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Palm has done a solid job of figuring out how the Pre and Pixi’s different audio inputs and outputs should interact. Whether switching from speaker to headphones, or mic to Bluetooth headset to speakerphone, webOS generally makes it work fairly automatically.

On the other hand, the peripherals we use with our phones, especially in the car, are not always so well integrated, and switching back and forth can be distracting or even dangerous. For those of us whose cars do not have a sophisticated Bluetooth audio system, combining hands-free telephone usage and music listening can mean multiple patch cords, blind taps on the screen and more-than-occasional missed calls or accidentally skipped songs.

A number of peripheral manufacturers have created products to fill this niche, and to integrate both telephone and audio use via Bluetooth. We have previously reviewed the Jabra Cruiser Speakerphone, and recently had a chance to put the Motorola MOTOROKR T505 through its paces. The T505 turns out to be a solid choice, with a few caveats regarding security and delays with the FM tuner.

The T505’s form factor is modest: it is fairly small, with an integrated (and removable) visor clip, an underside speaker, two buttons on the front and two more on the back, and volume/track toggles on each side. The left front button is for call answering/hangup, and the right is the audio play/pause control. The center icon blinks in different colors and patterns for pairing and connection. The rear left button turns the power on/off, while the right both enables the FM tuner and allows the user to identify and find available frequencies.

At its heart, the T505 is a typical Bluetooth speakerphone, pairing easily with the Pre via the instructions that come with the unit. From its controls, one can answer and hang up calls, and adjust the volume. A nice added feature is talking caller ID; when a call comes in, rather than playing a ringtone, the T505 announces the digits of the incoming call number, allowing for easy idenfication of the caller without needing to glance down at the Pre (and thus away from the road). Sound quality is good, with sufficient volume to overcome road noise, and good voice quality reported by those on the other end of the call. It will also reliably reconnect without having to do anything special whenever it is turned on and near the Pre (provided the Pre’s own Bluetooth is enabled). 

Beyond the standard Bluetooth speakerphone, though, it is in the additional audio functionality that the T505 distinguishes itself. With its support for Advanced Audio Delivery, Audio Video Remote Control, Hands-free, and Headset Bluetooth profiles, the T505 can play audio from the Pre’s various music apps (Music Player, Pandora, etc.) as well as video apps including YouTube through its built-in speakerphone. Since the Pre itself smoothly handles the switchover from audio/video sound to telephone when calls come in (and back afterwards), the T505 doesn’t need to. (Keep in mind, though, that while you can adjust the volume with the side buttons when not playing music or video, pressing them during playback will switch tracks rather than adjusting the sound levels.)

Even more useful is the T505’s built-in FM modulator, which can transmit audio through any nearby FM radio. Rather than just a few preset stations, the T505 can use any available frequency, and will search the local broadcast area for stations without strong interfering signals, then announce the chosen frequency by number (e.g. “Ninety Five Point Five”) so you can tune your radio to match. If you don’t like the T505’s choice, a quick tap of the rear FM button will cause it to search again and choose and announce the next available frequency. While the T505’s necessarily low power output and the location of your vehicle’s FM antenna may result in some static, especially in a region with many competing FM signals, users do report that leaving the T505 plugged into the car’s power port (although somewhat awkward for visor mounting) improves the FM signal. (Be sure to read the manual, since the FM button serves different functions, depending on when and for how long it is pressed, and it can be somewhat confusing at first.)

It’s important to realize, though, that the FM signal is “in the clear”; any audio, including your sensitive telephone calls, that is routed through the FM modulator can be picked up by a nearby radio tuned to the same station. More to the point, though, there is a noticeable delay when audio is sent via the FM modulator; this isn’t a problem for songs, but can be annoying or worse for telephone calls and especially video (the delay means the picture and sound are out of sync). Better to switch off the FM modulator (via the rear button) and use the T505’s own speaker when a call comes in, or to watch video.

One other minor irritation is that the T505 uses a mini-USB rather than the Pre’s own micro-USB charging plug. If you want to charge the T505 with the included car charger (there is no wall charger provided, although any mini-USB charger should work), you will need to keep both cables in your car, and either switch between the Pre’s and T505’s cables or have two power points available in the vehicle. According to Motorola, the T505’s 1150 mAh battery offers up to 18 hours of talk time, and up to 14 days of standby time; we did not test these claims, but found quite decent talk and standby times in our usage.

As a speakerphone, the T505 is a great choice. With the additional FM tuner features, especially the ability to route audio from Bluetooth to FM without any cables to the Pre or the radio, it becomes a compelling one, especially if your car’s FM reception is particularly good.