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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

GoGroove SmartMini Aux review: Gives cars hands-free calling, wireless music


The good: The GoGroove SmartMini Aux's small size makes it easy to fit unobtrusively in a car, and long battery life means low maintenance. It supports voice pass-through to a paired phone's native voice command feature.
The bad: The single-button interface, with different hold times activating different features, can be confusing to use, and there is no ability to skip songs when streaming music.
The bottom line: For cars with an auxiliary input but no native Bluetooth, the GoGroove SmartMini Aux is an effective means of adding both hands-free call capability and audio streaming from a smartphone.
Most cars these days come with Bluetooth, supporting both hands-free calls and audio streaming. For older cars, GoGroove's SmartMini Aux works as a relatively cheap means of adding these wireless features.
However, the car needs an auxiliary input or adapter for running audio to the stereo.
The SmartMini Aux, constructed of black plastic, looks like an ultramodern drawer pull. Its offset T shape includes a flared base fitted with a Velcro pad for mounting in a car. A long wire tipped with a 1/8-inch audio jack leads out of the base.
The business end, a short, curved bar, is tipped with a microphone. A single button on top works as the SmartMini Aux's sole control. Blue and red LEDs hidden in the button serve as mode indicators.
GoGroove SmartMini Aux
This 1/8-inch port at the end of the SmartMini Aux works for charging, not audio.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
A 1/8-inch port in the opposite end from the microphone serves as a charging port. GoGroove includes a USB adapter cable for charging the device.
Stealth mounting
At only 2.5 inches long, the SmartMini Auxi mounts unobtrusively on a car's dashboard. As you will want to leave it in the car, it's best to mount it low so as not to tempt thieves. The base itself comes off, revealing a 1/8-inch plug, making it possible to forgo the extra wiring and put it directly into an appropriately placed auxiliary input.
If primarily being used for streaming audio, it can even be left completely out of sight in the glove box or console.
GoGroove SmartMini Aux
The SmartMini Aux can be mounted low on the dashboard so as not to be visible to potential thieves.
(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)
Unlike many Bluetooth speakerphones, the SmartMini Aux is only intended for in-car use, and so does not have its own speaker. It must be connected to a stereo or other external speaker to be useful.
As a hands-free phone system, the SmartMini Aux offers few features of its own. Its single control button activates a paired phone's voice command, such as Siri on the iPhone. That feature lets you place calls using a contact's name or request music by name, depending on which commands the paired phone supports.
Along with activating voice command, the control serves as the answer/hang up button. There is no internal voice command or phone book feature.
The SmartMini Aux supports A2DP audio streaming, as do most smartphones, making it possible to stream music wirelessly to a car's stereo. When streaming audio, the control works as a pause/play button. However, the device has no feature for skipping tracks.
One button to rule them all
Pairing the SmartMini Aux with an iPhone proved easy. Pressing and holding the single control button for 6 seconds put the device into pairing mode, indicated by a slow blinking blue light. The device showed up on the phone's Bluetooth device list quickly and paired within seconds.
Establishing subsequent connections between the device and the iPhone only required hitting the button on the SmartMini Aux a couple of times. Holding the button down for 6 seconds turned the device on, then hitting the button one more time reestablished its connection with the previously paired phone.
Once connected, holding the button down for a couple of seconds activated Siri on the iPhone, making it possible to use voice commands.
The audio, broadcasting through a test car's speakers, came through clearly. When streaming audio, there were no breaks or stutters, as can happen sometimes with Bluetooth.
The microphone also picked up both voice commands and regular conversation during a phone call without difficulty.
The SmartMini Aux includes an internal battery, so it does not have to be plugged into a charger while in use. As a power-saving feature, it automatically turns off when there is no active Bluetooth connection for an extended period of time, meaning you do not have to turn it off every time you park your car.
During testing, it held its charge after 5 continuous hours of streaming music from a phone. Letting it power down by itself, it was ready to go again the next morning without a recharge. With that sort of battery life, it can be left in a car and only occasionally need be recharged, which can be accomplished in the car using a USB adapter plugged into a 12-volt power point.
Limited market
GoGroove's SmartMini Aux works well, but is most useful in cars that have auxiliary inputs but no Bluetooth capability. The bulk of cars that fit those parameters were built between 2004 and 2010. There are solutions for adding auxiliary inputs to cars without them, but it will make more sense to install an aftermarket head unit, which will have more features.
The SmartMini Aux is not exactly feature-rich, but such things as internal voice command are extraneous when used with a phone featuring its own voice command. The battery life gave the device a low-maintenance character.
Its main drawback is the single interface button, which requires being held down for different amounts of time to activate different modes. A separate on-off button would have made the interface easier to use. And the lack of a song skip feature limits control over streaming music.
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