Every other week, Australia’s state police bodies and traffic authorities bang on about the dangers of driving while talking on a handheld mobile phone.
And with the past year seeing more than 40,000 fines for in-car mobile phone offences handed out in New South Wales alone, it’s clear that one of the easiest ways to save ourselves from an unwelcome hit in the pocket (or into the side of the family car) is to invest in a decent hands-free setup.
Nokia reckons its flagship HF-510 system ($169.95) is the device for the job, so we’ve arranged to take it for a spin.
Sharing more than a few components with its slightly less-featured sibling, the HF-310 ($149.95), the HF-510 is packaged with a wall-socket and USB charging cable, a 12v car charger, a suction-cup window-mount and, thoughtfully, a sunvisor strap mount - in case your windscreen is already accommodating a GPS unit.
There is also an adhesive rubber dash-top mounting ‘plate’.
Features and Operation
Unlike the HF-310, the 510 benefits from the addition of a rich black-and-white OLED screen, offering details such as caller name (if copied over) and number, and remaining battery charge.
The HF-510 offers up to 30 hours of operation time and 180 hours of stand-by with the included battery, and the device can be recharged either by plugging it into a home wall socket, your computer’s USB port or the car’s 12v socket.
We didn’t measure our test unit’s ‘talk time’ to the minute, but after a week of extensive vehicle testing and no shortage of phone calls, the HF-510’s battery display indicated that it still held about a quarter of its full charge.
If needed, a full recharge will take about two hours, and a battery-saving function can also be used to automatically switch the device off after 30 minutes of inactivity.
Simplicity is the key to the HF-510. It consists of only a speaker, an outer rotary menu dial and a couple of buttons. It feels good and is easy to use.
Synchronising the HF-510 hands-free device to your Nokia handset is a simple task; tap the top-mounted power button on the hands-free speaker to make sure it’s on and ready to go, then follow the usual steps of pairing a Bluetooth device with your phone.
We had no problem ‘finding’ the HF-510 with our Nokia N97 Mini test phone, and the largely automatic pairing process was complete in less than a minute.
Once paired, the key to a smooth time using the HF-510 is, simply, to leave your phone in your pocket - operating the handset directly while synced with the hands-free kit will only lead to calls going to the handset instead of the hands-free system.
When synced with the handset, the HF-510 becomes the primary device, offering not only the ability to receive calls, but also to make calls by using the rotary dial to scroll through your phone book - copied to the device and displaying on the screen - and tapping the front button to place a call.
The OLED screen offers a sharp, clear image, but as with most OLED screens, direct sunlight (or any strong light) renders the display virtually unreadable. With a little trial and error however, it is a simple task to find the best mounting position for optimum readability.
Sound quality and volume (also controlled by the outer rotary ring) proved to be satisfyingly clear and audible, no doubt thanks to the HF-510’s larger-than-usual speaker.
The microphone also performed well, with calls placed from the device coming through to our mobile and office phones ‘loud and clear’.
Like most hands-free devices, the HF-510 isn’t loaded with features - of course, simplicity is a deliberate design element with this sort of technology.
Nonetheless, the HF-510 is a solid performer, synchronising easily and offering excellent clarity and volume, fast and accurate controls, a clear screen (itself a unique feature in this arena) and a good feel in the hand.
Is it worth $169.95? On a feature and quality level alone, yes. Land yourself a $200+ penalty for using the handset instead, and that question will answer itself even faster.
TMR Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
- Build quality.
- Volume and sound quality.
- Simple menu operation that keeps frustration and distractions to a minimum.
- The big speaker may contribute to the great sound quality, but... it’s bloody big.
- Incoming calls caused both the handset and speaker to ring - and muting the handset does the same to the speaker.
- Mike Stevens