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mr Handsfree Blue Chameleon

Tue Nov 7, 2006 - 3:30 PM EST - By Jay Gross

Overview

Chameleon, indeed. Mr Handsfree’s Blue Chameleon isn’t blue, but it comes with 50, as in fifty! die-cut faceplates in plain and fancy designs to decorate the device to your taste. Faux white tiger, cool camouflage, pink plaid, delicate daisies, choose the look that fits your mood, matches your shoes, or contrasts with your pet.

The Chameleon is a Bluetooth headset with a classy design and impressive specs for talk and standby time. It’s recharged using an included charger that plugs into a skillfully hidden slot at the top of the device. A tiny rubber cover protects the charging slot from dirt, and the cover is hinged so it won’t get lost (whew!).


Usability

The Blue Chameleon lives up to its first name. Its one round button emits a pretty blue halo that either blinks or stays on, according to function. The one button does all. Hold it down for features beyond off and on. Hold it down while it’s on to redial the last number. Hold it even longer to initiate pairing mode.

Powered and ready to take calls, it blinks. During pairing it stays lit. You’ll see that a lot, ‘cause the Chameleon can pair with up to eight devices. My two Treos didn’t even set it back a notch. Of course it only works with one at a time, and the latest one it paired with is the one of choice until you interfere. I found it rather frustrating to have it paired to more than one device, as it doesn’t simply answer any device on its list that rings.

Generally, it’s not particularly intuitive to use, so plan on pouring through the documentation. A paper quick reference guide that comes with the unit refers you to an extended electronic manual (PDF) on the company’s website. Extended, it is not. It’s the same “quick” reference, but available in eleven languages. I only checked out the English, Spanish, and French versions. You’re on your own for Hungarian, Croatian, Greek, Dutch, Russian, German, Italian, and Portuguese.

The flashing that indicates the unit is on stops after five minutes, to save the battery. Sweet. Any activity sets it blinking again, but the point is that the device stays on, ready to handle a call, until you turn it off (hold down the “multifunction button” for a few seconds). When you turn it on or off, the Chameleon plays a four-note tune so you can tell what’s happening (or not).

On the hold-down scheme to make one button do multiple jobs, people fall into two camps: hate it, or love it. I’d rather deal with one multi-function button than two tinier ones on such a small device, but somehow the Chameleon frequently gets confused and redials the last call instead of turning itself off. I had to power the Treo off first, to get the Chameleon to power down, instead of redial. Unacceptable, but I put up with this after accidentally calling a friend at an odd hour.

Changing the color

Fresh out of the box, the Blue Chameleon is black. You change it to suit your fancy by removing the black faceplate (unbitten fingernails will help with this operation) and replacing it with a clear plastic cover that will hold one of the included, die-cut paper faceplates. The designs are all over the palette, plain and fancy, sedate and ridiculous. If you still don’t find what you need, invest in some markers and make your own design on one of the plain color panels.


Sound quality

For a headset, there are two sound quality considerations, incoming and outgoing. The Blue Chameleon’s outgoing sound can suffer severely from ambient noise, since it has no noise suppression. In a calm environment, however, the caller on the other end of the conversation won’t even know you’re using a headset. The sound is that clean – outgoing. In traffic or in a busy restaurant, wherever decibels stack to the rafters, the Chameleon will send out what it “hears” - all of it, and your conversation won’t be very comfortable.

Incoming sound is another matter entirely. The Blue Chameleon has sound quality nailed down, but there isn’t much of it. If you take Treo calls in a quiet place, you’ll be happy. In even slightly noisy surroundings, you might as well plan on skipping the headset and just hold the Treo up to your ear.


Problems

Though easy on the eyes, the Blue Chameleon is none too kind to the ears. The unit has great sound quality, but insufficient volume to enjoy it and no noise canceling. I found myself abusing its controls trying to get more out of it than it could dish up. In a noisy area – like taking a call while strolling in this downtown neighborhood - the volume isn’t nearly enough. The transmitted volume is fine. The received volume is too low, even at its highest setting. I kept demanding that my caller speak up, and that’s before the cabs started honking their horns at each other in the nearby intersection.

The Chameleon considerately comes with a lanyard so you can do the albatross thing with the colorful lizard. The lanyard won’t coexist with the ear hook, however. It worked, but couldn’t snap onto its post and therefore didn’t inspire my confidence. In most situations you don’t need either one. Just cram the fluffy ear pad into your outer ear and it’ll stay put nicely without the hook – quite comfy for eyeglasses wearers like me.

The buttons, too. Volume Up (the only one you’re likely to need) is on the top of the device, and Volume Down is on the bottom. The device is small, and its buttons are tiny. It takes some practice to activate only one of them, because there’s nothing to press against. Squeezing pushes both buttons, not useful.

I’ve had a frustrating time with the Chameleon and the Treo 700p, reflecting the 700p’s much maligned Bluetooth implementation. The Blue Chameleon pairs instantly, but the Treo forgets it’s there and has to be re-paired after the Chameleon idles, even for a short time.

The Chameleon behaves much more reliably and predictably with the Treo 650, but it still frequently gets confused when I’m trying to shut it off, and redials the last number called.



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