For audiophiles, Alpine is no stranger to the audio scene, being renowned in the car audio and speaker market. Its foray into the mobile Bluetooth devices market is represented solely by the Alpine DCS-BT1 Bluetooth hands-free speaker unit. Before we head on to the review proper, let’s look at some studies on mobile use while driving.
As we all know, using a mobile phone while driving, regardless of whether for calling or texting, is common and downright dangerous. We take our safety so much for granted daily. We think we can stop in time. We think we can react in emergencies. We think that we’re good at multitasking (fellow men: read). Well, read on, if you will.
A University of Utah study done a couple of years ago measured response time, following distance, and driving speed of a controlled group of 120 subjects, involved in cell phone conversations.
What we know from this study is that a person driving while using a mobile phone takes more time to react, applies less adequate brake force hence takes a longer distance to stop the vehicle and carries more speed overall. The shocking thing is that this is consistently worse than a person drunk driving. Does this convince you to stop using your mobile while driving? It should.
Buttons? What Buttons?
At first glance, the DCS-BT1 comes across as well-built and highly portable. Made of high-grade plastics with a gloss finish, it looks impressive and premium, right out of the box. The box contains the DCS-BT1 unit, microUSB cable, car charger (cigarette lighter) and tiny manual. You will notice that there are no physical buttons, a product design reminiscent of Apple’s mouse (“The mouse is the button!”). Simplicity is certainly the order of the day. Smooth lines and buttonless design aside, some may find it confusing as to where the controls actually are, as did I. I found myself clicking on the logo at the center of the rotary knob which isn’t where the controls are. Instead, the ‘button’ so to speak is at the top front of the unit. Alpine calls this the Activity button. Perhaps in future iterations of the DCS-BT1, Alpine can instead have the Activity on the rotary knob instead, as far as usability goes, seems more natural.
The One Click Wonder
Powering up the device is as easy as holding down the Activity button for a couple of seconds. You will be greeted with a sassy female voice to acknowledge you clicked her buttons well. OK, I lied about her acknowledging you but yes, she does speak! “Powering up”, she says. Hold it down a little longer and it will search for your phone to pair. Pairing is a cinch, and the HTC Desire HD paired with the DCS-BT1 within a couple of seconds. All you need to do is clip the device on your sun visor in-car and off you go. The integrated clip fits pretty snugly.
What’s cool is that the device will hold your pairing for up to 30 minutes after your phone is not within range. Once it detects your phone in proximity it will re-sync.
A Sound Device
As one would expect from Alpine, the audio quality is good, at least for call-related features. Call quality is clear and consistent, thanks to its omnidirectional microphone and speaker. The female voice prompts you on incoming calls – “Call from 123-4567.” What would be great if it could say out the contact name, since we never remember numbers these days! The device can also be used to stream music from your phone, which I also tested. Although I would question the practicality of that, the sound quality is at least louder and better than that of your phone. Just click on the Activity button to play or pause music. To adjust volume, turn the knob clockwise or anti-clockwise.
Supercharged and Multilingual
It only takes one full charge via the supplied cable and you’ll be able to enjoy up to 14 hours of talktime and up to 400 hours standby. This is very impressive! The female voice prompts you on low battery charge and reminds you to charge the device. Also, the device supports 9 languages including UK English, US English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Mexican Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese and Mandarin Chinese.
In summary, the DCS-BT1 is a well-designed, useful device. For those who are constantly on the road, this device should come into handy. At close to RM500, it may seem pricey to some, compared to the many hands-free kits out there, though. Key things I like about the device include its good simple design and controls, good sound quality and battery life. Most importantly, it keeps drivers focused and safe, which is as priceless as it gets.