Review: CoolStream Car Chat Plus
Previously, we’ve looked at some of CoolStream’s prior products, including the well-liked and versatile Duo as Bluetooth options for existing audio setups. While the Duo works nicely in just about any car, it doesn’t provide an all-in-one setup for those who are starting from scratch. Ideally, you’d still need to provide some way to charge your phone and a 30-pin Dock Connector cable for charging the Duo when the battery eventually runs out. Instead, CoolStream has introduced the Car Chat Plus, a $36 device that combines a Bluetooth receiver, charger, and speakerphone in one.
Unlike the Duo, which is designed to work with a variety of applications, the Car Chat Plus can only be used in the car. Instead of battery power and a 30-pin Dock Connector, it relies on a traditional
cigarette lighter power outlet and features an attached 3.5mm audio output cable. Much like Griffin’s iTrip Aux, the “bulb” gains some extra controls – a play/pause/call receive button and a pair of track skip buttons. Depending on where the power outlet is located on your car, they are a bit awkwardly located (mine is recessed, so two of the buttons are nearly impossible to press without looking for them—not good for car use). Moving to the end of the device, there is a microphone and two 2.5 amp USB ports for charging just about any device you can think of, including full-sized iPads and iPhone 6/6 Plus.
Just as with the Duo, pairing is very simple and the Car Chat Plus can pair with two devices, good for sharing your sound system with friends or family members. As with most other modern Bluetooth devices, a PIN isn’t required. It would be nice to see more devices, especially as many people have multiple iOS devices.
In addition to acting as a receiver for music playback, this device also fulfills the chat portion of its name by turning any car stereo with a 3.5mm auxiliary input into a Bluetooth-enabled speakerphone. In a few tests, this function seemed to work quite well, despite the microphone being rather low on my dashboard. Music playback was also clear and didn’t seem to have skipping issues that have appeared with some Bluetooth audio receivers in exhaustive testing—this is probably due to Bluetooth 4.0 and newer codecs being available.
Additionally, for those keeping track of specifications, the Car Chat Plus does includes the aptX codec if your particular device supports it. For those keeping score at home, iOS still does not.
Although you have to provide your own Lightning or 30-pin Dock Connector cable for iOS devices, the Car Chat Plus includes a micro USB cable for Android devices, which is a nice touch. Obviously, getting an official Lightning cable would have added to the cost of the device, and even if you live in iOS land, a micro USB-to-USB cable is always handy to have around.
With a list price of $80, but currently available for $36, the Car Chat Plus is a pretty good product for the money. As far as items to improve upon, a slightly less cluttered “bulb” on the charging portion would be nice, due to the strange fit in some vehicles. At its current price, it is a steal for anyone with an older vehicle that wants to upgrade. For those who have newer vehicles with at least a Bluetooth speakerphone capability or looking for a more iPhone-specific option, Griffin’s iTrip Aux might be a better option, especially if the Car Chat Plus price rises. Finally, for those who have an array of iOS accessories they want to repurpose, CoolStream’s own Duo will still be the best choice for flexibility.
The One-Sentence Verdict™
Taking the Duo’s success one step further into a purpose-built product, CoolStream has a solid performer in the Car Chat Plus.
Pros: Solid performance for streaming and calls, dual 2.5A USB charging ports
Cons: Controls awkward in some cars, can only pair with two devices, included micro USB cable only useful for some customers