BlueAnt S3 Bluetooth Speakerphone Has Multilanguage Support, but Design Hampers Usability
At a Glance
The S3 has broad appeal, as it offers five language options, phone-book sync, and dependable audio quality most of the time. In the car, though, the unit is not as easy to use as we would like.
The BlueAnt S3 Bluetooth car speakerphone ($80 as of March 9, 2011) is the first model I've seen that lets you choose a language: British English, Australian English, or American English, as well as French and Spanish. When the device emits voice prompts, it does so in the accent you selected at setup. I have to admit that unleashing an accent from Down Under (male voice) or the UK (female voice) in the car gave the most mundane drives a little pizzazz. (The S3 attaches firmly to a car's sun visor with a clip.)
Although the availability of five language settings targets a wide audience, the BlueAnt S3's usability during driving sessions knocks down its usefulness several notches. Like its sibling, the BlueAnt S4, the S3 has touch-sensitive controls. They're housed beneath a smooth surface atop the unit; the controls are not perceptible in a physical or tactile way. After many test calls, I was still not 100 percent convinced, in the nanoseconds after tapping the controls, that I had accessed them correctly by feel alone.
For example, the main call control or multifunction button is located in the middle of the device's upper edge. During conversations, with my eyes on the road, I'd make my best guess and tap my right thumb on the multifunction button's likely spot to end each call. But without the tangible feedback, I found it hard to tell if my jabs were sufficient right after I did them. Furthermore, to increase volume, for instance, you have to swipe your finger from left to right a few times across the top of the unit--I'd prefer doing something less involved while driving.
Fortunately, the "Call terminated" voice prompt for hanging up--which comes through more than a split-second after the fact--and the beep that sounds when the maximum volume is reached are both reassuring.
I liked the large, sliding on/off switch at the side of the unit. I also liked how the S3 handled incoming calls: If it recognized the number from the contacts list that it had absorbed, it would announce the caller's name and offer me the choice "Answer or ignore." I reckon that U.S. English is the closest match to my own Irish accent, but the Australian and British modes also understood my responses here with no problem.
As in-car speakerphones go, call quality evened out to be about average or above-average most of the time. Voices through the S3's speaker sounded impressive. Callers listening to my sweet nothings expressed surprise when I revealed that I was talking on a speakerphone: They had assumed that I was on a headset, as my voice did not come across as too speakerphone-like.
Callers consistently reported that my voice did not sound too far away, nor did they pick up on any word distortion. In fact, one party was on a cell phone in a busy toy store, which had all kinds of noise and background music going on, and she noted that she could hear me loud and clear. Only one caller complained about a slight robotic effect to my voice. And callers noticed background noise--music, freeway traffic, children's shrieks, and the wind (when I had the windows rolled down)--at varying levels.
For $80 or less, you might feel drawn to the BlueAnt S3 since it recognizes the different varieties of English--and since it offers two other language settings, to boot. On the plus side, this portable speakerphone offers reliable call quality. But its overall design remains a concern: The lack of actual buttons that I could feel turned out to be inconvenient for me while driving. Perhaps that won't be as much of an issue for you.
For more advice on selecting the right Bluetooth product for you, see "How to Buy a Bluetooth Headset or Car Speakerphone."