Review: Mobile Home puts Siri in the driver's seat

Posted:
in iPhone edited April 2015
Apple's Siri is a great tool for safely automating iPhone tasks while driving, but under certain circumstances the virtual assistant can only be summoned by taking a hand off the wheel and pressing the home button. With CarPlay being anything but ubiquitous, Beanco Tech created a stopgap in Mobile Home.




Not too long ago, we took a look at two non-CarPlay-enabled head units -- the Scosche controlFREQ and Parrot's Asteroid Smart -- and found both to lack a seemingly obvious feature many iPhone users depend on: a home button to trigger Siri.

At the time, we noted the oversight as being indicative of the aftermarket audio industry as a whole. Unlike factory installed entertainment systems, third-party equipment sometimes comes with usability tradeoffs as audio system manufacturers try to hit a benefit-cost sweet spot.

Beanco Tech makes a product they call "Mobile Home," which adds a large home button to your window visor or dashboard, allowing you to prompt handsfree use, Siri Eyes-Free, when using a stereo that takes audio from an iPhone.

Design

About the size and shape of an iPod nano, Mobile Home is an exercise in simplicity. It has a large circular button with a rounded square icon that looks similar to the home button used on iOS devices prior to Touch ID. Up top is a translucent elongated "pill" button that doubles as the lens for an amber colored status LED.




There's also a wire metal clip to attach Mobile Home to a car's sun visor, or Velcro to stick it to the dashboard. One of the most convenient things about the product is that it isn't a permanent install, making it easy to take from one car to another.

Thanks to Mobile Home's portability, and a ready supply of family smartphones, we were able to test it out in multiple cars. It totally worked, and the one response in common was, "how did you do that?" (Yes, sometimes it's the simple things people find impressive.)

Setup and use

Long pressing on the rectangular button causes the LED to flash quickly and makes Mobile Home discoverable to iOS as a Bluetooth keyboard. And that's essentially what it is; a keyboard with the one key you need most, the home key.




Once paired, pressing the large home button acts just like pressing home on the iOS device itself.

If you have your iPhone configured to allow Siri to work when the phone is locked with a passcode, Mobile Home will just work. If you have restrictions set up, you'll have to unlock your phone before Mobile Home is able to prompt Siri; pressing the button will simply bring up the number pad for entering the passcode.

Power management

Mobile Home is battery powered, using an uncommon lithium ion 2405n coin cell. It lasts a long time, and Beanco Tech has generously put an extra battery in the packaging for the day that it does run out.




When it's not in use for a period of time, Mobile Home automatically powers off. Long pressing either button will wake it up, display an orange light briefly, and then the home button will work as expected.

When it's paired, and not in power conservation mode, it responds immediately. There's no delay, or long-press required. It just acts that fast.

In the future, there will be a similar hardwired product you'll need a car stereo installer to install, so that the Mobile Home button will be always on as long as your car is turned on. Beanco Tech teased this during SEMA 2014 with a picture on their Instagram page

Conclusion

This is really the easiest kind of product to like. It's simple. It does one thing well and solves a problem we commonly experience. If pressed, the only thing we dislike about it is that it uses an uncommon battery size and requires that initial long press to wake it from sleep.

Mobile Home also comes in at $80. That's not a small amount, but if you have a car stereo that's difficult to upgrade with line-in or handsfree capabilities, this is a way to make the experience that much better.




So why do you need it if it's possible to plug your phone into a charger and say "Hey, Siri," to prompt voice control of your iPhone? It's mostly about simplicity. Maybe you don't always remember to plug in the phone when you get in the car. Maybe you don't take the phone out of your pocket, especially if it pairs with a factory Bluetooth handsfree system automatically. If this is the case, it may make sense to have a physical home button that prompts Siri for you.

We would be remiss to not mention safety. People drive with their phones-as navigation, as reading incoming messages aloud, and conducting phone calls. Having a physical button in the same place in the car every time is no guarantee to make a drive safer, but it's more predictable than fumbling with the phone and having to take the phone out and plug it in to make "Hey, Siri" work. It's possible that having MobileHome in the car may make your drive safer.

Score: 3 out 5

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Pros:
  • Makes aux-in or car handsfree car stereos like Siri eyes-free

  • Easy to use

  • Physical button

  • Easy to move from car to car
Cons:
  • Uncommon battery size

  • Duplicates existing functionality of "Hey, Siri"

  • Inconvenient need to wake from power conservation mode every drive.

Where to buy

Mobile Home is available for $79 from Amazon.com.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 13
    Hmmm...
    A button to press that saves you the trouble of pressing a button on your iPhone?
    Why not simply say "Hey Siri" since your iPhone is probably plugged in?
  • Reply 2 of 13
    takeotakeo Posts: 414member

    I don't get it. It's a button. My phone already has a button.

  • Reply 3 of 13
    sandorsandor Posts: 434member
    I'm with you guys.

    In my car, phone is plugged in and mounted for possible map use - in position, like clockwork, before I even put on my seatbelt.

    Hey Siri was a game changer for my use, this device is another piece of clutter floating around.
  • Reply 4 of 13
    As long as your phone is plugged in, in the car or at home, there is zero need to press a button. Just say Hey Siri and whatever you want "her" to do. That's kind of the point with Siri hands free. As soon as you have to start pushing buttons, you're back to being distracted.
  • Reply 5 of 13
    I could see this functionality built into the AppleWatch as being useful, but I don't think I would buy a separate $80 device to do this...
  • Reply 6 of 13
    solipsismysolipsismy Posts: 5,099member
    I like the concept, because I hate saying "Hey, Siri" over the music or having to turn down my music before evoking "Hey, Siri" and even then it's not going to register it 100% of the time.

    If they make a 2nd generation I'd like to see the following two changes:
    • Make it much smaller and designed to be attached to the steering wheel itself so that your normal resting positions on the wheel can easily press the "Home Button" without moving your hands. This default design of reaching above your head to the visor seems like a pain.
    • Make a single, short press of the "Home Button" transmit a long-press command so I don't have to do extended presses on Mobile Home device. While driving I simply have no reason to do a short-press of the "Home Button" unless I'm actually looking at my iPhone, which I assume this should help remove.

    emoeller wrote: »
    I could see this functionality built into the AppleWatch as being useful, but I don't think I would buy a separate $80 device to do this...

    I wish them well for a novel idea but besides my aforementioned implementation issues i think cost is far too high for the utility. If they could get this down to under $29 I think it would sell like gangbusters as it'll be years before the common car will have CarPlay.
  • Reply 7 of 13
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member

    Is there a Siri user manual?

     

    I have terrible results asking for random information. Most of the time she just says...This is what I found on the web.

     

    Some things she knows very well, like sports scores which I occasionally want to know, but for example, if you ask ... What television network is the super bowl on, she tells you everything about the super bowl except the answer to your question.

     

    Is there some way to make her read what is on the screen? The last thing someone should do is take their eyes of the road to read some tiny text on their iPhone. But really, she should be smart enough to parse the question and speak just the answer. The answer is right there on the screen. NBC.

  • Reply 8 of 13
    I have an iPhone 6 plus. For me, I have to press the home button three times. The first time is to pair it with my iPhone, then twice more once the Mobile Home is connected. The first time brings up the passcode screen, the second time brings up Siri. No problem if the phone is in sight, but if it's in my pocket, it's hard to tell the status of the phone.

    This is an OK device that allows you to use Siri while driving (I own a 2014 Ford Fusion w/ MyFord Touch and Sync) but hardly the perfect solution, and pricey at $79.
  • Reply 9 of 13



    There is actually an item called coda wheel that sells for around $30 that is much smaller. It doesn't come with the visor clip, just velcro, but it works pretty well. It does essentially the same task as this button.

  • Reply 10 of 13
    $80 for a small two button bluetooth keyboard??? Come on. That is a rip off.

    Similar bluetooth iPhone camera remote controls only cost $3 to $7 on Amazon.

    The Satechi bluetooth multi-media remote control for the iPhone has a home button, is about the same size, and costs only $35. It has additional buttons to control the music and act as a Keynote remote for presentations.
  • Reply 11 of 13
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,414member

    I find "Hey Siri" to be very hit and miss.  Doesn't hear me when I say "Hey Siri" around half the time, and yet activates in a quiet room (actually happened once), or when the only sound is a podcast that is coming out of the iPhone (happened many times, and they didn't say anything like "Hey Siri").

     

    I also had a moment of panic once when I was the other side of the room, Siri activated in response to something, must have heard some kid of command, said "Ok", then closed off before I got to the phone.  To this day I don't know what the command was or what it did.

  • Reply 12 of 13
    solipsismysolipsismy Posts: 5,099member
    mkral wrote: »

    There is actually an item called coda wheel that sells for around $30 that is much smaller. It doesn't come with the visor clip, just velcro, but it works pretty well. It does essentially the same task as this button.

    I found it for $39. If it's smart enough to auto-connect to BT* I may just buy it.


    * I have a cheap BT radio in my bathroom that requires me to jump into Settings » Bluetooth to connect each time after it disconnects. Not tough, but not something I want to do overtime I get in my car.
  • Reply 13 of 13
    "Is there a Siri user manual?

    I have terrible results asking for random information. Most of the time she just says...This is what I found on the web.

    Some things she knows very well, like sports scores which I occasionally want to know, but for example, if you ask ... What television network is the super bowl on, she tells you everything about the super bowl except the answer to your question.

    Is there some way to make her read what is on the screen? The last thing someone should do is take their eyes of the road to read some tiny text on their iPhone. But really, she should be smart enough to parse the question and speak just the answer. The answer is right there on the screen. NBC."

    Actually there is, and with just a quick read of the article when siri came out I am able to control Siri very well. I use it to get information, have it read texts to me, and get location info while i'm in my car, or on my bike looking for friends or meet up groups. I see people trying interacting with their phones in their cars still and it looks strange to me, i've become very used to just asking or talking to my phone to get the info I need.

    http://support.apple.com/en-us/HT4992
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