Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Review of Parrot CK3000 Evolution handsfree

About a year ago it was time for me to get a new car and I got a Toyota Prius, the touring model. I was happy, but not in love, with the car. When we got some trouble with our Saturn LW300 wagon, that my wife was using as our family car, she "took" the Prius away from me and I was stuck commuting in a large Saturn.

So, in September 2007 I traded in the Saturn and got a new 2008 Honda Civic EX. I really like this car. It drives much more "sportier" than the Prius, although it could use some more horsepower. But the one feature I was missing the most was the integrated Bluetooth hands free. After doing some online research I decided to get the Parrot CK3000 Evolution kit. I considered the Parrot MK6100 because it also supported A2DP streaming audio, but what's not really disclosed in the description of that device, is that the device uses an internal amplifier when you play music. Anyway, since my factory CD player handled mp3, I thought that was good enough. I did also consider the Parrot MK-3100 as it had a small LCD screen, but I decided against it as it would be harder for me to place it in the spot I had planned. And since I do really only get calls from a few friends and my family, I did not think I needed caller id. The Parrot CK3000 Evolution does have "voice" caller ID for the contacts you program up with a voice tag...

I also got a cable kit called "ISO2CAR" that enabled me to install the device without cutting any wires in the car. You have to search the web or go to Parrots home page to find these cable kits.

I found some online descriptions for how to get to the stereo in a 2006 Honda Civic, but as it turns out Honda seems to have changed that part in 2008, so the instructions did not work and I really had no idea on how to get all the screws off to access the stereo. But I found that under the stereo of the 2008 Civic, there's a compartment to hold a phone or iPod or similar and there is an access opening there. It's easy to pop it off and once off, you can actually see the back of the stereo where the cable is attached that I had to get off. If you have a small hand this would probably be much easier, but I had to try for about 30 minutes before I succeeded to remove the cable to the stereo. Then I took my ISO2CAR cable kit and hooked up the parrot kit. I had to spend another 15 minutes to get the other end of the cable kit to hook back into the car stereo. But eventually I got it. I was disappointed to learn that the Honda Civic stereo (at least on the standard cable connector) did not support a mute input. I.e. when a call comes, the stereo will not be paused automatically. It will be "muted" as the Parrot CK3000 Evolution does take over the speakers.

I crammed the cable kit up in the "inspection hole" and by removing the plastic (just pops off) around the shifter, I routed the cable to the handsfree controller and microphone to be placed just at the base of the shifter (I have an automatic, don't know how the manual looks like).

Once you power it up, you "pair it" just like any other Bluetooth device and use the "1234" code. The manual says you can have up to 5 phones in the memory, i.e. when my wife uses my car and my phone is not in the car, the kit will automatically pair to her phone. This is much better than in the Prius, where you have to manually switch to another phone... And supposedly (not tested yet) there should also be priority in the pairing. I.e. the first device you pair, will have higher priority than the others when there are several option (i.e. my phone and my wifes in the car at the same time).

Parrot recommends to put the microphone up by the rear view mirror, but as you can imagine that's quite some cable routing needed to do that. I took a test drive before I put everything in place and compared the audio quality by holding the microphone up by the rear view mirror and then down at the base of the shifter. My wife could not tell the difference when I was driving on the freeway, so I kept the microphone down there and did therefore not need to route the cable in a complex way.

How does it work? Great I think. The voice recognition in the Parrot is really good. Much better than the one in the Prius. To set it up you just enter a menu, it asks you to send a contact from the phone (through bluetooth) and then asks you to say a name associated with the contact. It automatically supports several numbers for the contact, like work/cell/home. Just great. And I can record these when I am not driving, and even of the freeway, there's no problem for it to select the right contact.

I highly recommend this handsfree and I bet all the other Parrot kits are probably using the same basic hardware so they probably work equally as good.