BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone VM-605 Review: Elegant and a Bit Expensive

BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM) plans to soon release its latest smartphone accessory, the BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone, and it's a must-have for BlackBerry purists--though the price tag might be a turnoff from some. Here's my hands-on review.

Just a few years back, Research In Motion (RIM) produced just one product, albeit in many flavors: BlackBerry smartphones for businesspeople. Today, RIM has extended its reach into the consumer market with devices like the Pearl 81xx, Pearl Flip 82xx and the multimedia-oriented, touch screen BlackBerry Storm.

image of RIM BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone
RIM BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone

What's next for the BlackBerry-maker? It certainly won't stop pumping out handhelds anytime soon, but you can expect to see quite a few new offerings in the coming months and years in the form of BlackBerry accessories. The company already offers various charging cradles and "pods", skins, cases, Bluetooth headsets, headphones and even a "music gateway" that lets you play tunes on your BlackBerry through a stereo system.

At RIM's recent Wireless Enterprise Symposium (WES), I sat down with the company's VP of Advanced Accessories, Antoine Boucher, to discuss the future of BlackBerry accessories and he was very excited about the new speakerphone. (He was also excited about an upcoming Bluetooth headset, but that one's still under wraps...)

The BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone VM-605 is basically an evolution of the existing music gateway with a built-in speakerphone for in-vehicle use. RIM was nice enough to send along a review unit, and I've been using it for the last week or so. Overall, I'm impressed...but there's certainly room for improvement. Keep reading for specifics.

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BlackBerry Visor Mount: Speak(erphone) No Evil

There's a lot to like about the BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone.

First off, it's quite handsome. Made of black plastic with a glossy finish, it looks great clipped to your car's visor--especially if you have a dark-colored interior. It's beautifully designed, and it compliments RIM's current "curvy/shiny/sleek" device form factors. (Think: Curve 8900, Tour 9630 and Onyx.) And it clips unobtrusively to your car's overhead sun visor.

The speakerphone has four LED indicators on its face: one battery-level; one for active-call status; another to signify whether or not the unit is connected to your device via Bluetooth; and finally, one to let you know whether or not it's "broadcasting" to an FM frequency. The battery indicator turns on only when charging or when it's low. The Bluetooth connection light stays on whenever you're using it. And both the call- and FM-transmitter-indicators light up only when those features are employed.

image of RIM BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone
LED Indicators on the BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone

More important than looks, this gadget works well. Very well, in most cases. It's simple to pair it and Bluetooth enabled devices; the process is exactly the same as pairing with any other Bluetooth headset, etc. It's not particularly large, so you can stash it away in a glove compartment when not in use, if necessary. (I'm a city-boy, and I never leave anything "shiny" in view in an unattended vehicle.)

And the device only has three "buttons" so it's not confusing to use, even while driving. The main button is built into the device's front panel, directly below the LED indicators, and it's used to turn the speakerphone on and off, enable pairing mode, answer and end calls and more. Most of the time you need only to click that button once, though holding it for longer activates different features.

The second button is an "FM switch" which tells the device that you want to route music or calls to an FM frequency. And the third and final button, a volume up/down switch, adjusts volume levels and also lets you select different FM frequencies when connected to a car stereo or other radio.

Battery life was very impressive. I hooked up the device to a radio within my home, and it ran for more than 12 hours straight, transmitting music from my BlackBerry, before I shut it off. I've probably used it another hour or so since, as well, and it still has power.

Call quality was good, as well, both on the speakerphone end and the call recipient's side of things. Only one person I called commented on call quality, saying I sounded a bit distant and "tinny." Most folks had no idea I was using a speakerphone until I specifically asked them how I sounded. I liked routing calls through my car's speakers. But you can also use the unit's internal speakers for calls, so you could, say, employ your car's CD player while making a call via speakerphone.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone is that it works along with GPS navigation apps like TeleNav Navigator. And not only does it allow you to listen to music or place calls while following on-screen driving directions, but also routes voice directions through your car speakers. This is huge for me, because I listen to my music LOUD, and that means I can't normally hear driving directions while using GPS. With the BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone I can, and that takes my GPS apps to a whole new level. (Note: I only used TeleNav along with the speakerphone.)

image of RIM BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone in use in a car
RIM BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone In Action

You can you listen to music stored on your BlackBerry, or play music from satellite radio applications like Pandora through your car's speakers.

This gadget also works with other non-BlackBerry devices with Bluetooth, though Stereo Bluetooth is required if you want to listen to music stored on your device. In addition to various RIM devices, I used the BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone to place calls via a Palm Pre and an iPhone, and both worked fine. However, my iPhone 3G does not support stereo Bluetooth, so I couldn't use that device to listen to iPhone music through my vehicle's speakers.

Finally, the product supports eight languages, including English, Spanish, French, Chinese, German and Italian.

Now for the not so good stuff...

BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone: My Quibbles

Though it works quite well, RIM's BlackBerry Bluetooth Visor Mount Speakerphone isn't cheap. At $99.99 on ShopBlackBerry.com, I'd say it's too expensive for what it is.

side view image of RIM BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone
Slide View of the BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone

Comparable products cost less and have almost all the same features as RIM's version. For example, Jabra's popular SP700 Bluetooth Car Speakerphone costs $20 less at $79.99 in the CrackBerry shop. Then again, ShopBlackBerry is RIM's own online store, and it's always more expensive than random online accessories dealers. So you can expect lower prices for the visor mount speakerphone once it makes its way to external retailers.

In my opinion, $69.99 is a good price, but I'd probably pay up to $79.99 for the BlackBerry Bluetooth Visor Mount Speakerphone.

Also, RIM was supposed to release the product on June 8, 2009, but it's still not listed for sale. I expected that it will be shortly, but it would be nice if RIM actually released the product when it told the media it would. Anywho...

The speakerphone doesn't come with an AC wall charger, either, which is quite frustrating. It does ship with a micro USB car charger, but it's annoying to have to power up in the car every time you need juice. Charging while you're using the device is also a pain, because the speakerphone clips onto your visor and the charging cord hangs down, obstructing your view slightly--unless you somehow clip it out of the way. For $100, RIM should include a separate micro USB wall charger.

I was generally pleased with the quality of the FM transmitter. My music, whether from Pandora or my device, sounded mostly clear if listened to at normal volume. There was some regular static--and the issue worsened as I turned up the volume--but this is a common problem with FM transmitters, at least in my experience. Overall, the BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone worked just as well or better than any other FM transmitter I've used.

rear image of RIM BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone
RIM BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone (Rear)

I'm not a big fan of the thin metal clip on the rear side of the device, which latches onto your car's visor and holds it in place. To be honest, I haven't had any specific issues with it. But it's thin and flimsy, and I just have a feeling it could be troublesome after extended use. I would've liked to see a slightly thicker clasp, although I'm glad it's made of metal and not plastic.

Lastly, I had some issues automatically connecting to the FM transmitter after having turned it off and then back on, when getting back in the car, for instance. The speakerphone connected with my BlackBerry with no problem, but the FM transmitter connection automatically turned on sometimes but not always. The problem was an easy fix--I simply tapped the FM transmitter key on the speakerphone when it didn't automatically connect--but it was a bit annoying because I was unable to determine why it didn't consistently auto-connect.

So to sum that all up...

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Conclusion: Breaking Down the BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone

RIM's new BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone is a great option for anyone looking for an in-car hands-free product, but would rather not use a Bluetooth ear piece or headset. BlackBerry users, in particular, will appreciate its design since it compliments RIM devices and works with some BlackBerry applications, like Pandora radio.

Call- and FM-transmitter-quality are both good. It's simple to use. And it's very portable, since it's small and light.

However, the speakerphone is also expensive, and other, cheaper options on the market serve the same basic purpose--though they may not be quite as good-looking.

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