How can I safely use my iPhone 5 when I'm driving?
May 24, 2014 8:03 AM   Subscribe

I want to make and receive calls when I'm driving, but I want to do it as safely as possible. I've tried two different Bluetooth devices, and they were both terrible.

First, I bought this Motorola T505 in-car speakerphone. It got great reviews on Amazon, but I found it to be hard to use. The buttons are awkwardly placed, it takes a long time to power-up, the sound quality isn't very good, and I hate fighting with the thing when I hear a call coming in. What's also annoying is that the device has incredible range, so when I forget to turn it off at the end of my car trip (which I often do), my phone continues to be connected to it when I'm inside my house.

Recently, I bought these GOgroove AirBand Bluetooth Stereo Headphones. The sound quality is significantly better than the Motorola speakerphone, but they share many of the other problems: the headphones are very slow to turn on (you have to press-and-hold the power button for an inordinately long amount of time), they often don't pair automatically with my phone, and I fear for my own life (and the lives of other drivers) when I have to fumble with them inside the car. I've given up on using them.

My car is old, has air leaks that make whistling noises, and is generally noisy inside the cabin. The speakerphone in my iPhone doesn't work well for me, and I need some sort of external device.

Any recommendations for something that is simple to use and has decent sound quality? It doesn't even have to be wireless: I can deal with wired headphones, if necessary.
posted by akk2014 to Technology (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Given that you want to do it as safely as possible, my advice is not to make phone calls when driving. Studies show that talking on the phone, whether on a handset or using a hands-free device, greatly increases the risk of an accident by distracting the driver.

See for instance this summary of several recent studies.

Your first responsibility is to yourself, the occupants of your car, and other people on the road.

Wait for self-driving cars.
posted by pguertin at 8:13 AM on May 24, 2014 [26 favorites]

Before I got integral bluetooth in my car (which is a dream to use but it is a more modern car by the sound of it) I always just used to use the standard iphone earphones for calls. So much so that I use them when I am working as well as it is more comfortable than holding the phone (especially while making notes or typing stuff in/surfing).

They are plenty loud, but don't block out background noise (I never find this an issue even in noisy environments, though) but they work really well. Just plug them in when you get in your car and they're easy to get at least the one with the mic on it in your ear before the phone rings out.
posted by Brockles at 8:23 AM on May 24, 2014

I use this Motorola hands-free bluetooth speakerphone, and while it's not perfect, it does a pretty decent job. We have one in each car. It will link two phones at the same time, and you can make, answer and hang up calls by voice command. I keep it plugged into the cigarette lighter, but you wouldn't have to.
posted by summerstorm at 8:27 AM on May 24, 2014

If you are using headphones that noticeably cover both your ears while you are driving, I am pretty sure it is not the making and losing of phone calls that should be your primary concern, as there are many jurisdictions in the US where you will be fined for creating extremely hazardous driving conditions. Wired headphones would likely be even more dangerous if the cord tangles around a hand and prevents you from steering in an emergency situation.

A speakerphone is far safer, although any kind of distracted driving is pretty unsafe.
posted by elizardbits at 9:01 AM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

What pguertin said. It's the conversation itself that's distracting, not having to use one's hands. Please don't make or receive calls while driving.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:32 AM on May 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Mod note: One comment deleted; at this point please assume the "don't make calls while driving at all" advice has been offered. Let's stick to answers about handsfree solutions that work well. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:44 AM on May 24, 2014

Best answer: The mic'ed headphones that come with the phone (similar to these) are decent for hands-free calls. Use Siri to place the calls for you. Leave one bud out of your ear, so that you can hear some of what's going on around you.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:53 AM on May 24, 2014

Best answer: I don't like the standard iphone earbuds, so I have a different earbud/mic cable. I tuck the earbud with the mic on the wire into one ear and tuck the other into my shirt at the neck (so it doesn't get in the way and so I still have one ear completely unobstructed) and use the wired headset. It lets me use the phone and interact with siri while driving (or paused at a stop light) if I want, and if I need to pull over to the side of the road to futz with the phone or have a long phone call or text or something, I don't have to adjust the headset at all.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:54 AM on May 24, 2014

Best answer: Before I got my new car with Siri Eyes Free, I would use the stock wired headphones that came with my iPhone. Use Siri and the button on the mic to make calls, use the button to accept calls. Where I live it is illegal to have headphones in both ears while driving (or riding a bike) so I'd just keep the right earbud in place.

A benefit of using old school wired headphones is the call quality will probably sound better to whoever you're talking to. I've hung up on people that call me from shitty third party handsfree devices ("call me when you get out of the wind tunnel!").
posted by birdherder at 10:58 AM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I scored a slightly older revision of one of these at a thrift store that my coworker instantly bought off me.

I was really REALLY impressed with it. It's loud as hell, responsive, and on the receiving end of the call you couldn't hear any noise... and he drives a leaky old volvo 240, or a whiny old honda wagon with like 300k miles on it that makes all kinds of wonderful noises even when it's just idling. For what it's worth, i drive a 66 V8 plymouth that's not quiet, and it was perfectly usable in that car... going 65mph on the freeway... with a window open a bit.

There's also a beefier version if you want to get truly loud.

Headphones while driving are illegal in many places, and headsets annoy me. You can just leave that thing in your car all the time and charge it from the lighter socket occasionally.
posted by emptythought at 12:58 PM on May 24, 2014

I spend a great deal of my job driving from one place to another. To make the most of the time behind the wheel, I've invested in the Plantronics Voyager Legend. I have experimented with at least 4 other bluetooth devices and two different wired mic'd headsets and the Legend is the best, by far. It has excellent audio quality for calls, music, or audiobooks. I use it with a Nexus 4, which allows me to (hands-free) answer incoming calls by saying "Answer" and make calls by saying "Ok Google, call Joe Schmoe." I'm sure Siri allows similar functionality. When I'm not using it, I keep it in the Voyager Legend Charge Case. Hope this is useful! Good luck!
posted by andythebean at 1:24 PM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you want a new car radio, that is what I did for both my cars. No comparison! Keep an eye out for a suitable bluetooth-equipped one on sale.
posted by GeeEmm at 1:42 PM on May 24, 2014

Like GeeEmm above, I bought a bluetooth-enabled car radio and it is SO GREAT, not just for phone but for music as well. For some reason I had it in my head that it would cost many hundreds of dollars, but I got a better-than-basic model at Best Buy that was less than $200 including installation. I kept the radio that came with my car so I have the option of swapping it back in when I sell.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:33 PM on May 24, 2014

andythebean has the answer. You need the sort of bluetooth headset/mic that bajillions of other daily commuters use everyday. They are the proven solutions.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:36 PM on May 24, 2014

Another person here who got a new head unit (stereo) for the car. If you have an older car then there's some hope that you have a standardized dashboard slot, in which case replacement is dead easy. This is the one I got (great sound quality, dependent on your existing speakers, microphone quality is OK-decent depending on where you run the [wired] microphone to). I paid 160$ for it and did the installation myself--you need an off the shelf wiring harness that matches your car, crimp (butt) connectors, and the removal "tool" for your current stereo (a little metal doohicky that unhooks the stereo).

I would also recommend that you mount your phone on the dash and install a car home screen app with easy dialer features to make outgoing calls if you plan to call more than a few people. The physical buttons on the radio are easy to use for answering incoming calls or calling a few recent/frequent numbers.
posted by anaelith at 8:23 PM on May 24, 2014

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