Eco-friendly gadgets are all the rage and solar power is one of the easiest ways to conserve energy, so it's no surprise solar-powered gadgets have gathered steam in recent months. Several Bluetooth devices have incorporated solar power, such as the Iqua Sun Bluetooth headset, and the Anycom Bluetooth Solar Car Kit from a couple years ago. Now LG has released a device of its own called the LG HFB-500 Bluetooth Solar Car Kit. The HFB-500 is actually a Bluetooth speakerphone with photovoltaic panels on the back, so when you place it on your car's dashboard or stick it to the car's windshield, it will soak up the sunlight. It's a pretty good idea, and since the device is small and slim, it won't obstruct much of your viewing area. The HFB-500's MSRP is about $99, but you can get it online for as low as $70.
It's hard to really call a Bluetooth speakerphone sexy, but the LG HFB-500 comes close. It's slim and compact, measuring only 3.6 inches long by 2 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick, and it's clad in a matte black finish and silver trim along the sides. On the front is a large multifunction button, and it's clad in a faux leather surface for better texture. On the right is a red Power button, and along the bottom third of the device is the speaker grille. The back of the device is home to the photovoltaic solar cells. The volume buttons are located on either side.
The HFB-500 comes with a little transparent plastic holder, which you can slip the speakerphone into and then attach it to the windshield with suction cups. This sounds a bit flimsy, but we're surprised that it gripped the windshield very well, even while driving around. The only downside of the plastic holder is that it very slightly obstructs access to the volume buttons on the sides.
Judging from our experience, you should probably place the Car Kit on the left side of your windshield so that it does not obstruct your view. Also, be sure to place it close enough to you so that your callers can hear you better.
Of course, the real value of the Car Kit is that it is partially solar-powered. According to LG, 2 hours of sun will get you about an hour of talk time, with a maximum talk time of 16 hours. This seems pretty decent, especially if you live in an area with plenty of sunshine and you tend to drive for many miles at a time. If you live in a foggier area, though, this might be more of a challenge. Also, it would probably be better to leave it in your car when parked to really make use of the solar charging, but we don't know if it's wise to leave a gadget such as this in plain view of potential thieves.
You'll have to charge the device the old-fashioned way to get going. The Car Kit comes with a regular AC adapter as well as an in-car charger. We paired the HFB-500 with the Apple iPhone 3G and it worked great. Though callers still thought we sounded as if we're talking from a speakerphone, we could hear each other just fine, perhaps because of the echo cancellation in the device. We even made a few calls to an airline's automated phone system to see if it could recognize our voice, and it did.
Features on the HFB-500 include the typical answer and end calls, mute, call waiting, last number redial, and the capability to connect to two devices simultaneously.