The 18-Year-Old Auto Upgrade: Bluetooth Speaker - Motorola Sonic Rider
Safety experts generally agree that shutting off your phone altogether while behind the wheel is the safest way to travel, but the reality is that just isn’t going to happen for many drivers. In spite of thousands of deaths and close to a half million injuries chalked up to distracted driving every year, we are a society largely addicted to our phones.
But experts also agree going hands free is a safer option than handling a phone on the go, and most newer vehicles now have Bluetooth so drivers can keep their eyes on the road and use voice commands to make and receive calls. While arguably still distracting, hands-free calls are a better idea than punching keys at highway speeds, when a car travels the length of a football field in about five seconds — coincidentally, the average length of time it takes to read or send a text message.
For owners of vehicles without built-in Bluetooth, there are all kinds of aftermarket solutions available, from small units with a microphone and speaker that clip to a sun visor and cost as little as $20, to replacement head units that will set you back hundreds of dollars or more. For the purposes of this exercise, we looked at the former for their ease of installation and low cost.
This series details some technological features you can add to your old ride to make it on par with new OEM offerings. We’ll take you through what products are available, how they work, and what they cost. We’re starting with nine products available from the automotive aftermarket provided by our sponsor eBay, who has also graciously offered up three $500 gift cards. We’ve independently made our product choices based on ease of DIY installation, popularity, favorable reviews from other sources and users, and brand recognition with websites and readily available customer support.
Oh, and we’re installing all these upgrades on a 1999 Acura TL with 152,000 miles.
After covering phone mounts with the iOttie Easy One Touch 2, it’s time to take on Bluetooth speakerphone kits by digging into the Motorola Sonic Rider.
The Motorola Sonic Rider is typical of such clip-on Bluetooth speakerphones in that it’s compact and lightweight, clips easily onto a visor where it’s close by yet out of the way, carries an internal speaker and microphone, and includes a rechargeable battery power cords can be left by the wayside. Reasonably priced and widely available, we found ours listed on eBay starting at $28.99.
Motorola claims its Sonic Rider has a 45-hour talk time and the capability of holding a charge for up to six months. Both are features to look for in any such device to minimize the need for a power cord dangling in your face while it hangs from your visor. When a charge is needed, its included power cord can plug into your vehicle’s 12V power outlet. And yes, it still works if dropped into a console bin or cupholder while charging.
We found pairing easy, much like connecting a smartphone to any car equipped with factory Bluetooth, and it’s actually quicker to pair than some cars I’ve tested. Turn on your phone’s Bluetooth, power up the Sonic Rider, and wait while they find each other. The whole process took a few seconds with an iPhone 6, and reconnecting is a simple matter of pressing the call button on the Sonic Rider twice upon returning to the car. The Motorola can support up to two devices, and pairing the second followed the same procedure as the first.
Controls are simple, consisting of an on-off switch, and buttons to raise or lower volume; make, answer, or end a call; and mute. All are large enough to easily operate underway and without looking at the device. To place a call, you press the call button and then can either ask for a name from your phone book or recite a phone number. The Motorola Sonic Rider announces incoming calls with a recitation of the number calling, which is helpful only to those rare individuals who still remember anybody’s phone number. You can always cheat and look at your phone’s screen, but that kind of defeats the purpose of the whole hands-free thing.
Sound quality is decent enough from the 2-watt speaker, and arguably better than that of the iPhone itself. People on the other end of the line said they could hear me just fine, and the Sonic Rider is equipped with echo and noise reduction to help block road noise. While perhaps not as clear as calls piped through a 12-speaker audio system, I was never asked to repeat myself or found myself saying, “Whazzat?” to callers. The device can also be used to play music stored on your phone or an MP3 player, but again, don’t expect high-end audio quality. Instead, expect quality more akin to an old transistor radio. Hey, it’s $25 bucks.
If you make a lot of calls on the road, an inexpensive Bluetooth speakerphone like the Motorola Sonic Rider makes a lot of sense, especially if your car is old enough that it not only lacks built-in Bluetooth but tends to break down a lot necessitating frequent calls for assistance. When combined with a dash or windshield mount for your phone, you can still use the phone for navigation, and to see caller ID. You’ll also get better sound clarity from this than speakerphones stuck to the windshield.
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For less than $25, I bought a little gadget that plugs into the lighter and connects to the phone via Bluetooth and to the car's stereo through an FM transmitter. It works beautifully as I was able to make a call in my 1990 Miata with the top down and the people on the other end (amazingly) had no trouble hearing me. It also allows me to play music from my phone on my two older cars that have working FM radios and the sound quality is amazingly good. I just chose an empty frequency and matched the device to it. I used one of my radio presets for that frequency so I could quickly switch the speakers in. The microphone's effectiveness will obviously vary by where the lighter plug is located, but it works surprisingly well in my two cars. I had first bought a less expensive one but the sound for music sounded horrible.
I'll be looking for a waterproof bluetooth speaker for tossing in my 1962 Jeep when I finally get it back on the road. But I don't think this would be anywhere near loud enough as the only top the Jeep has is a Bikini Top. No doors either. I also need to get a waterproof 12v recepticle/power point soon, though most of them seem to just be rubber plugs jammed in the hole. If anybody has any suggestions let me know, thanks.