A password will be e-mailed to you.

I have received many very cool gadgets to play with, critique and review – but this one might just take the cake. Parrot, A prominent European manufacture, specializing in Bluetooth peripherals has just released a complete replacement unit for your car stero – the Rhythm N’ Blue. Now, replacing you existing Car stereo is no small decision or expense – should you grab the tools and make room for a new radio? Read on for my thoughts.

Based in Paris and founded in 1994 by Henri Seydoux, its Chairman and CEO, Parrot S.A. is one of the profitable, fast-growing companies that have emerged from the ‘start-up’ generation. Since its beginnings, Parrot’s core competence has been the technologies for embedded noise-robust voice recognition and signal processing, with applications in mobile computing and mobile communications.

In recent years, Parrot has emerged as a formidable player in the world of Bluetooth technologies. I have previously reviewed several wonderful hands free kits for Bluetooth enabled phones and PDA’s.

The Rhythm N’ Blue is the natural outgrowth of this technology. Even with the best of the Bluetooth Headsets and Hands Free kits, invariably the user still has to take their hands off the wheel to make some adjustment, turn down the radio or re-pair the device. The idea behind the Rhythm N’Blue from the Parrot web site reads: ‘With the Parrot RHYTHM N’BLUE, drivers can listen to CDs, a radio station or even their own MP3 recording plus make and receive phone calls. And thanks to its superb design and backlit buttons, the use of these features quickly becomes second nature. Seven backlight colors are available. The keypad controls phone dialing and messaging functions, and provides preset radio station selection. Synchronizing your mobile phone phonebook with the car stereo memory allows for easy access to your contacts. When an incoming call is received, the caller’s name is displayed. Numbers may be dialed manually or hands-free using the voice recognition feature; the driver says a name and the number is automatically dialed.’

Design:

The Rhythm N Blue is very un-assuming in its design. By that, I mean that it is very clean and sleek. One would never know the High tech capabilities by just looking at the Radio installed in your car. The display is big and bright and the back light can be changed to one of seven different colors to fit to decor of your car.
Along the top there are buttons for the tuner, CD/MP3 playback and Phone feature. At the top right is what looks like an eject button. When pushed, the whole front open down to reveal the CD player. The Front faceplate is also fully detachable for security.

Along the bottom are the typical CD controls and a display and menu button. Above and below the volume know are the typical green and red phone buttons used for activating voice tag dialing, connecting and disconnecting the call.

Features:

The Rhythm N Blue is full of useful features. A push of the menu button takes the user to most of the functions. Here, options for all aspects of the Stereo can be set. Audio controls are pretty standard fare – Bass, Treble, Balance, Fader and several preset-EQ choices can all be accessed from the menu button.
It is when you enter the Bluetooth menu that things get really fun. The Rhythm N Blue is paired through the phone (I used a Treo 650.) Pairing was very simple and straightforward – once the unit is found, just enter the four digit pairing code and you are ready to go.

The Rhythm N Blue offers phone book synchronization. This can either be done by ‘pushing’ the contacts from your phone’s memory using the Bluetooth transfer on the phone – or some phones (happily, including the Treo) offer automatic synchronization. What this means is that once my device was paired, my speed dial contact info was automatically transferred to the memory of the Rhythm N Blue. A simple push of the volume nob reveals an alphabet – and then I was scrolling through my contacts after doing absolutely nothing.

We Treo owners have been lamenting for months about the absence of built in voice tags for automated dialing. With the Rhythm N Blue, that is a moot point. It was very easy to set voice tags for my contacts that were now, magically in the car stereo. Just press the green button and record a name. In the future, pressing the green button will automatically mute the radio and after the audible beep, simply speak into the microphone (mine was mounted on the visor) and the call is dialed through the stereo. Phone calls can also be dialed via the numeric key pad on the faceplate of the radio or via the included remote control.

The last, very cool feature of the Rhythm N Blue is that its software can be updated via Bluetooth. Now, I can’t use the Treo as a Bluetooth Modem – so I needed a Bluetooth dongle on my laptop and a wi-fi connection that reached the driveway. There should be an easier way – maybe if the detachable faceplate could be connected via usb.

Call Quality:

The real beauty of this Stereo is the Bluetooth phone capability. When a call comes in, the name is repeated (if you have a recorded voice tag) and the caller ID is displayed on the screen. The music mutes and the phone call comes through the speakers of the car – very cool! I found that I could talk in a regular voice and people could hear me just fine. I could adjust the volume of the call with the volume knob of the stereo. When the call was done, I just pushed the red button and my music came right back on.

Ease of use:

Once I input the voice tag info, set my presets, set up the satellite radio (not included) and adjusted the equalizer I found this was a very simple unit to use. There is very little ‘fiddling’ needed. Calls were immediately answered (or you can push the red button to ignore) and when I was done talking, the radio came right back on. This was true hands free talking. The automatic Synchronization with the phone book in my Treo was just an added bonus. The display even showed the signal strength, battery meter and name on my phone. There was truly never a reason to even take my phone out of my pocket when I was driving.

Sound Quality:

The Rhythm N Blue is a replacement for your factory Stereo system, so music quality is a consideration. Happily, the Rhythm N Blue puts out 45 watts per channel (which was obviously significantly more than my factory radio.) Music was crisp and clear and with the EQ functions enabled I can safely say that in addition to all the amazing Bluetooth features – this is a great sounding Car Stereo to boot.

Shortcomings:

There are three issues that I feel are missing and keeping this from being an almost ‘perfect’ product. There is no clock feature. I don’t know if this is just an omission or an oversight. It would seem to me that if the unit can display information from the Phone on the display, it should be able to read the phone’s clock as well. The other missing feature is a line-in jack for an ipod or Sattelite radio. This is almost commonplace on most other after-market radios and should somehow be incorporated here. The third issue is the omission on my test unit of an AM radio. Now, I don’t do a lot of AM listening – but I hope that when this unit is fully available on our shores that this problem is corrected.

Over all Conclusions:

This is the future of Bluetooth technology. Headsets and hands free units are great – but they all have some shortcomings. This is simply the way things should be done if you are going to talk on your phone while driving. Calls go through the car speakers, music is muted and your hands never leave the wheel. It is safe, easy to use and the call quality was great. Add in to the mix the automatic synchronization of your phone book and the great sounding radio and you have a winner of a product. I truly believe that in a few years, all of our cars will come equipped with something like the Rhythm N Blue. If you don’t want to wait, run – don’t walk – and buy this cutting edge Bluetooth stereo for your car.

Final Grade: A-

Pros: Easy to use, great synchronization with phone, call quality was terrific, very innovative and dependable, great sound from the Stereo

Cons: No AM radio, no ipod connector, no clock

The Parrot Rhythm N Blue is available at www.parrot.biz and various on line resellers. I found a price range of $250.00 – $350.00. I would recommend professional installation unless you are very comfortable taking your car apart.

Written by Gary