SuperTooth HD: The Bluetooth Car Speakerphone We’ve Been Waiting For
Bluetooth is one of those old technologies that somehow still seems cool. I don’t know if it’s the name or the fact that anything wireless seems to be a huge win, but Bluetooth has always seemed cutting edge even though it came to market back in 1994, originally developed by Ericsson to eliminate the need for computer data cables. Fast forward almost two decades and, after many attempts to put Bluetooth to use for practically every application under the sun, it still primarily functions in hands-free call devices, either via a headset, speakerphone or some kind of integrated wireless hardware inside a vehicle.
The SuperTooth HD is a device that takes Bluetooth technology (now on Version 3.0) and truly makes it seem like it’s version 2012. The noise-cancelling microphone does an excellent job of removing wind and road noise as well as errant sounds. Incoming calls benefit from spoken caller ID and you can even answer or decline based on spoken commands. But things really get interesting when you access capabilities such as Tweeting, updating your Facebook status or checking e-mail, all via your voice. It even offers multi-point pairing, so you can have two phones connected to it at once. This is all pretty awesome for a visor-mounted speakerphone.
The device itself is beefy but still elegant. It mounts in portrait orientation using a magnetic visor clip that allows for easy detachment for jobs like plugging in the supplied 12-volt USB to the micro charger. At the very front (or rear–which is confusing) is a large speaker grill. A sturdy illuminated volume dial makes it easy to adjust the sound, but somehow I always forget which direction to turn it; it can also be used as a button to activate voice command. Below that are two LED indicators that show the Bluetooth connection and power status. Moving back, there is a small power button that is flush mounted. And behind that is a larger, raised envelope icon that activates the “Handsfree Assistant”. These main controls and indicators are surrounded by a brushed gunmetal metallic plate. The soft LED lighting automatically dims at night which is a nice touch.
As I mentioned, the device could use some sort of indicator to tell you which end should face towards you. I assumed that the speaker should point inwards but it’s actually the reverse as the pinhole microphone that handles voice pickup sits on the opposite rounded end. And I actually used it the wrong way for a bit until I took a second look at the orientation of the letters on the unit and realized my error.
The spec sheet lists standby time at 1,000 hours and talk time at 20 hours. In practice, the talk time number seems pretty close and charging from a dead battery takes about 3 hours. If the device remains unpaired and idle it will power off by itself, telling you as much with an air of slight indignation. The sound quality of this device is extremely impressive and probably one of its best selling points regardless of its other significant benefits. My usual gripe is that either a speakerphone isn’t loud enough or that once you increase the volume you loose clarity. Neither of these are issues with the SuperTooth. And the noise filtering technology does a really good job of eliminating the usual frustration of callers having to cope with the other party talking on the dreaded Bluetooth device. One particular nicety is that the SuperTooth HD can function as an A2DP audio streaming device, allowing you the option of listening to music or audiobooks. And the fact that the speaker is so solid actually makes this a pleasant experience.
When you first power up the SuperTooth HD, you are given a choice between the King’s English, American English or a French woman for all voice prompts. Do yourself a favor and choose anything but American English, which is delivered in such a droll manner that you get sad every time the thing speaks. Pairing happens better than any device I’ve come across with prompts that walk you through the entire process. In my case, I had to enter in a 4-digit PIN but there is an expedited function for certain smartphones that bypasses this formality. When pairing is complete the device downloads your entire address book, giving you a status report on how far along it is at various intervals. Once everything is all set, incoming calls get announced via Caller ID and you can either say “Answer” or “Reject.”
One of this product’s biggest strengths is also its biggest weakness. SuperTooth has a partnership with the folks at Dial2Do so that they can offer a whole host of voice-to-text features that go above and beyond the other offerings in the marketplace under the auspices of a “Handsfree Assistant”. Basically, once you press the envelope button, the unit dials a number and you tell it whether you want to “Send a Text,” “Facebook,” “Send an Email,” or “Twitter.” This is where Dial2Do works its magic and handles the conversion of your voice into a text that is delivered through one of these services (which also have to be set up separately via the Dial2Do website or an app). The system works surprisingly well if you talk slowly in proper English and it does usually attach the original message as well as an audio file.
The downside here is that the Dial2Do service is really a separate offering for which there is an initial trial period (either 6 months or a year depending upon whether you use the special code). After that you will have to pony up $40 per year for the basic service or $60 for the pro offering. The set-up part is another issue. There is actually a Dial2Do app for Blackberry (seriously?) and Android but not for iPhone (huh?). Alternatively, on the website, contacts can be imported from Gmail, AOL, Microsoft Outlook, Skydeck, Yahoo Mail and Windows Live. Dial2Do recommends that you provide the full name, email address and phone number for each contact at a bare minimum when doing manual entry. Sending text may be a joy but receiving it is usually less so. As mentioned before, the voice is so flat that even exciting news like your friend just having a baby sounds like a funeral announcement.
So, while the Dial2Do service is a cool addition, it comes with a burden that many will not want to take on, save for those long commuters or time-challenged individuals who may be okay with the additional fees. The SuperTooth HD retails for $129.00 so you are already paying somewhat of a premium. The good news is that even without Dial2Do, this device is a rock star, with a steller speakerphone that does an excellent job with both voice and music. Sure, the American English personality could be a little friendlier when interacting, but it’s not a shop stopper. And the device is so snappy at connecting that almost every time I return to my car and jump into the driver’s seat, it has already connected before I’ve even gotten behind the wheel.
The SuperTooth HD is ultimately a terrific offering–heads above the competition — and the one that I’m personally recommending to friends and family.