iPhones and driving: Caution in order

The iPhone 3G does a lot of amazing things, but voice dialing isn’t one of them. This means that drivers have to somehow use the virtual keyboard to dial out, a dubious proposition safety-wise.

What makes dialing extra tricky is the iPhone’s lack of raised buttons, which help the tactile figure out where the number keys are located. This hitch gives both iPhones safety issues beyond the usual driving-while-talking problems.

Most decent cell phones have voice dialing. The iPhone, curiously, does not. Ooops. And these guys live in California!

“(Lack of) voice dialing is a serious oversight,” a veteran iPhone owner said in a post on the Apple site. “And dangerous in the car.”

The long-awaited iPhone App Store comes to the rescue, sort of, with the SpeechCloud Voice Dialer, free speech-recognition software. The hitch is, the phone owner has to have prerecorded the contact’s name, as in “Abbot and Costello Inc.” And, the app is really a contact finder that doesn’t actually dial the number, which the driver has to do by tapping the name.

Reviews from users are mixed, most citing problems with accuracy (try talking fast). One reviewer groused about having to look at the iPhone three times: to find and launch the app, to confirm the contact is correct, and the screen-tap for dialing.

“Too bad we have to go through all this to get voice dialing on the most advanced smart phone in the world,” the reviewer said.

You have to pay, but a better solution is on the way: Makayama apparently is waiting for Apple’s technical approval to bring its “Voice Dial for iPhone” into the 3G era. (Watch the iPhone voice-dialer demo.)

One iPhone app using speech recognition on the horizon is the Say Where location finder from an outfit called Dial Directions. Speak an address, intersection or major location and the app gets the information from the usual suspects in directions: MapQuest, Google Maps, etc.

As for hands-free devices, Apple packs a basic wired headset with the iPhone.

It also sells the Apple iPhone Bluetooth Headset at a hefty $129. (The Apple site currently is sold out, but Amazon and many Apple retail stores have it.)

The good things about the pricey headset are a dual-charger for both the iPhone and the headset, with the smart phone monitoring battery status for both devices. The dock synchronizes the iPhone and bluetooth headset without any consumer bother. Just plug them into the dual-dock and watch the Apple magic perform the set-up. There’s also a travel dock.

This being Apple, the headset beats those “Star Trek: Voyager” Bluetooth headsets with a sweet build of black anodized aluminum. There is no ear hook, the skinny stick-like headset hangs on via the tiny speaker nestled in your ear. (A couple of foam covers come with the iPhone — they’re of dubious value.)

This also being Apple, there’s no provision for using a wall socket — the docks come only with a USB port. You can buy a converter for about $30.

Apple promises 5 1/2 hours of talk time and three days of standby on a single full charge. Meaning iPhone and headset will need charging about the same time. The bluetooth headset can be used on other phones, but with the usual minor set-up hassles.

Users’ primary complaints seem to be the price, the lack of noise-cancellation and the lack of a volume control. On the plus side, well it’s Apple cool and connected.

The knowledgeable iStore guy I spoke with in L.A. also recommended two other bluetooth headsets, both conveniently for sale in the shop. Users praise both for their audio quality, boosted by noise-cancellation circuitry.

  • The Plantronics Voyager 520, at about half the price of the iPhone Bluetooth, has that goofy look but gets good marks from users and CNET. The device allows for volume control, redial, mute, all functions missing from the Apple headset. The Plantronics AudioIQ technology holds down the wind/background noise. Battery life is put at 8 hours for chatting and about a week for standby.
  • The Plantronics Discovery 925 has a cool but odd look, kind of like a tie clip; a fit that users seem to like; and a faux leather carrying case that holds an extra battery.

    It too comes with that good noise-canceling encoding, a volume control and an answer/end button.

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