Hands-free Hassle: Tips on Buying a Handsfree Device

Illinois-Cell-Phone-Use-Sign-NHE-25777-Illinois_300As of January 1, 2014, the State of Illinois has mandated that cell phone calls be made with hands-free technology in a moving vehicle. Since I live in Illinois, I have received many questions about hands-free devices, such as bluetooth headsets. While I would love to be able to answer this question as simply as possible, the reality is that the choice of a hands-free device is a very personal decision with many factors above and beyond the core technology, such as fit and style. So I will give a few general tips for anyone considering a hands-free device.

Whatever method you use to go handsfree, make sure you throughly test your device, especially if you plan on using the device for business. It is not very professional to carry on a conversation where your client can’t understand you. Whatever device you test, make sure you test it driving around various noise levels such as city driving and highway driving. Besides simply calling friends and family to get their opinion on how you sound, another way to test is to place various calls to your own voicemail and leave recordings so you can listen to them later. Make sure you leave at least 30-second messages with combinations of talking mixed in with silence so you get a good variety to listen to.

Most hands-free devices such as headsets use a wireless technology called Bluetooth. For most people this will be fine, but I know some people do not want to use Bluetooth. In that case, it is possible for you to use a wired headset in the car. Just note that in the State of Illinois (and some other states) it is illegal to drive a car with earbuds in BOTH ears. One ear is fine, but two is not. So if you want to use a wired headset, you’ll need to leave one ear bud dangling down. Using your phone on speaker is also an option, but be very careful about road noise issues.

Before you run off and buy something, know that many newer cars have Bluetooth built in so it may be possible to configure your car itself to be your hands-free device. Check with your owner’s manual or dealer where you bought your car if you aren’t sure. Additionally, some aftermarket car radios have a Bluetooth function. Connecting your phone to your car’s Bluetooth system also has the advantage of the car muting the radio when a call comes in. If your car has Bluetooth, that can be a very simple way to go hands-free. However, there are a couple of potential issues to keep in mind. Depending on the quality of the car’s system, it may pick up a lot of road noise, especially at high speed. Also, keep in mind that if you have passengers in your car, your calls will not be private unless you have another hands-free device.

Regardless of what you want to buy, make sure that where you are buying it from has a liberal return policy. The reality is that you may need to test a few devices before you find one you really like. Stores should have a customer satisfaction policy where you can return your device if you simply do not like the way it performs, the way it fits, or even the way it looks on you. For example, Best Buy has a standard 15-day return policy. That should probably be enough time to thoroughly test out your device, but if you think you’ll need more time than that, you may want to shop around. Personally speaking, I prefer to shop locally for Bluetooth headsets since I can just take them back to the store rather than dealing with the hassle of shipping. If you have a store like a Best Buy near you, it will probably be best to purchase from a store like that. However, there are many cell phone accessory stores that have a good selection and return policy so shop around.

If you really don’t want a headset, there are hands-free kits that can install in your car. As with built-in Bluetooth, road noise may be a factor and your calls won’t be private. Here is a good example of a hands-free car kit.

When it comes to headsets, the two main styles are in-ear and around-the-ear (also called behind-the-ear). In-ear styles tend to be smaller and can be more stable fitting, but finding a good fit can be difficult. Around-the-ear styles tend to be easy to fit, but they can move around some and are more bulky. What’s best for you? I can’t answer that for you. You’ll need to test and decide for yourself. I personally prefer in-ear styles, since I like the headset to stay stable in my ear and not be as bulky.

When it comes to price, look for value more than price. The cheap headsets may not work well enough to be worth your time, but it probably is not necessary to spend $150 or more. Find a model with good noise reduction and good battery life.

I’ve been using a Bluetooth headset for many years now, so I have some experience with various devices. Personally, I’ve been using the Jawbone Era for a couple of years. It is more expensive than an average Bluetooth headset, but I have had very good luck with it. I also combine it with a YurBud aftermarket ear gel for a tight fit in my ear, but unfortunately YurBud doesn’t sell just their ear gels anymore. However, I did find a similar product from Jabra that is a replacement ear gel for the Jawbone Era. If you are as nit-picky about your headset as I am, this might be the combination for you.

Shopping for a hands-free device can be a bit of a pain, but ultimately it is a much safer way to use your phone in your car, not to mention a lot more convenient. And if the new law in Illinois gets you down, cheer up – the state has also raised the speed limit on most Interstates!

If you have any questions about hands-free, Bluetooth, or phone technology, please don’t hesitate to contact me right away!