Talking on the phone while driving has become an institution on our highways, and doing so while trying to negotiate a high-profile motorhome presents a whole new set of safety issues. Many states have outlawed talking directly into a cellphone while driving, and for good reason: Most drivers can’t multitask without creating some kind of a hazard on the road. The Parrot MINIKIT Smart not only allows us to keep in touch safely while driving, it also provides a platform for using our cellphones for navigation purposes.
The Parrot device is a Bluetooth-enabled, hands-free charging station for most of the current data phones on the market. For our test, that meant popping our iPhone 4 into the cradle by activating the spring-loaded clamp. The phone is held securely into the cradle that also houses the controls – a dial to activate the menu functions and a rocker switch with a red and green LED. Also in this base component are the USB and mini USB ports and the microphone, which can be pulled uniquely from its dock and moved closer to the driver’s voice path, if necessary. Clips are included for mounting the microphone on the visor or dash. In most cases, the microphone will work fine when left in its dock.
Positioning in the motorhome or dinghy vehicle is pretty straightforward. An articulating bracket with a large suction cup can be attached to any smooth surface, like glass or plastic. In our case, we stuck the supplemental mounting disk to the top of the dashboard using the attached sticky tape. The bracket is then suction-cupped to the disk, which worked perfectly. Once the bracket is adjusted to driver preference, it can be locked down with the supplied Allen wrench. The cradle can be disconnected by pushing the tabs on the back.
The phone will need to be paired to the device, which takes only seconds. Your phone book will be automatically synchronized to the device the first time it’s turned on and will update each time it’s connected, which is automatic as long as the phone’s Bluetooth function is turned on. Two thousand contacts can be stored in the device and up to 10 phones can be paired (check website for compatibility).
When a call is received the Parrot announces the caller. Audio comes from a 2-inch speaker, which is very clear and loud. To make a call, push the left rocker switch and you’ll be prompted for a voice command, which will lead to the call. This is a nice feature, but there were issues with the device understanding my commands, leading to misdialing. You can also use the rotary knob to access your phone book in alphabetical order. Once the name is called out, you simply push the button to make the call. This function worked better.
A big part of this device’s appeal is the ability to use your navigation application in similar fashion as a dedicated GPS device. We found this feature indispensable for listening to navigation commands.
The cradle can be charged from the coach’s 12-volt DC power port adapter using the USB cable, or be connected to any computer. Updated software is available online; the device should be updated before first use. If you have a Mac, this process is more difficult and will require the use of a flash drive to store the information and then transfer to the device. Battery life can be up to a week of standby, but that will depend on how much of the 10-hour talk time you use. It takes about two hours for a full charge. The phone can also be charged while in the cradle using the supplied pigtails or your existing USB cable, but the cradle must be plugged into the coach’s power port.
For me, the MINIKIT Smart is a great alternative to wearing an earpiece while driving. Once you acclimate to the controls and functions, the Parrot will certainly make chatting on the road much more safe – and navigation more convenient. It retails for $130.