A Closer Look: Performance

dscf0429 Jabra FREEWAY review: your hands or the freeway

The Jabra FREEWAY is designed to be almost entirely voice-controlled with little manual control needed from the user. However, before one can start barking commands into the FREEWAY, the device first needs to be paired with a compatible mobile phone. Which, as it turns out, is definitely not rocket science, thanks to the FREEWAY giving precise voice instructions on how the procedure should be carried out. Simply put, the steps needed to do so are identical to how one would pair any other standard device via Bluetooth.

pairf Jabra FREEWAY review: your hands or the freeway
Definitely not rocket science.


Handling phone calls

As a voice-controlled in-car speaker, it is a given that the FREEWAY's primary task is to allow users the convenience of accepting or rejecting phone calls via voice commands, as well as being able to hear their conversions being played out loudly over a speaker system instead of resorting to low-quality earbuds. As it turned out, we had no problems with getting the FREEWAY to understand the commands we barked out for handling incoming calls. After all, it is logically impossible for anybody with minimal proficiency in the English language to flub up simple commands such as "Answer" or "Ignore".

Outgoing calls, on the other hand, were a little more complex. For one, the user had to manually push the Voice button on the FREEWAY to prepare the speaker, and then say "Phone Commands" in order to turn on the phone's voice dialing features. And when we did, the phone often ended up making calls to the wrong people; however, we would chalk that up to subpar voice recognition feature in our mobile phone and not the FREEWAY. And yes, the feature to perform outgoing calls on the Jabra FREEWAY is phone-dependent; a phone which does not have built-in support for voice-dialing will not be able to perform voice-controlled outgoing calls via the FREEWAY.


Audio playback

While the Jabra FREEWAY is not meant to function as a general purpose speaker for use with multimedia playback, Jabra clearly saw no problem with advertising it as a decent solution for that, simply because of the virtual surround sound system that the FREEWAY is capable of, along with its 2.1 speaker system. 

However, getting the FREEWAY to play back audio files is not as simple as simply firing up the device and commanding it to 'Play'; as it was with the case for outgoing calls, users have to manually hit the Voice button on the FREEWAY before issuing the relevant commands needed for audio playback. And to complicate matters a little more, users have to repeat the aforementioned step for every single audio playback-related command, such as "Next Track", "Previous Track" and "Stop".  In short, the FREEWAY's ability to remotely control a phone's music playback feature via voice commands is novel, but its implementation is enough of a hassle to deter most users from actually utilizing it while driving on the roads.

That being said, there is nothing to stop a user from controlling the music playback from his or her own smartphone, while relegating the FREEWAY to nothing more than a 'dumb' Bluetooth speaker.


Sound quality

In an earlier posting about the Jabra FREEWAY, it would appear that Jabra was clearly proud of its ability to cram in a 2.1 speaker system into diminutive FREEWAY. And if you would remember, we had previously uploaded a short video of the FREEWAY playing back a jazz piece with remarkable detail and fidelity, so suffice to say the FREEWAY is indeed capable of delivering decent sound in its tiny package.

Furthermore, Jabra has confirmed that the FREEWAY also includes support for HD Voice, which simply refers to voice data being transmitted over wideband frequencies. As it is, Singapore has yet to introduce wideband networks for use, but consumers will probably take comfort in the fact that their FREEWAY comes with some form of technological future-proofing.


Conclusion

Just as we have mentioned before, the Jabra FREEWAY's primary purpose is to serve as an in-car, voice-controlled speaker system for mobile phones. For the most part, we can safely say that it has been capable in fulfilling this primary task which it was designed for. At the very least, the FREEWAY was able recognize the standard voice commands of "Answer" and "Ignore" without much issue, and we seldom had to repeat the spoken commands more than once, in spite of our Singaporean English slang.

Making outgoing calls was a little bit more tedious though, as the FREEWAY had to be armed for the task by manually pushing the 'Voice' button on the unit before voice commands could be issued. And even then, our mobile phone had a habit of misinterpreting our spoken orders, although this is usually more of a fault with the phone's voice recognition features and has nothing to do with the FREEWAY.

Audio playback via voice controls also sounded like a great idea when we were first introduced to the concept sometime back, but its implementation in the FREEWAY can be considered to be enough of a hassle to deter most average users from doing so. However, the sound quality that the FREEWAY is capable of churning out under the right circumstances may more than make up for the hassle, especially if one takes into account that media playback can also be controlled from the paired mobile phones.

Last but not least, we have pointed out in our previous coverage that the Jabra FREEWAY will retail at S$198. While that might sound like a lot for a simple in-car Bluetooth speaker that is only slightly larger the size of an adult male's palm, one must also remember that what the FREEWAY lacks in size, it makes up for in the form of sound quality and a very gentle learning curve. But more importantly, no amount of money can make up for the consequences of getting caught, penalized and fined by our friendly Traffic Police personnel for yapping away on the phone while driving on the roads like the addicted chatterboxes most of us are.

Verdict:

    Score
Ergonomics/
Aesthetics (10%)
For the fingerprint magnet it is, the Jabra FREEWAY packs a surprising amount of style and class with its small package.  8.7
Features (20%) Bluetooth connectivity, voice controls and a "virtual surround sound system" are really what a user will be investing in a FREEWAY for. That being said, the ability to operate two mobile phones simultaneously is a plus. 8.5
 Performance (30%) Voice controls work fairly well and are easily recognized by the FREEWAY's voice recognition capabilities. However, it takes a backseat when stacked against the sound quality it is capable of churning out.  8.9
Usability (30%) Turn on FREEWAY, insert voice command, repeat ad infinitum. It does not get any more easier or complicated than that. At least, until it gets used for audio playback.  8.8
Price/Package (10%) Forking out S$198 for a matte-finished plastic box with a 2.1 speaker system does not sound like the cheapest toy to indulge in. Still, chances are consumers are most likely to change their minds after a run-in with the ever-so-friendly Uncle Charlie of the traffic police department. 8.5


Final Score:

score Jabra FREEWAY review: your hands or the freeway