Operating your mobile device while driving is not the safest thing in the world to do. Despite how well you think you can multitask, you are nowhere near as good as you think you are, and fumbling with your phone to dial a number is just a quick ticket to a Darwin award. Even the police have deemed this an unsafe practice; and if they catch you, you might find yourself on the receiving end of some punishment. The Parrot Minikit Neo is a great way to eliminate this problem, creating a voice-activated control platform from which to initiate and receive your calls – and more.
The first thing that I noticed about the Parrot Minikit Neo was the sleek shape and relatively light weight. The curved nature of the Neo allows it to slip onto your car’s sun visor – and the tension caused by the curve makes the pressure ideal to keep it there (for most visors). Just past the apex of the curve, on the longer side, there are two different indicators (one red and one blue), and a dial right in the centre of the unit. Below the indicator lights and the knob is the 3-Watt speaker. On one side of the curve, adjacent to the indicators is a micro USB jack; on the other side is the power switch. The final noteworthy physical feature is located just above the knob, towards the curve of the Neo: the multi-directional microphone.
In terms of ease-of use, you can’t really go wrong with the Neo. Pairing it to my Blackberry Bold via Bluetooth didn’t take any time at all – and there was still “room” for pairing with nine other devices. If your device supports near-field-communication, it’s even easier: just tap your phone to the Neo and you’re off to the races. For accessing things like the phone book, battery life and other useful information, one would turn to the dial (or turn the dial, really). It is quite handily placed; easy to access, it allows you the ability to control the volume, and it can give you information with a few twists and a push. The Neo also pairs with your phone book (up to 2,000 entries per device) and presents menu options vocally, making it easy to pay attention to the road. The Neo can also pair with two devices simultaneously, with priority going to the first device to connect.
Simple lines. Strong grip. Handy!
The real utility of the Neo lies in its voice control and text-to-speech ability. By speaking the word “Minikit” clearly, the phone will ask you who you want to call. You dictate the contact name to the Neo, and it will dial the number for you. If your contact has more than one number, the Neo will ask you which one you want to dial based on the category. Incoming calls are handled in almost the same way. The phone will ring and the Neo will announce who is calling using the text-to-speech function. If you want to take the call, you say “accept”; if not, just say “reject”. It’s easy peasy – and if you don’t want to use the “magic words” function, incoming and outgoing functionality can be turned on or off – and they are independent of one another.
Battery life for the Neo is outstanding. I did not have the unit to test the claim that it can hold a charge for 6 months in “deep sleep mode” (which is activated after a period of inactivity); nor did I push it to the limit to see if it could last for 10 hours of talk time on a full charge. I can say, though, that I never had to recharge it for the entire two weeks that I had it, and the fact that it could wake up from sleep mode just by the movement of the car door (it detects vibrations) was pretty cool – especially considering how quickly it paired with my phone upon activation.
Audio quality from the speaker wasn’t too bad. I found that while the unit’s panel speaker did a really great job with voice delivery, it didn’t have the most dynamic range. Voices delivered through the Neo are crisp and clear – but they lack bass. The microphone boasts a digital signal processor (DSP) to help make the most of your vocal input. It did a really great job (I left myself some voicemail from the car), and background noises were minimal. I did find that the multi-direction microphone, while good, did a better job when aimed at my mouth – otherwise I found that my voice sounded “tinny”. This observation was verified by other folks that I had conversations with while I was using the Neo to converse with them.
The tension created by the shape allows it to stay stuck to your visor.
While handy, the text-to-speech and voice recognition still have a way to go in terms of pronunciation of words. I don’t think this is a limitation of the Neo, per se; I think that it’s a general failing of text-to-speech from a wide range of devices. Quite a few of the names in my directory were butchered to fair extent. If your phone has its own voice-recognition app, then you can disable the Neo’s and use your own. The Neo also seems to be keyed to adult voices, as it had no problem with my commands, but would not acknowledge the voice of Smallest Thumb.
I was unable to test out the functionality with an iOS or Android phone (as I have neither of those). Suffice to say that the app makes the Neo even more accessible, and even has some neat functions like a parking timer, a car finder (the app records the last known paired location), as well as an automatic SMS “leave me alone I’m driving” message answering service. You can also listen to music on your phone and use your voice to activate the navigation. Ah, to have an iPhone or Android phone.
Easy pairing with incredibly long battery life, good sound and a sensitive mic (with impressive DSP) make this a solution that is worthwhile for those who want the ability to use their phones while driving. Parrot does it again with the Minikit Neo. The package includes the Neo, a Micro USB to USB cord, a car charger and a guide book. I have seen these for as low as $90 and as high as $140. Obviously if you can find it for the lower price: go for it. But even at $140, the amount of utility that this product presents makes it worth the price.