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100% hands-free is a challenge

In April of this year the Ontario Government passed hands-free legislation.  It is likely to go into effect some time this fall, and when it does all forms of handheld devices that can be used in a car will be banned – this includes GPS receivers, satellite receivers, iPods and other gadgets. Penalties will be stiff, including fines of up to $1,000 and up to six demerit points.

Recently I’ve been using the Contour Design SurfaceSound Compact Bluetooth Speaker in my vehicle.  This speaker clips to the visor above the driver. The microphone is on a small swing down arm, which also activates the bluetooth radio.  When receiving a call, you simply swing the arm down.  In a second or so the bluetooth connection is made, and you are able to speak.  When finished the call, swing the arm back, and the unit turns off.

The battery life is outstanding when used as I described.  Since last November, when I acquired the SurfaceSound Compact, I have charged twice. That’s right – two times.

Sound quality is also good.  The 2”x3” speaker allows good volume and reasonable quality audio.  With a little practice, the microphone arm is easily placed where you can be heard, without interfering with your driving.

The biggest challenge is in placing a call.  iPhone makes this very difficult because it has no support for voice dialing – a major omission.  There are a number of aftermarket voice dial applications available.  Say Who Dialer works well.  You can either speak the name of a contact, or speak a phone number.  Say Who then dials the intended recipient.  With a large address book like mine (nearly 5,000 contacts) it’s reasonably accurate, but most of the time I find myself simply speaking the number for the recipient.  It’s much faster and more convenient than looking the number up on the iPhone.

Nevertheless, even with Say Who Dialer, it’s impossible to meet the requirements of the Ontario legislation when placing a call.

  • The application must be started, which means picking up the iPhone, finding the application on the springboard, and starting it.
  • Once started, the voice recognition is started by pressing a large colored button on the screen, and speaking into the iPhone microphone. You cannot simply speak to the bluetooth microphone, because that microphone isn’t activated until the dialer is invoked.

Until such time as Apple provides a proper voice dialer, the SurfaceSound Compact is a great solution for receiving a call with iPhone.  To place a call legally, however, it seems the only way to do so will be to bring the vehicle to a stop.

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{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Mike June 5, 2009, 4:53 am

    For most people having a bluetooth device that has it's own phone book solves this problem – and in my opinion is much better than voice dialing through a phone.

    I have a contact list like yours – thousands – but in my car I share with my wife maybe 30 or so contacts. The volvo system we are using now is a breeze to add/edit contacts by voice, and works almost flawlessly. absolute hands free – in fact, there is nothing to look at to even think of distracting you. In my opinion this is far better than the high end systems (like Parrot, etc) that I also have (in other cars).

    So – get a bluetooth kit with it's own memory – use it, and don't fumble with your phone. Abides by the law – and for good reason – cause it is safe!

  • Vince June 5, 2009, 5:07 am

    Well… crap. I was considering a switch from Q9h to IPhone in the near future but this is a deal-breaker. Guess IPhone isn't as smart as it thinks it is, if it requires smart bluetooth devices.

    Wonder if I could use the Q as a frontend processor for it?

  • Erik Schwartz June 5, 2009, 2:36 pm

    How about car radios? Or AC and heat? Or power windows? We could interlock with the transmission so the car needs to be in park to operate the windows, radio and AC.

  • Jonathon June 6, 2009, 8:31 pm

    My understanding of the Quebec legislation and I assume the Ontario one as well is that if it is attached to the dashboard (mounted) you are legal but I don’t have any official source to quote on that.

    Can they target aftermarket addon dash mounts? I think that would be a political disaster (targeting the middle/lower class) as most Audi/LandRover/Porche etc come with built in phone interfaces (buttons are part of the dash). Even Honda now offers it as part of the nav option on topend Honda Accords… bluetooth on-wheel controls….

    Can they ticket you for pressing buttons on your dash? steering wheel? Of course not.


  • Sean O Sullivan June 9, 2009, 11:18 pm

    Love the sound of that SurfaceSound product.

    We (Dial2Do) partner with SouthWing who make a CarKit with a single button on the front of it. You push the button and it dials a predefined number.

    In the deal we did with SouthWing (http://www.southwingassistant.com/southwing) – when the user pushes the button, it calls Dial2Do. And then you do your texting, emailing and more by just speaking. We have found many users like this combination – a single button to push and then they can get on with multiple tasks while they drive.

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