If you have a car without Bluetooth and you want to add it, you’ve only got a few options. You can either buy a new car, buy an aftermarket head unit (for a few hundred bucks), or you can buy a Bluetooth car adapter. While new head units (and new cars) have their place, if you’re happy with your current car stereo, Bluetooth car adapters are a great way to add extra connectivity without breaking the bank!
Note: All the options here should work equally well for any recent Android or Apple phone, tablet, or music player!
Bluetooth Car Adapters for Cars without an Aux Input
If you don’t have a 3.5mm aux input factory-fitted, your options are to either buy a kit to install an aux input (potentially expensive and certainly more time consuming), or work around that limitation. Probably the easiest work-around is a Bluetooth adapter with an FM transmitter.
The downside of the FM transmitter is that you will get a reduction in audio quality both from the Bluetooth conversion (very slight) and from the FM transmission. The FM interference can be especially bad if you live (or drive) in a big city, since you’ll have a harder time finding a clear FM channel to use. In more rural and less-crowded environments, though, the FM quality is not bad at all.
For a Hard-to-Access Cigarette Lighter Port
If you have an oddly-placed cigarette lighter port, an option with a longer, flexible neck can make it easy to access the various buttons and screens. I’m a big fan of my GoGroove FlexSmart X2, which has a simple display (showing either the volume or the currently-tuned FM transmitting station), and several physical buttons. While it works quite well (I much prefer having multiple buttons, since its easier to use by touch), it’s not perfect. For example, the volume does reset to 20 (out of 30) every time you turn off the car, and occasionally the device needs to be turned off and back on to make sure it connects properly, but these are minor problems in general. Once nice feature is the “auto-search” where the X2 will automatically search for a clear radio station in your area. Oddly, it will not filter out even-numbered decimals (which you usually can’t tune to in car radios), but it does help you find some “clear air” quickly.
GoGroove also has the GoGroove FlexSmart X2 Mini, which is essentially the same as the X2, but without the flexible neck. This is a great choice if you don’t want (or need) the extra flexibility (ha!) – more on this model below.
There are other models that feature flexible necks and have even more options such as color screens with built in caller-ID, track/artist information, and more, such as the Nulaxy In-Car Bluetooth Kit and the Otium Wireless Radio Adapter. I don’t have any any personal experience with these (though the Amazon reviews are quite good), but they do have lots of buttons, a flexible neck, and some may appreciate the extra bells and whistles!
For a Convenient Cigarette Lighter Port
If you’re looking for something a bit smaller and more discreet, or you have an easy-to-reach cigarette port and don’t want or need the flexible neck, there are smaller options as well.
Like I mentioned above, the GoGroove FlexSmart X2 Mini would be my first choice, since it features just about all of the features of the normal FlexSmart X2, except the long, flexible neck. It does tilt, but since it takes up less room (without the long neck)it may actually be easier to fit into some cars than the normal X2.
There are other options for smaller FM transmitters, but, once again, I don’t have any personal experience with them. Options like the MFEEL Bluetooth Transmitter and the Btopllc BC06 are both small, have similar feature sets, and get good Amazon reviews.
Bluetooth Car Adapters for Cars with Aux Input
If you have an aux input in your car, your audio results will be much better. Being able to plug the Bluetooth receiver directly into your car’s stereo means that there is a much lower drop in overall audio qualit, and the audio will be much more consistent (since you don’t have to constantly search for the clearest FM stations).
One of the best solutions for cars with an aux input is the iClever Himbox, which features excellent sound quality, a built-in mic, a magnetic base, and a 2-port charger, so you can plug in the Bluetooth receiver AND your phone. That charger is one of the features that makes this one of the best aux-input models, since it means that if you already have a multi-port car charger (like this awesome Anker 4-port car charger) then you can easily use that charger instead of the included iClever one (the iClever charger is not super-powerful). Some of the aux-in Bluetooth receivers have the charger permanently “wired in” which means if the charger dies, you must replace the whole system.
My wife is currently using the Belkin Car Audio Connect, which is just average. Sound quality is okay, but it has a slightly (err, very) awkward single-button interface, and a permanently-attached power cable.
Aukey makes a very similar model to the iClever and the Belkin, except the Aukey Bluetooth Car Kit comes with a 3-port charging adapter, which allows you to charge two additional devices, unlike the Belkin and the iClever, which only allow you to charge one additional device when you’re using the Bluetooth receiver.
One unique option is the GoGroove SMARTmini Aux. Instead of the normal round disc that is affixed to your dashboard, it can plug directly into your aux port or be attached to the dash. It also can run on battery (for about 6 hour) or be plugged in. It doesn’t come with a car charger, however, and it only has a single button, which can be a difficult interface to use for some. This is one of the few models that can be used without any cables at all, however, so that may be useful to some.
While Bluetooth integration in cars has come a long way in the past 5 years or so, there no reason to spend several hundred dollars on an after-market (or factory-fitted) stereo to get advanced Bluetooth features. Whether your car is new enough to have an aux input or not, there are inexpensive solutions that can help bring your car into the 21st century and save you from terrestrial radio!