Contour Design’s Surface Sound Compact

Introduction
Since the launch of the iPhone there hasn’t been a flood of iPhone compatible gadgets to review. Because of this I have been reviewing cases, headphones, and protective and designer skins. Contour Design, makers of the iSee Case and iSee V3 case for the iPhone, have recently started shipping the Surface Sound Compact, a new bluetooth speakerphone car kit for the iPhone or any bluetooth enabled mobile phone.

The Surface Sound Compact is a flat, square speaker with an integrated pivoting microphone and large visor clip. The speakerphone system features DSP noise reduction and echo cancellation technology and parental control app iPhone, providing the promise of clear conversations even while driving down the highway, and the integrated rechargeable battery provides up to 21 days of standby and 15 hours of talk time. Battery life is so good that you may only need to charge the speakerphone once or twice a month.

Review
Extremely Long Battery Life
When I first took the Surface Sound Compact Speakerphone out of the box it turned on without a charge, so I never bothered to charge it. After taking a few product shots for the review and pairing it with the iPhone, I immediately brought it into the car and slid it onto the visor. I have been using it on and off now for about 2 weeks and have not yet needed to recharge it. Very impressive.

Voice Quality
Equally impressive is the outbound sound quality. While driving around town I made a few test calls to four members of my family and not one questioned whether or not they were on speakerphone. Typically when I use a speakerphone I am told by my father that he can’t hear me while both my daughter and brother will typically ask me “do you have me on speakerphone?” Once I let them know that I was testing out a new speakerphone they were quite impressed by the sound quality – well at least my brother and daughter were!. A couple of days later I handed my iPhone and Speakerphone to my daughter and had her call me at home. I asked her to cycle through the audio sources on the iPhone (SSC – Surface Sound Compact, iPhone Speakerphone, and the iPhone handset) while talking without letting me know which source she was using. I was equally impressed by the sound quality. The audio quality of the SSC speakerphone was much better than the iPhone’s speakerphone and not that far off from the handset quality. Don’t get me wrong, you will never confuse the two, but the microphone did a great job of reducing background noise and making conversations sound normal and clear.

Speaker Quality
Of course, a speakerphone is not all about microphone quality. The speaker also plays a big role and the speaker integrated into the SSC speakerphone didn’t disappoint. The speaker is very large for such a compact unit and lays virtually flush on your car’s visor. The entire unit is only 13mm thick (0.5″), helping to keep it flush and out of your field of vision (See Photo #5). The speaker quality was very good and conversations were easily understood even at highway speed. The speaker volume, at the highest setting, is loud enough to hear in virtually all driving conditions, but there is some distortion at the loudest settings. Lowering the volume a couple of notches reduced the distortion and is still loud enough to hear under normal driving conditions.

Easy Access Controls
The SCC speakerphone features a pivoting microphone ‘stick’ that is also used to power on/off the unit. In the off position the microphone sits flat to the right of the speaker. When you want to make or answer a call you just pivot the microphone down toward you and the unit automatically syncs with your phone and is ready to go in approximately 2 seconds.

The right side of the speaker features buttons for volume +/- as well as a second toggle for answering / ending a call (See Photo #7). On the front edge is an earphone connector and USB connector. An earphone is included in the package and can be plugged into the speakerphone at times when you would like to keep their side of the conversation private. The USB connector is used to re-charge the speakerphone by plugging the speakerphone directly into a USB port or your car’s power adapter. The DC power adapter is included.

Answer or Making Calls
The iPhone does not offer voice dialing, but the SSC speakerphone does support voice dialing for those using a bluetooth-enabled phone that supports this feature. Making a call using voice dialing is as simple as pressing the “Talk” button once, waiting for the tone, and speaking the name of the pre-programmed contact. To end a call just press the “End” button once.

On phones that do not support voice dialing, making a call is also very simple, but requires dialing the actual number or selecting a phone number from the phone’s contact list. Pivot the microphone toward you, dial the number, and the phone will automatically send the call to the speakerphone.

Other Call Functions
The side buttons on the SSC speakerphone also allow you to mute the microphone, transfer the audio back to your phone, and switch calls if you have call waiting.

Muting a call: Pressing the Volume + button for 2 seconds will mute the microphone during a call. Pressing it again for 2 seconds will un-mute the microphone.

Call Waiting: Press the TALK button for 3 seconds will place your first call on hold and will pick up the incoming call. Press the TALK button again for 3 seconds will swap the calls, placing the current one on hold. To end the current call and pick up the call on hold – just press the TALK button once quickly.

Transferring Call to Handset: Depending on your bluetooth profile (handset vs. hands-free) you can transfer the call back to your phone by either pivoting the microphone to the off position (headset profile) or by pressing the TALK button twice (hands-free profile)

Extra Large Visor Clip / Desk Stand
A very large visor clip is mounted to the rear of the speakerphone allowing it to slide onto and sit comfortably on the visor (See Photo #3). The visor in my Mini Cooper is fairly typical in size and the speakerphone fit perfectly – laying flat against the visor.

The clip can also be used to keep the speakerphone propped up at an angle in your home/office. If you use your phone quite a bit during the day, you will find that the Surface Sound Compact makes a great desktop speakerphone. As mentioned earlier in this review, the earbud can also be used in the office to keep the other side of the conversation private.

Conclusion
As an avid user of a bluetooth wireless headset I wasn’t sure whether or not I would use an in-car speakerphone again. I have never had luck with in-car speakerphones in the past as they always made it sound as if I was talking from across the room and the speakers were never loud enough to hear while driving on the highway. The Contour Design Surface Sound Compact Speakerphone has changed all that.

The outgoing sound quality of the Surface Sound Compact (SSC) Speakerphone is excellent thanks to the DSP noise reduction and echo cancellation, and the incoming audio through the flat speaker was load and surprisingly clear when volume wasn’t cranked all the way. I did find that when the speaker volume was all the way up there was some slight echoing on the other of the call even with the echo cancellation technology, but even then it was minimal. Turn down the speaker volume just a bit and the calls will sound excellent with no voice echo.

The SSC Speakerphone also offers excellent battery life with three weeks of standby time (21 days) and over two weeks of talk time (15 days) before needing to connect it to your car’s power port. You can easily charge the speakerphone through any direct USB port or by using the included DC power kit.

The Surface Sound Compact Speakerphone is only 0.51″ thick and thanks to the large visor clip will lay flat on your visor or will stand at a slight angle when used on your desk. If you haven’t made the switch to hands-free or you don’t like the idea of putting a wireless headset so close to your head then take a look at Contour Design’s Surface Sound Compact Speakerphone. At $99.95, is isn’t priced into the stratosphere and it is the thinnest and most unobtrusive speakerphone I have ever seen. Add great sound quality into the equation and this is one of those products that won’t ever get returned when purchased for yourself or as a gift.

Additional Information

  • Get more information or buy it today from Contour Design
  • Download User’s Guide (.pdf format)
  • Watch Product Demonstration (YouTube)

Features

  • Compatible with all Bluetooth enabled devices
  • Switch on/off
  • Support for voice dialing
  • Take a call, end a call
  • Call Redial
  • Reject a call
  • Call waiting
  • Muting
  • Volume adjustment
  • Call back missed call / Dial back last incoming number
  • LED indicated charge status
  • Built-in voice alert reminds you of the actions in your headset.

Specifications

  1. Up to 15 hrs talk time
  2. Stand-by up to 22 days
  3. Weight about 110 grams (with clip)
  4. Size: 5.51″ x 3.7″ x 0.51″
  5. Speaker Power: Up to 104 dB / Up to 2 Watt
  6. Operation range: Up to 10 meters
  7. DSP for noise reduction and echo cancellation
  8. Dual color LED to show status of charge, end of charge, low battery, stand-by and communication
  9. Flat panel speaker doesn’t block visibility when driving
  10. 6mm thin in speaker area
  11. Installation free
  12. Can be mounted on car sun visor or used at home or office
  13. Keep your hands & ears free when driving
  14. Bluetooth specification: V1.2, compatible with all Bluetooth enabled devices