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  1. wildfirex's Avatar
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    Introduction:

    Having moved from the Treo 700p realm to the more mature and stable Treo 800w world, I was dismayed to realize that playing music, podcasts, and having phone conversations in my car was going to be rather complicated. By now, I know that Seidio has delayed indefinitely plans to create adaptors and possibly car cradles that once allowed me to use my Treo 700p, in tandem with my Seidio G4500m to make calls, listen to music, and use my Garmin external GPS. My goal was to find some way to allow me to meet the following needs:

    1. Must be affordable or at least a good deal for the money.
    2. Must be easy to install requiring little or no tearing the car apart.
    3. Must be able to charge my phone while talking, listening, and navigating (due to the 800w's limited battery life)
    4. Must be able to make phone calls, preferably with audio pushed out via the car's stereo system, or even better, with my BT headset and no BT stack problems
    5. Must be able to listen to media.
    6. Must be able to do it all through my car's auxiliary audio port.

    With the proliferation of smartphones and mp3 devices (most notably the iPod), more new cars are coming with auxiliary ports, and even most aftermarket stereo head units will include one (even the cheapo versions you can get at non-specialty stores). My new 2008 Honda Accord EX includes such an auxiliary port, and my previous car, a 2002 Ford Focus, had an aftermarket stereo with an Aux port I got in late 2003. Obviously, a direct connection to the stereo system using a $5 cable provides higher quality audio, less "fiddling", and a significantly lower level of annoyance to me than FM transmitters. I've used FM transmitters before, and found them to be marginally okay at best, and completely worthless at worst. Your actual mileage may vary (no pun intended), but for all intents and purposes, if I can get less staticy audio with a direct connection, I'll do it.

    Obviously, options exist for doing this with the Jabra BT3030, but this presents other problems. Specifically, the BT3030 won't charge and keep bluetooth active simultaneously, meaning you get a maximum of a few hours of audio and phone conversations before you have to start charging again, a deal-breaker for a guy who likes the occasional road-trip and often forgets to charge his devices.

    The problem that I found is that most car kits these days have built-in FM transmitters (such as the MOTOROKR T505), and unless you're going with the integrated route requiring professional installation, an option which can easily double the price, I was beginning to believe there is simply no way to cheaply integrate into an a car's existing audio system without jumping through hoops or sacrificing audio quality.

    Fortunately, I stumbled on the Kensington LiquidAux bluetooth car kit. The device sports an integrated bluetooth 2.0 transceiver (capable of both A2DP/AVRCP, and hands-free services), audio cable, microphone, and a separate wireless thumb control pad for switching tracks and controlling the phone.

    First Impressions

    Upon opening the box, you are presented with a small but functional pedestal with a rocker button, bluetooth pairing button, an outbound audio cable (of about 6 inches), a USB port for charging your phone, and a tiny hole for a microphone, all sitting on top of a cigarette lighter/car accessory plug. An included 3.5 mm female-to-male audio extension cable is included for anyone who can't reach their auxiliary port with the attached cable. In addition, a small wireless remote control snapped into a steering wheel holder with included Velcro strap also adorns the box. Finally, a standard watch-battery comes included for the remote control, which requires installation (of all about 2 seconds).

    Setup

    Setup is fortunately simple, especially since the instruction manual is a lesson in foreign languages. Each page has a diagram followed by more languages than a U.N. cafeteria menu, making the instructions difficult to navigate through and poorly organized. A last-minute insert provides information on pairing the remote control with the LiquidAux adapter if they don't immediately recognize each other (mine did, right out of the box).

    Pairing the device requires holding down the bluetooth button on the LiquidAux pedestal for about two seconds and searching for the device on your phone, as usual. While Windows Mobile 6.1 will automatically pair with a headset, never requiring you to enter the PIN 0000, the device shows up in the pairing screen with "pin:0000" as part of the name, a helpful reminder for those who don't have a bluetooth device that will handle this automagically. Pairing the remote control with the pedestal just requires holding down the center of the RC while hitting the bluetooth button on the pedestal. Once paired and connected, the lights on top of the pedestal will glow yellow signaling a connection. Once connected via audio, the music light/button will switch to blue, and when using the phone, the phone button/light switches to blue. Helpful, and not terribly distracting.

    Design

    I'm slightly worried about the construction of the device, as it seems a little loose in some ways, and I would imagine that relocating it between cars or cigarette lighter ports might stress the surrounding silver ring around the top rocker button.

    The microphone hole in the actual device itself, too, seems to be an issue. For myself, since I have a free cigarette lighter adapter just forward of my gear selector, I was afraid that the pickup of the microphone would be sub-par. However, on calls the audio quality is just fine, and so far nobody I've called has complained that they couldn't hear me. I've had my voice using the LiquidAux described as "just like a bluetooth headset but without the muffling". The only concern with the microphone placement would be, since there is no wired or external microphone port, is that anyone who has to put this pedestal somewhere else in the car (say inside the center console or further away from the driver), might not be able to be heard by callers. This device would most certainly benefit from a wired external microphone that could be attached or clipped to a sun visor or rear-view mirror.

    The lights on top of the LiquidAux pedestal are not annoying and actually helpful, something I've found can be lacking in a lot of bluetooth devices. There are basically two lights, one for Calls/Hands-free and the other for Music/A2DP. Yellow means that the profile is ready and available, and blue means it's connected and running. As an aside, the LiquidAux seems to handle being only connected via A2DP while you have another headset or Hands-free device, so for someone like me, who forgets to take his headset off. Obviously, the ability to have multiple devices working simultaneously (and not just paired) is dependent more on true bluetooth 2.0 support from the phone, but the LiquidAux seems to handle the hand-off without problems.

    Quality

    Call audio quality through the stereo system is superb, and the bluetooth connection is solid, although I've had a bit of a background hum present in some of my podcasts and music. I have noticed that the device doesn't seem to handle the bluetooth voice dialing and voice command very well. For some reason, it doesn't seem to be getting microphone audio to the Treo very well, but I'm not sure why. Since the LiquidAux together with the 800w will handle multiple simultaneous connections for individual Bluetooth services, this doesn't seem to be an issue, as I can always use my other bluetooth headset. Still, kind of annoying.

    The USB charging port on the device is, for all intents and purposes, worthless. My Treo 800w doesn't even recognize the fact that it's getting power (the red charging LED doesn't turn on) half the time when plugged in via this method, so I still have to resort to a separate charger. A great idea in principle, but the execution was poor. In fact, I think it would have been much better to include a microphone out jack than a USB port for charging, since it doesn't seem to work at hardly at all.

    The remote control is by far what sets the LiquidAux apart from other car kits. It attaches via the black included Velcro strap to the steering wheel and stays put nicely. It offers four rocker buttons, with controls for Pause/Play, track forward and back, and a call control button. The call control button will engage the Treo 800w's voice command over bluetooth, and with the microphone of the LiquidAux pedestal positioned in a good location, it seems to work... sometimes. The other buttons do what you'd expect, with the added ability of being able to transfer the call back to the phone or ignore an incoming call. This remote control is easily the coolest part of the LiquidAux car kit, and I can't stop using it. Not having to find my phone (which may or may not be floating around the car somewhere, tethered only by my power adapter) and switch tracks or reach down to press buttons on the pedestal while trying to avoid traffic is a spectacular feature, and seeing as my Honda Accord EX has built-in audio controls on the steering wheel, a feature I cannot rave enough about, this allows me to cheaply and easily extend this feature to my Treo 800w without having a professional install more buttons or control systems.

    One other concern I have, is that the device immediately powers off when the car turns off, since it has no internal battery (other than in the remote control). If you're sitting in line at a drive-through or in a completely gridlocked traffic jam and decide to shut off your engine, you'll have to leave your key in the auxiliary position to keep listening. Starting the car again, for at least every I've ever driven, temporarily transfers all available power to the starter, causing the stereo system and all auxiliary devices to shut down. This unfortunately causes the LiquidAux car kit to lose the connection with your phone, and since it doesn't disconnect gracefully, I've noticed several instances where the Treo 800w seems to forget that it has Bluetooth hardware installed. I don't know why this is, but it's happened to me several times now and it requires a reboot to resolve the issue. The obvious answer is to simply turn off the LiquidAux device at the pedestal before shutting the car power down, but it's easy to forget to do that every time.

    Of course, this is more a problem with how cars work, and not how the device itself operates. Although it would still have been nice to include a very small rechargeable battery in the LiquidAux that would allow it to disconnect gracefully, this would obviously over complicate the device when low-profile minimalist design and low price-point seem to have been key design initiatives.

    Conclusion

    All in all, this is a great device for getting around the fact that there are still very few options for simultaneously charging a Treo 800w and plugging it into a car's Aux port, while providing the added benefits of a great remote control, phone conversations through a car's speakers, and voice dialing support. I'm hooked, and I give this a 4/5.

    Pros:

    Steering Wheel mounted remote control
    Low profile
    Good audio quality
    Simple installation
    Utilizes car aux port
    Simple, Effective, and Decently Priced

    Cons:

    Instruction manual poorly organized
    No external microphone or microphone jack
    USB jack ineffective
    No "graceful" disconnect of bluetooth connection when device loses power
    Poor pickup on voice command functions

    Design: 4
    Usability: 5
    Features: 5
    Cost/Benefit: 5

    Overall: 5
    Last edited by WildFireX; 10/08/2008 at 11:28 AM.

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