Hands-free tech: the basics

Bluetooth headset image for cell phone law postYes, you’ll look like an extra on “Star Trek.” No, people will not think you’re hip or cutting-edge. In fact, you just may be mistaken for a crazy person.

The Bluetooth era has begun in earnest, as California’s car culture is forced into buying hands-free devices in order to continue using cellular phones in their vehicles. The California cell phone laws went into effect July 1, 2008. State after state, we’ll see drivers confronting the same prohibitions on yakking while motoring.

There are, of course, lower-priced options to Bluetooth’s 100 percent wireless technology, such as dirt-cheap headsets with old-school wires and speakers that attach to window visors. We’ll get to those. But for now, let’s hit the Blue notes.

Bluetooth headsets for cell phones

Both the cell phone and the headset must be Bluetooth-ready. Most cell phones come that way these days, but not all of them. Popular phones with Bluetooth include the LG Vu CU920 (AT&T), the BlackBerry 8100 Pearl (T-Mobile) and the Samsung U900 FlipShot Black Phone (Verizon).

Bluetooth headsets list from about $150 (the Aliph Jawbone Noise Shield Bluetooth Headset) down to $50 or so (Plantronics Explorer 330). These headsets are widely discounted. The typical $120 Bluetooth headset goes for about $70 or less.

Feeling left out? There are Bluetooth adapters for cell phones (and other mobile products such as iPods), in all sorts of shapes and sizes. You’ll be spending money for something that’ll be in the trash once your next cell phone purchase looms, but it beats a couple of tickets.

Not into “Star Trek”? How about looking like the Time Life operator? Boom headsets come with microphone bars that reach around your cheek for greater clarity when you’re speaking. There also are retractable models, which allow for greater comfort (and less geekiness) when not using your cell.

Of course there are old-style wire headsets, which are practically given away these days (you can have mine). Don’t pay more than $10 bucks for these or you’ll look dumber than a guy we just saw at Ralph’s with a blinking earpiece, talking to his Diet Coke.

Speaking of luxury vehicles, some come Bluetooth ready, so you can broadcast your calls over the auto’s stereo (OK, surround) system.

Another option is to have a cell phone speakerphone attached to the visor. These run $50 and up.

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