Review: Parrot MINIKIT Neo 2 HD hands-free phone system for your car

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The Parrot Minikit Neo 2 HD perches on a windshield visor, ready to respond to voice commands and make phone calls in HD sound(Credit: Heidi Hoopes/Gizmag.com)

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Like many people who try (not) to use a mobile phone while mobile in an auto, I have sound- and device-management issues. That's why I welcomed the chance to try out the Parrot MINIKIT Neo 2 HD, a sleek hands-free calling and speaker system that uses either Bluetooth or NFC to connect up to two mobile devices at a time. Useable with or without its app and either iOS or Android devices, it's a good choice for those who can't afford a complicated stereo overhaul for their car and need to support multiple phone operating systems.

The Neo 2 is an upgrade over previous MINIKIT Neo models, with always-listening voice commands, a new smart phone app, and sound improvements over its speaker which takes up most of the flat front surface.

I started my test of the device already owning an aftermarket car stereo that similarly uses a microphone and speakers (the car's) to create an ad-hoc hands-free speaker phone, yet I never want to place calls through it. Who wants the whole car to hear a phone call in full stereo? So I was curious what I would think of the Neo, knowing that I could only have one Bluetooth connection active at a time.

Physical controls include two buttons, green and red, that light with LEDs when interacting with menus while accepting or canceling actions. A clickable jogwheel scrolls through menu choices and adjusts volume. The on/off switch can trigger a verbal announcement of the battery's charge. Finally, a mini-USB port both charges the device through an included USB cable and charger for your car's auxiliary power port (aka cigarette lighter) and provides a connection to a computer for software updates.

Both the finish and construction of the Neo 2 felt familiar after playing with Parrot's Bebop quadcopter, similarly sturdy and with a simple but sophisticated matte aesthetic. I received a lime green and black version, but it's also available in other vivid shades including red and blue, or simply all black.

Pairing over Bluetooth and importing my contacts into the Neo 2 was simple, as was initiating and receiving phone calls. However, I never managed to pair with its advertised NFC compatibility – I couldn't determine if it was my phone or the Neo 2 to blame.

While the Neo 2 can theoretically connect with 10 devices and hold their address books, for those with big families or lots of gadgets, it can only simultaneously sync and direct calls for two phones. I only connected two phones, a Nexus 5 and an iPhone 5s.

While two phones are connected, the Neo 2 HD is in "dual mode." While it can receive calls inbound to either phone, only one phone can place calls or interact with the "magic words" voice commands, though this is easily switchable through the jogwheel.

iOS users can interact hands-free with Siri via the voice recognition, but Android users are currently out of luck using "OK Google." However, the MINIKIT Neo 2's own voice commands are available in many European languages in addition to English.

These commands primarily center around initiating and accepting phone calls, with a sample conversation starting with saying "MINIKIT" and when prompted, responding with the name of the person you'd like to call. If your address book is a jumble of incomplete entries as is mine, you'll need to do a little reorganization to make the interaction easier. If MINIKIT got confused by my contact request, it stopped interacting with me rather than prompting for a follow-up clarification.

However, as magic words for outgoing calls relies heavily on battery use to always be listening, the user can turn off magic words for outgoing calls, instead just initiating a call by pushing the green button. MINIKIT Neo's 1,000-mAH battery is described as lasting long enough for 10 hours of talk time, or enough to standby for six months.

The associated app, available for free for either iOS or Android, adds additional features to the hands-free kit, many relying on the information available from the proximity between the Neo 2 HD and its connected mobile devices. For example, the app can warn you of how long you've been driving, automatically note how long you've been parked at a parking meter, or save the location of where you parked. The Neo 2 has a motion sensor that wakes it up when you enter the car, as well.

The app also allows you to send automated SMS messages (Android) or play a personalized voice message (iOS) if you reject a call while driving informing your caller that you're unable to answer.

The Bluetooth connection between a phone and the Neo 2 allows – nay, forces – all of your phone's audio to be streamed over the Neo 2's speaker, treating your car to the sounds of map navigation, game sound effects, or notification sounds. The HD sound of the MINIKIT Neo 2 produces clear phone calls, for both sender and receiver, and map directions and podcasts were handy to have projected louder than my phone's own speaker. However, music was not made better by playing it over such a tiny speaker.

Which brings me to my multiple Bluetooth audio device dilemma. In the end, while I was happy to have a convenient and more appropriate solution for hands-free calling, I couldn't give up my car speaker system. However, like many other automobile owners, I haven't found an aftermarket stereo solution for my other car whose stereo panel is more awkward and tricky. But the MINIKIT Neo 2 is perfect in that second car, as it might be for many other mobile device junkies who find it difficult to stop touching their phones while driving. Just clip the Neo HD 2 onto a visor and have access to a fully voice-activated system that's operating system-agnostic.

The MINIKIT Neo 2 HD is available for US$99.99 on Parrot's web shop, but may be available for cheaper on other websites.

Below is Parrot's video highlighting the features of its improved hands-free audio kit for the car.

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