Review: BlackBerry VM-605 Speakerphone

The latest advancements in communication imply a great future for the automobile. And yet, like my former manager in Corporate America once said, “I can’t wait to go to a place where my BlackBerry doesn’t work.”  Like most BlackBerry addicts, I doubt she really meant it. Mostly because these handheld email magnets are legalized crack, for better or worse. Now BlackBerry makes a self-branded, visor mount speakerphone: traffic jams en route to work and business travel in sub-par rental cars shall never be the same. And its name is the VM-605.

Far from the only wireless car speakerphone on the market, BlackBerry’s VM-605 Speakerphone has key features over its competition: it streams music (not just phone calls) from your BlackBerry over your car stereo via FM modulator, supports multiple languages and receives verbal caller IDs.  Combined with the standard benefits of hands-free calling gadgets, the BlackBerry VM-605 ensures that distracted drivers spend less time holding their BlackBerry and more focusing on the road.  And it works with other Bluetooth enabled phones, not just BlackBerrys. But it won’t read your Blackberry’s emails out loud: which isn’t a bad thing when you think about it.

Using the BlackBerry Speakerphone is simple. Let the unit charge in the car’s cigarette light for two hour and then hang it on a sun visor. While somewhat omni-directional in anything but a droptop cruiser or a tuner car with an insane exhaust note, the microphone and speakerphone occupy the negative area at one end of the unit. So it is best to aim that end towards you, and not the windshield.

There’s no software required to pair a BlackBerry handheld to the VM-605 speakerphone, and there’s no subscription required. Which is similar to other hands free units on the market, but remember this one plays audio files on your BlackBerry: a nice touch if you own a classic/loss leader vehicle with an AM/FM stereo, or like semi-public music available at a moment’s notice.

From there, the speakerphone must be paired with your phone, BlackBerry or otherwise.  The owner’s manual has great instructions, written in proper English. With that, I had no problem pairing a BlackBerry and a Samsung “Rant” phone to the VM-605. The perk to this design are the voice commands, which give a clear indication of your location in the instructional manual.  This unit even speaks in nine languages: I found the digitized British English voice far more realistic to the ear than its crude American counterpart.   As an added perk, it gave my cabin an air of high-dollar sophistication I never thought possible. And I’m not joking, either.

Working the FM-modulated Bluetooth is similarly painless.  Push one button and the voice commands guide you to the proper radio station.  And using your phone with the VM-605 Speakerphone was surprisingly clear: I found quality better than my last SYNC experience in a Ford Focus, though most FM modulators normally give poor sound quality. The only caveat?  Keep the volume on your stereo low, otherwise the feedback on the other side of the phone makes conversation impossible.

But that was with testing out in the suburbs: driving in downtown Houston forced the VM-605 to pick up stray signals from who-knows-where, and the charming British voice module gets downright obnoxious as it offers a new FM radio station, even if it only takes a push of one button to get the process started. Depending on where you drive, overlooking the FM modulator and using the self-contained speakerphone make for a better hands free experience.

Probably the strongest reason to buy the BlackBerry VM-605 is it’s stellar combination of an affordable price (MSRP is $99, but I’ve seen $65-ish from several Internet sellers) and Macintosh-worthy amounts of fine design.  It’s a smart play for the company known for innovative handheld communication devices.  Think about it: BlackBerry’s handheld products sport complicated buttons, a busy display and somewhat bulky size.  Their wireless speakerphone makes life easier with seamless software integration, leaving plenty of room for minimalist style and intelligent ergonomics.

The slim, elegant matte black case is dominated by a large button made of smoked, clear plastic.  Hold it for two seconds to activate the speakerphone and let the voice commands take it from there.  There’s a volume rocker switch one side, an FM modulator activation button on the other.  And that’s it: while the VM-605 is made for the cool and sophisticated interior of an Aston Martin, even Camry owners who loves fast lines and unobtrusive design shall want one hanging from their visor.

Then again, an eye-catching design and a reasonable price aren’t the only things people look at when purchasing a hands free device.  But the BlackBerry name, simple hardware interface and amazingly intelligent and intuitive software should make the VM-605 an easy to own product.

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