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If you want Bluetooth in your car but don’t want to spend the money and/or time to install a new head unit, you have three options, depending on your car’s setup and whether your priority is making phone calls or listening to music. If your car has an aux-in (headphone-jack) setup, we recommend iClever’s Himbox HB01 ($30). If you don’t have an aux-in port and value call quality over sound, Motorola’s Roadster 2 ($80) clip-on speakerphone is the best pick. If you don’t have an aux-in jack, and music quality is more important for you than phone calls, get the Mpow Streambot Y FM transmitter for $37.
Our picks, from left: iClever Himbox HB01, Motorola Roadster 2, Mpow Streambot Y.
We spent 20 hours researching the latest version of this guide, comparing 10 new units to the 11 we originally tested, to find the best in each category. If you’d like to dig in deeper into what features to look for in a kit, how to deal with whiny audio cables, or you simply want additional picks besides the three mentioned here, visit our full guide.
How we decided
The most important thing we looked for when testing was ease of use and how close each kit came to a built-in-Bluetooth experience.
The most important thing we looked for when testing was ease of use and how close each kit came to a built-in-Bluetooth experience. With that in mind, we set out to find the most promising candidates for each of the three types of kit. For aux-in kits, we eliminated any that required you to use your car’s accessory-power outlet for power without also including a USB charger with at least 1-Amp output for charging a phone at the same time; we also eliminated any that didn’t have phone-answering functionality, as well as those that had downright awful user reviews. For speakerphones, we focused on units with FM-transmitter capabilities, native voice commands, and the capability to auto-pair. Finally, dedicated FM transmitters were easier to narrow down because not many people make them anymore, and few have positive reviews; we tested only the ones that earned high ratings.
We tested incoming call quality and sound clarity both with the windows up and the windows down while driving at 45 to 50 mph in a 2013 Toyota Prius C. We similarly tested outgoing call quality by leaving voicemails to ourselves while driving with the windows up and the windows down; we then listened to each voicemail to choose the devices that left the clearest and easiest-to-understand messages. Devices that left echoey or distorted messages were eliminated from consideration. We also streamed music while driving to test for consistency, and compared units by switching between them while using the same songs on the same source device.
The iClever Himbox HB01 is the best aux-in kit we tested. Audio quality is as good as, or better than, with any other model, and the inclusion of track-control buttons on the main unit and an extra charging port on the included power adapter are appreciated. We also like that it can be detached from its own charger to be used with other, potentially faster charging sources or ones with more ports. And we like the small, unobtrusive design and the magnetic mounting plate.
After testing three of the top-rated speakerphones, we found that the Motorola Roadster 2 is the easiest speakerphone to use while driving, and it comes the closest to feeling like a native Bluetooth setup. It offers easy pairing, clear and crisp audio, a few native voice commands, and built-in motion sensors that can detect when you’re actually in the car.If making great-sounding calls is the most important feature for you, this is the one to buy.
We also went hands-on with five of the highest-rated FM transmitters around, and we’re confident that the best is the Streambot Y from Mpow, because it sounds better than competitors when tuned to the same stations. Not only did the Streambot Y have the strongest signal of the bunch, but I couldn’t really tell the difference when comparing it head-to-head with a direct aux-in connection. Of course, to get that clarity, you need a clear channel, which isn’t always available—especially in urban areas—but it’s still very impressive.
No matter your car or your needs, there’s a good solution for streaming audio from your smartphone. The iClever Himbox HB01 is best for most people, but if you don’t have aux-in, Motorola’s Roadster 2 and Mpow’s Streambot Y both have their strengths.
This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to TheWirecutter.com.