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Bluetrek Surface Sound Compact
Using a mobile phone behind the wheel has been illegal for some time now, but despite the threat of a £60 fine, driving license penalty points and - of course - the very real risk of being involved in an accident, many people just don't seem to care. You only have to stand by the side of a busy road for a few minutes to see that.
Perhaps some are put off by the thought of installing a proper kit in their cars - garages charge a fortune for putting in integrated devices. But there's really no need. If you absolutely have to answer the phone while you're driving, Bluetooth headsets and hands-free kits are readily available and very cheap these days. But how do you go about choosing a hands-free kit, when there are so many on the market? A good place to start would be the Parrot Minikit Slim Hugo reviewed recently, but if you can't stretch to £56, then the cheaper, £30 Bluetrek Surface Sound Compact could be just the thing.
As you might expect for a budget device, it's an unassuming piece of kit: just a plain black rectangle, with few distinguishing features. It doesn't look particularly pretty, or ostentatious - though this is probably a good idea for something you're likely to leave in the car on full view.
But that plain exterior hides a host of clever ideas and features. The first thing to point out here is that this isn't designed to stick to the windscreen, like most hands-free Bluetooth kits, but to clip to your sun visor instead. It's an ideal place for a hands-free speaker because it's right in front of you so that the microphone, which neatly hinges down, falls right next to your mouth. As with the Parrot Minikit Slim there are some disadvantages to this approach, namely that if you need to use the sun visor, the speaker and mic end up on the wrong side. But, for the most part, it's an eminently sensible design.
That hinging microphone has a secondary benefit as well. Fold it backwards and, out of the car, you can turn the Surface Sound into a desktop hands-free speakerphone. The boom acts as a kickstand so that the speaker can be propped up on a table in front of you - very handy for setting up impromptu conference calls while you're out and about.
It's simple to use too. Phone calls are answered with a simple button click and the volume can be adjusted easily as well. The controls are situated on the right edge of the device underneath the microphone boom - a rocker for the volume and a single button for answering, hanging up and redialling the last number in your call history. Another nice feature here is that there's no on/off switch to fumble about for; the simple act of swinging down the microphone boom activates the Compact and, vice versa, stowing it away switches it off. Usefully, the Surface Sound has a small collection of voice alerts that tell you what it's doing. It will announce when it's successfully connected to your phone, for example ("handset connected") and it will warn you when the battery is running low too.