By on March 13, 2017

Motorola Sonic Rider Bluetooth Speakerphone Kit

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.

Motorola Sonic Rider Bluetooth Speakerphone Kit

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.

Motorola Sonic Rider Bluetooth Speakerphone Kit

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.

Motorola Sonic Rider Bluetooth Speakerphone Kit

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.

What would you do with a $500 eBay Gift Card? We’re giving away three of them. Here’s how to enter to win.

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13 Comments on “The 18-Year-Old Auto Upgrade: Bluetooth Speaker – Motorola Sonic Rider...”

  • avatar

    “While arguably still distracting” Not arguable – is distracting.

    • 0 avatar

      so is drinking a coffee or listening to and answering your passengers question.

      the real question is percentages.

      And I simply don’t believe or trust the numbers given here.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for this story.
      I am always looking for news like this.
      Looking forward to researching these and your next finding.

  • avatar

    This article is a flashback to my junk bin of bluetooth speakers. None of them worked worth a darn.

    • 0 avatar

      You want to use the “aux in” if the car has one. A $40 bluetooth button to Aux, make sure the microphone is well placed, wonderful.

      Lots of older cars had something called a “CD Changer”. If your car could change CD’s, there are a lot of bluetooth modules that will be your “CD Changer” and give you wired sound.

      All of these speakers are junk, sorry. Aux In or CD Changer in, with a hard wire for power.

    • 0 avatar

      My Jabra worked very well… until it suddenly stopped working entirely. The quality from its speakers (it supported stereo music, which I didn’t use) was very good, and I never had to turn it off because it went to sleep on its own when I got out of the car and could run for weeks on a charge. The one negative was that it didn’t come with text-reading software, which I had to fill in with a third party. My CD player also died, so I bought a Kenwood with the hopes of replacing both functions, but the Kenwood suffers from engineering stupidity in that it only plays back sound from your phone when it’s switched to Bluetooth for audio input. This not only makes it useless for reading texts (unless you don’t mind never using your sound system for anything else), but if you use your phone for navigation it will still be hooked up to the Kenwood and thus you completely lose all the audio instructions. In conclusion, the Kenwood is only useful for phone calls.

      • 0 avatar

        “the Kenwood suffers from engineering stupidity in that it only plays back sound from your phone when it’s switched to Bluetooth for audio input”

        Well, it’d be awkward if it did anything else, since then you’d have a nice overlay of two sources without independent level control.

        (I am unclear as to why you’d lose audio instructions while using the phone for nav, though, since it ought to be … outputting that to the head unit?)

      • 0 avatar

        In Waze there is a setting to always have the app output to the phone’s speaker even if it is connected to a Bluetooth device. Not sure if other nav apps offer that or not.

  • avatar

    “..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. ”

    As a former Jaguar owner, I can tell you that when you’re broke down on the side of the road, you don’t need a hands-free phone.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    I had a precursor to the Sonic rider that was made by Motorola. It worked well enough for about eight months before it completely died. Sine it was still under warranty, I sent it back to Motorola for repair/replacement. Instead of fixing it or giving me the same model, Motorola sent me a GPS with built in bluetooth. This too worked well, but required me to keep the GPS online in order to use the bluetooth. I ended up mounting it on the dash which was cleaner looking than mounting it on the windshield.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    My Motorola T305 Bluetooth speakerphone, $5 on an Internet door crasher special ten years ago, still works like a charm.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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