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Hands on ... Parrot hands-free car kits

With smartphones now acting as jukeboxes, sat-navs and, occasionally, phones, it's increasingly important that they work seamlessly in cars.

To that end French wireless technology specialist Parrot has almost a dozen in-car Bluetooth gadgets, from simple visor-mounted speakers to complete systems that integrate with the car stereo and speakers.

I tested the range-topping MKi9200, which combines a 2.4-inch colour screen with a wireless control unit that can be mounted on the dashboard or directly on to the steering wheel. The brain of the system is a separate black box which can be installed behind the dashboard or in the glove-box.

Phone calls work brilliantly using the Parrot. The dual microphones pick up conversations cleanly without any road noise, while the other party is relayed clearly through the front speakers of the car stereo. Voice recognition is surprisingly good, requiring no training or adjustments to understand a Scottish accent. In testing it reliably picked out the correct people to call whenever I asked for them by name, automatically asking which number to call – home, office or mobile – when a contact had multiple numbers. Synchronisation with the phone's address book is automatic each time you start the car, so it couldn't be easier.

There is a number of ways to play music through the Parrot. Most phones, including the iPhone and mainstream Android handsets, can stream music wirelessly to the system via Bluetooth. Alternatively, gadgets can be connected via USB, a headphone-style line-in cable or using a 30-pin Apple dock connector for older iPods and iPhones, all of which are included.

After a week of daily use, I've settled on using a Bluetooth connection for phone calls and sat-nav commands while a cheap USB memory stick (around £10) stores more than 400 albums permanently in the car without the need to dedicate an iPod to those duties. Music selection, volume and tone control is all done via the MKi9200's screen.

If the car has steering wheel audio controls those buttons are ignored by the standard Parrot system, but an add-on interface (around £100) allows full control of the system from the steering wheel buttons on most cars.

My only criticism of the MKi9200 is that it could be a target for theft. The screen can be removed from the dashboard fairly easily but to do so after each trip might be a hassle, and you could be tempted to leave it in situ. Career criminals would presumably know the screen is useless without the hard-to-remove control box, but opportunist thieves might not be so wise.

Anyone worried about the theft risk might be better served by the MKi9100. Around £20 cheaper, this model shares almost all the features of its big brother but has a smaller, more discreet dot matrix screen.

Positives Simple to use, reliable and sounds fantastic.

Negatives Removable screen could be a target for thieves.

grant.gibson@heraldandtimes.co.uk

Twitter: @grant_gibson

Contextual targeting label: 
Automotive

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