considered how much safer it is to drive and talk using the Kensington Car Kit. Keeping my eyes focused on the road ahead while carrying on a conversation on a phone is just like talking to a passenger in the car. There’s no ear fatigue with wearing a Bluetooth ear piece, or fumbling with a setup. The Kensington Car Kit stays on the visor, just like a garage door opener. Not having to keep up with one more device in my pocket, or short battery life make the Kensington Car Kit more endearing to own.

Verdict? I like it; it works well, sound good and the big payoff? If you’re a chatterbox, keeping the vehicle between the lines just made barreling down the highway much safer.

MSRP: $119.99 available at Kensington and other retailers.

What I Like: The simple functionality, ease of use, sound quality and inherent safety factor.

What Needs Improvement: Increasing the loudness / volume on the speaker.

8 Responses to " Kensington Hands-Free Visor Car Kit REVIEW "

  1. macklipkin says:

    Your Kensington review promotes another “killer” appliance. Get the facts straight: distraction is like having two to four drinks wrt auto safety. Your claim of greater safety has no evidence behind it and is utterly unconvincing since the most damning datqa are about cell phone use and show that hands free or not doesn’t matter.

    Based on your popularity do you honestly feel that the net impact of this review will not be adoptions followed by maimings and deaths? I don’t mean to be melodramatic, that is what is at stake.

    Isn’t this your version of the Jon Stewart, where were you when wrt AIG and the financial crisis were hatching complaint about writerly responsibility? Shouldn’t you start a group, Reviewers Against Distracting Doodads? Do it, it would be RADD.

    My interest? I am a physician. I see the damaged lives, the disability, the ruined families. I write this sort of letter regularly when I see tech reviews for dangerous products or ones that get the health stuff wrong. Let alone phony (as in made up)claims about safety. Clears the negative temp files in my conscience.

    Please stop reviewing things that will predictably create disability and lost lives if adopted.

    thanks

    Mack Lipkin, MD

  2. Kerry Woo says:

    Doctor, I appreciate your passion. There is no need to underscore the pain that I have personally endured when loved ones have not seen the destiny marked out for their lives that was cut short by other things or distractions of this world. When I’m in my car, a work challenge, the thought of a friend who suffered a job loss, or an unfair circumstance in our lives can distract me.

    I never claimed that using such a device has a documented safety claim, other than making a personal, conscious decision to be responsible behind the wheel. The misuse of cell phones while driving for some is a distraction, but the use of a hands free device means that I have taken a personal interest in having ownership in minimizing distractions and better yet, I have two hands on the wheel at all times.

    I don’t have the facts, but spilling hot coffee, putting on makeup, reading a memo, changing radio stations, inserting a cd, dogs in the backseat, a fellow passenger sneezing, and as much as I love kids, a crying baby is a distraction. What can I do as a responsible person to minimize those distractions inside the space I occupy in my car?

    We all want to live in a pain free, distraction free world – unless my chiropractor guarantees that I can live with a pain free back, I cannot guarantee a distraction free environment behind the wheel. As human beings, we are prone to be distracted.

    If the use of technology can provide ABS brakes and airbags for saving lives, just as MRI’s and laser surgery in your medical field, then I want to use a hands free device to carry on a conversation. So yes, in my opinion, the use of a Kensington Hands Free Car Kit is a good decision to manage my cell phone use in a responsible manner.

  3. macklipkin says:

    Dear Kerry,

    I much appredciate your thoughtful and deeply felt response.

    I must agree that distraction existed before cell phones and computers and will be around as long as there are brains to distract. But why not control the ones we can?

    Nor can I argue that commmon sense would make it seem that going hands free would lower distraction. Unfortunately these facts remain true:

    1. 80% of car accidents are due to or worsened by distraction;
    2. Hands free or not doesn’t change the statistics an iota–the mental distraction is the problem, not fiddling with a device

    So now, on the opinion level–if hands free makes some people less vigilant; if hands free makes some people believe they are safe to use a distracting device like cellphone or computer and so they do; then promoting such attitudes and devices seems to me too risky to do.

    Your argument was, if using technology can save lives, then I want to use it to do so, but then you leap to hands free as your example, analogized to MRI’s and seat belts. Doesn’t follow.

    I respectfully request that you and your fellow reviewers instead take a principled stand: just say no to promoting probably dangerous devices, and use the technology you command to spread the word.

    I am not a doctrinaire person or physician. For example, I believe (know) some people can and do use narcotics but don’t become dependent or enter the drug culture. But I don’t support anyone in unnecessary use of narcotics. I believe the rare alcoholic can learn to drink responsibly but that most should abstain from alcohol altogether.

    Most drivers should abstain from talking on the phone regardless of how their phone is supported or operated: it is the conversation that kills. I personally will not talk to a friend when the friend is driving. What a coup it would be for Gear Diary to be the first to take a stand for the safety of its readers: or at least do what David Pogue did in his i-Lane review yesterday and refer accurately to the data described above up front in every review.

    Thanks for listening.

    Mack

  4. breley says:

    Ergo the hands-free laws of various states are specious…

    For those interested, there is an article (one of many I’m sure) that address this very issue at Science News (http://sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/31426/title/Shifting_priorities_at_the_wheel)

    “An intriguing neural response underlies vehicular mishaps associated with such distractions, say neuroscientist Marcel Just of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and his colleagues. Attending to what someone says galvanizes language-related brain areas while simultaneously reducing activity in spatial regions that coordinate driving behavior.

    This finding suggests that people who combine relatively automatic tasks, such as speech comprehension and car driving, exceed a biological limit on the amount of systematic brain activity they can accommodate at one time, the researchers propose. As a result, the less-ingrained skill — in this case, driving, which is learned long after a person grasps a native language — takes a neural hit.”

    However, one wonders what percentage of that 80% of distraction-caused accidents Mack mentions can be directly attributed to cell phone usage. Moreover, I would expect that, given the exponential growth and ubiquitous use of cell phones while driving, a corresponding increase in traffic fatalities should occur, but that data doesn’t seem to show this. Traffic fatalities are about the same as they were nearly 10 years ago (http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx), with some fluctuations. I am aware of course this particular data doesn’t include all non-fatalities, merely fatalities. Mack, can you show the informational sources correlating increased traffic accidents/fatalities with increase cell phone usage?

    Again, I don’t disagree that cell phone usage while driving is a potentially significant distraction, I’m just curious about the data demonstrating this.

  5. macklipkin says:

    The data concerning the increased risk of use of cell phones comes from several sources. The kickoff of serious concern was a 1997 article from Toronto that showed a 4 fold increased risk in a clever design in which the authors got permission to examine the cell pphone records of the drivers (Redelmeier DA, Tibshirani RJ. Association between cellular-telephone calls and motor vehicle collisions. N Engl J Med 1997;336:453-8). 4 years and many firestorms later, the authors reviewed their reasoning (CMAJ • May 29, 2001; 164 (11)) and emphasized that their conclusion was not causal but correlative but that their methods for sure underestimated the risk. No recent credible reviews have challenged this. It is likely that legal bans are not cost effective but that is not my point. This is a matter for improved individual behavior not laws and regulation.
    Lots of papers address whether or not cell phone adoption rates correlate with fatality increases (generally not). The problem is, such data are not controlled. At the same time cell phone use went up, road safety, car safety, use of airbags and seat belts, etc. all increased, so the overall fatality rate is too multifactorial to use as a measure of impact. Rates of ascertainment of cell phone use at accidents by police nvestigators have gone way up—but that is ascertainment bias in some measure. A river of research has shown in controlled simulations (e.g., a driver on a track, using a phone or not, exposed to an unpredictable hazard, braking time captured electronically at the pedal) that phone use slows reaction times as much as 30%; that high arousal or engagement increases the compromise of reaction, etc. Overall, there is need for more and better data—definitive studies are few and far between.
    If you really doubt this relationship, try this, preferably while a passenger so as not to be distracted. Identify the drivers on the road in front of you who are driving as if they were drunk. Pass them (safely ) and count what percentage are on a phone that you can detect. You will be convinced not to let your loved ones drive and talk on the phone.
    Mack

  6. breley says:

    As I mentioned earlier, I don’t doubt the very likely relationship, I was merely curious as to your sources/studies demonstrating the link, since casual observation of raw data doesn’t suggest one, and the average person is not an actuarial scientist. Nevertheless I would wholeheartedly agree that better and more definitive data is called for.

    But then, one wonders as to the safety of cell phone usage anyway given the recent (2008) study in Helsinki showing the effects of RF-EMF on human protein expression in the skin…:) (BMC Genomics, DOI: 10.1186/1471-2164-9-77. – http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2164/9/77)

    Kerry, my apologies for hijacking…

  7. bluesky says:

    I think this unit is really very important for car drivers ,I have bought mine at Tradestead it is really pretty good , and I can drive more safe!

  8. Flowergemw says:

    Hello Kerry Woo,

    Thank you for your review on the Kensington Hands-Free Visor Kit. Costco is currently selling it but I was a bit doubtful and wanted to get some opinions on this product. I purchase a cheaper model, but that didn't work so well so I didn't want to waste my time with buying and trying to get another one working without first seeing what others had to say about the product.

    H. Walsh