One of the more interesting Bluetooth accessory manufacturers that I’ve encountered over the last year is BlueAnt. I wasn’t all that familiar with the company until the fall, but they have been making some impressive moves with regard to product design and innovation, and I’ve been quite impressed with their offerings. Currently their portfolio includes car speakerphones, the S3 and S4, with the S3 being the lower end of the two. Lower end does not, however, mean “not awesome”, since both speakerphones have impressed me quite a bit. Today we are going to look at the S3 and then follow-up with a review of its big brother sometime in the near future.
The BlueAnt S3 Compact is a visor-mounted car speakerphone that combines ease of use with great sound and advanced features. As soon as you turn on the S3 the embedded audio help will talk you through everything needed to get you up and running. Installation is as simple as clipping the device onto your car sun visor. The S3 also comes fitted with a vibration sensor that detects when you get back in the car and automatically reconnects to your phone to ensure that you are always hands-free on the go. Once installed and connected, the S3 will announce the names of incoming callers so there’s no need to take your eyes off the road to know who is calling. Simply say the word “Answer” or “Ignore” to respond. With voice dialing over Bluetooth, one tap of the S3 will allow you to make calls using your voice. The BlueAnt S3 provides best-in-class sound with rich audio quality. The S3?s high performance speaker and integrated digital signal processing technology deliver clear calls with loud, booming audio even in difficult conditions. The S3 also features built-in A2DP functionality so you can hear podcasts, streaming music or GPS turn-by-turn directions from applications on your phone played back through your BlueAnt device.
Extremely Easy To Use: Simply Connect technology and embedded audio guides talk you through setup and pairing: Choose from 5 language options: US English, Australian English, UK English, French and Spanish: Announces incoming caller’s name: use your voice to answer or ignore the call: Make calls with your voice (if supported by your phone): Vibration sensor automatically connects your phone when you get in the car
Sounds Great: Full-duplex, high-volume speaker for booming, clear audio: Superior wind, noise and echo cancellation
Get Started In Seconds: Hardware power switch for easy on/off > Simple pairing process: Fast phonebook transfer
Amazing Battery Life: Talk for 20 hours between charges: 600 hours’ standby time
A2DP Audio: Hear directions from a GPS application on your phone: Listen to music and podcasts on your S3 Multipoint: Connect the driver and passenger’s phones at the same time: Answer calls on either phone: Switch between calls on both phones
As the company’s description notes, the speakerphone is visor mounted which lets it be up and out of the way while remaining easily accessible. One of the things that has impressed me most about BlueAnt’s offerings is the ease of setup that they have designed and built into their products. When you first turn on the speakerphone (it comes charged already), the device immediately kicks into its setup mode and walks you through the process of connecting the speakerphone to your handset and uploading contacts to the device. (Uploading the contacts is key to its ease of use and its effectiveness at limiting driver distraction.)
Another cool feature is the “vibrating reconnect”. As the feature description notes:
The S3 also comes fitted with a vibration sensor that detects when you get back in the car and automatically reconnects to your phone to ensure that you are always hands-free on the go.
It not only works but it works exceptionally well and lets you not think too much about the speakerphone on a day-to-day basis.
Let’s take a quick look around the device itself.
The S3 is a bit shorter than an iPhone for is wider and thicker. When looking at the speakerphone from the top there appears to be a large button with the company name and logo. This is not a button at all. Rather it is the speaker port. It is notable that the port is open to all four sides. This lets the sound coming from the device go in every direction. I suspect that is one of the things that adds to the audio quality.
The device is a rectangular block except that it tapers to one end. This design lets you have easy access to the volume control and answer button.
As noted, the current section houses the answer button and the volume controls. There is also a small hole that is the microphone.
The only other physical design features of note is that you will find the on/off switch and a micro USB charging port on the long side.
On the bottom is a slide connector for the visor clip. The S4 connects magnetically to the visor clip for easy removal while on this device the clip is attached physically.
On nice feature of the S3 is that it ships with two visor clips. That means I can put a clip in each of our two cars and simply move the speakerphone from one to the other if I take Elana’s car.
One of the areas in which the companies new offerings stand out is with regard to audio quality. The sound coming from the speakerphone is excellent when used for a phone call. The “voice” that walks through the menu items is pleasant to listen to an exceptionally clear. When using the speakerphone people have not commented about the quality of the call which tells me that it is excellent. This is simply the case because people don’t say when they are able to hear but they always do when they have difficulties.
Part of the reason for the excellent voice quality is the noise and echo cancellation built into the device. The speakerphone supports A2DP audio which is a decent feature if you are listening to an audio book or a podcast but, to be honest, falls short when it comes to music.
One of the things I appreciate about many of the current Bluetooth devices, and this is no exception, is the ability to connect to more than one device at a time. I am currently carrying both an iPhone and Android handset and it is great to have both connect as soon as I get into the car.
It is nice to see some companies beginning to report actually battery life instead of some inflated figure. The battery life on the S3 is quite good and it does seem to last for the stated 20 hours of talk time and 600 hours of standby time. In fact, I was amazed that although I have not remembered to turn the speakerphone off it only ran out of juice yesterday and it has been in my car for over a week and a half. In other words, this is a speakerphone that you can place in your car one day and not worry about it being turned on or off for quite a while.
The main thing that distinguishes the S3 from it’s bigger, more full-featured brother, is the voice control. On this device the voice functionality is relatively limited but it does do the bare minimum that is necessary in order to keep your eyes on the road. The speakerphone will announce who is calling and then allow you to choose whether to answer or ignore the call all by voice. In other words, you never need to take your eyes off the road. And if your phone supports voice calling you can do that as well.
As we will see when we take a look at the S4, this degree of voice control is relatively limited but it is effective. By comparison, the S4 is described as being “the first true hands-free voice controlled car speakerphone” and, so long as you are using a Blackberry or an Android handset, this is absolutely true. That is not the case with the S3 but, to be honest, I did not find myself missing the extra functionality all too much.
So would I recommend the S3 compact speakerphone from BlueAnt? Yes, but with one caveat. The S3 cost $79.99. The S3 costs $99.99. That’s a difference of $20. (I know, I know, I’m a math genius!) If you just want a basic speakerphone you can’t go wrong with the S3. If you might want the added functionality of the S4, however, I would suggest spending the extra $20. There is a huge difference in the degree of voice control they offer and the real determination here is whether or not that degree of voice control is worth $20 to you or not. As I will make clear in the review of the S4, I do not believe you can go wrong with either speakerphone, so it is just a matter of what you want it to do.
MSRP: $79.99, or $51.79 on Amazon [affiliate link]
What I Like: small; compact; ridiculously easy set up; pleasant voice used for menu read out; fantastic sound quality; support for A2 DP; excellent talk time fantastic standby time; basic but excellent voice control
What Needs Improvement: not great for streaming music