Hardware: The Parrot Minikit Neo
At first glance, the Minikit Neo isn't much different from the previous generations of Parrot's visor-mount Bluetooth speakerphones. The Neo has a smaller footprint than the previous Minikits that I've tested, measuring 3.70 inches long by 2.12 inches wide by 1.53 inches thick. At only 2.43 ounces, its weight is on par with its predecessors.
However, where the Minikit Slim and the Minikit+ used a thin, wire arm to hold to your vehicle's sun visor, the Minikit Neo uses a thick plastic grip. Viewed from the side, it appears that the Neo is formed of a single smoothly curved piece of plastic, but the plastic arm is actually separated from the main body with a flexible hinge. There's not a tremendous range of motion allowed by that hinge, but the Minikit Neo is able to grip visors up to about 0.75 inch thick and hold strongly.
The control scheme of the Minikit Neo is familiar to the Minikit line. There's a button marked with a green LED that is used to answer incoming calls, call a contact from the phone book, and initiate voice recognition. Mirroring this is a button marked with a red LED that is used to end calls and exit menus. Between them is a rotary knob that can be pushed to enter the Minikit's audible menu of spoken options, rotated to cycle through those options and adjust the volume of the current call.
What appears to simply be blank space on the unit's face is a 3-watt NXT vibrating panel speaker, and on the leading edge of the unit, just ahead of the rotary knob, is a multidirectional noise-canceling microphone. Digital signal processing (DSP) helps the microphone to reduce echo and road noise. Audio quality from the NXT speaker is good, but with its limited bass output, I wouldn't use it for music. Unlike the much larger Jabra Freeway, this is a speaker that's best used for voice only. On the other hand, Parrot's microphone and DSP continue to be among the best in the business.
On either side of the unit you'll find a Micro-USB port that is used for charging and software updates and a three-position power switch with stops for off, on, and battery level. Pushing the switch to the battery level position causes the Minikit Neo to speak the current charge state of its 1,000 mAh battery aloud.
The unit makes the most of that battery with a vibration sensor and ultralow-power mode. When the unit goes unused and unpaired for a period, it powers down into an ultralow-power mode, a sort of deep-sleep mode that it can maintain for up to six months on a full charge. When you get back into your car, the unit detects the vibrations of the vehicle shifting and the door opening/closing and powers back up to automatically re-pair with the last device. Parrot estimates the talk time at up to 10 hours from a 3-hour charge.
Also in the box, along with the Minikit Neo itself, are a USB-to-Micro-USB cable, a 12-volt USB charger, and a printed quick-start guidebook.
Features: A cutting-edge speakerphone
The Minikit Neo's advanced feature set begins with the pairing process. In addition to pairing via the standard Bluetooth 4-digit PIN song and dance, the Neo also features near-field communication (NFC) fast pairing. If your phone supports NFC reading, you can simply tap the back of your phone to the back of the Minikit's gripper arm to initiate an automatic pairing. Just tap and go.
The Neo supports the hands-free profile (HFP), stereo audio streaming profile (A2DP), and phone book sync profiles (PBAP) via its Bluetooth connection. After syncing contacts, the Neo utilizes text-to-speech and speech recognition engines to both speak contact names aloud when browsing them via the rotary knob and recognize contact names when spoken aloud by the driver. It does all of this automatically.
A feature called Dual Mode allows the Neo to be paired with up to two different devices simultaneously and accept calls from either -- but not both at the same time. Additionally, the Minikit Neo can remember pairings for up to 10 devices in total and has space in its memory for up to 2,000 contacts per paired phone (20,000 contacts total).
Users are given the choice to use either the Minikit's own voice command engine or to hand off voice command duties to a paired smartphone, which is great for those who already have a voice command app that they love, such as Vlingo or Siri. The Minikit Neo also features a function called Magic Words that allows users to accept or reject an incoming call or initiate an outbound call without touching the unit. Incoming calls are announced via the text-to-speech Caller ID system, including the name of the caller if stored in your address book; simply say "reject" or "accept" when prompted to answer or send the call to voice mail, respectively. When not in a call, say "Minikit" and the Neo will ask you, "Who do you want to call?" Simply answer with an address book contact and you'll be connected. Magic Words for incoming and outbound calls can be disabled or enabled independently of one another.