BluEye

We reviewed an earlier version of BluEye last year. At that time it was a product developed by UK firm, Mavizen. We liked it then, but it was a little bulky and very much a one-trick pony. That’s where Gear4 stepped in. Two UK firms working together transformed the original BluEye into this essential piece of disruptive technology for iPod users.

As it is now, BlueEye is a combined Bluetooth mobile phone connection, FM radio and remote control for the iPod, which draws power from the player. It links your iPod to most Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones: in use you’ll be able to read Caller ID phone numbers on the iPod’s screen (and the partners are working to add support for caller names in future iterations); songs are automatically paused (and restarted) when you take or make a call; you get voice dialling when used with phones that support it; and can dial anyone who recently rang you using the nine-strong list of recent caller numbers which you can access using the iPod’s screen.

When you receive a call the music stops and you hear a dialling tone through your headphones; you can choose to receive the call with a single command, or check who it is using the number on your iPod screen (or mobile phone). If you want to chat you won’t need to pull the phone out your pocket, as BluEye has a powerful (but almost invisible) microphone built-in. We were very impressed by this for indoor situations, but if you’re out and about somewhere lively, common sense tells you to hold the gadget close to your mouth, doesn’t it?

It’s a breeze to learn the controls for this. In practice we found that your phone needs to ring three or four times before your iPod lets you know someone’s calling, though Gear4 says it should be instantaneous. Essentially, this is an iPod-cum-mobile phone for those of us who don’t yet possess one.

BlueEye’s features don’t stop there. It also integrates an FM radio receiver (capable of storing 15 pre-set favourite channels) and an iPod remote control. At time of writing, the device is about the size of the only slightly cheaper (and less well-featured) Apple Remote Control and works with whatever set of headphones you prefer.

The front will seem familiar to anyone who has seen a first-generation iPod shuffle, with a large central play/pause button; forward; back and volume up/down controls arranged in a circle around it. There’s two tiny buttons on the side of the gadget, one’s a hold switch, the other invokes the FM radio or iPod. Underneath the central front-mounted control you’ll see a Bluetooth button, used to pair the device to the phone, and to end or make voice-activated calls. We did sometimes find it a little challenging reaching for the correct tiny button to access the feature we wanted to use, without looking at the controller. It took time developing sufficient finger memory. The FM radio receiver also integrates with the iPod, showing channels on screen.

We’re London-based here, and like to listen to XFM. Fans of that station already know its reception can be a little hit-and-miss. We were frustrated that we couldn’t manually navigate to the frequency it sits on, as the device auto-tunes to the next available signal. However, a little trial and error was all it took to succesfully reach 104.9FM, after which we saved the station to the preset 15. From then on we could listen to new music radio whenever we liked. As a radio, BluEye offers a good, clear reception – we’re hoping in future the partners can add support for RDS to the range, so we’ll be able to see what we’re listening to on the iPod’s screen (and it would be really nice if we could save songs we wanted to buy to a list that pops up next time we sync our music player).

We mentioned sound quality. This is just as good as you’d expect from your favoured headphones when you want to listen to music; we were perfectly satisfied with the radio; and when it comes to chatting on the phone – we were impressed. You can hold the device at a distance when you chat, and your caller will hear you fine, as you will them. The built-in microphone is highly effective.

What else would we like to see in the product? It would be nice if you could choose numbers from your iPod’s built-in contacts database. It would also be nice if the controller’s various buttons had some kind of texture, so you could navigate to the correct command without needing to look at the device. In future, we would like Apple to do something to make it easier for manufacturers like Gear4 to make it possible to navigate between, rather than solely within, playlists.

OUR VERDICT

If you use a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone, but would prefer to listen to your iPod; or if you simply want a small remote control and hope to keep your music player hidden in your pocket, or are just in the market for a small portable FM radio, then this product’s the best of the bunch.

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