Over the last little while, my wife and I have felt the need to replace our add-on Bluetooth kit in our car as it wasn’t working as well as it used to. Now because this was a tech related item, my wife delegated the task of finding a replacement to me. I didn’t really want to replace the factory stereo with an after market unit as the cost of that including installation would be high. So, after doing some research I came across a company called GTA Car Kits which sells iPod/iPhone integration kits and Bluetooth add-on hardware for cars that don’t have either but still have the factory stereo. We didn’t need iPod/iPhone integration so I decided on their Pure Bluetooth car kit. This kit promises the following:
- Compatibility with almost any Bluetooth enabled Smartphone.
- CD or better quality sound.
- The ability to stream all of your music and have full control of said music through the factory stereo system and the steering wheel controls.
- The ability to answer and hang up the phone through the factory stereo system and the steering wheel controls.
- It includes an AUX audio port for non-Bluetooth devices and a USB port to charge the phone (data transfer is not supported). A microphone is also included.
- Easy installation.
First let’s tackle what comes with the kit:
There is a main unit that interfaces with the factory stereo. You also get a bunch of cables:
- One connects the main unit with the factory stereo
- A 1/8″ cable that allows you to plug in a non-Bluetooth device
- A microphone.
Please note that the image above comes from GTA Car Kits website.
Now let’s tackle the installation part. Assuming you have some skill and the right tools (more on the tools you need in a second), you should be able to install this yourself. One of the things that GTA Car Kits has done is provide videos to help you install these kits. While the videos are currently for their iPod/iPhone integration kits and are currently not available for the Pure Bluetooth car kit (although videos are starting to appear for some cars), they are still useful as the process is largely the same. It also makes up for the fact that the printed instructions are on the sparse side (and to be fair, deliberately so as I cannot see how they would be able to document every car make and model in a printed document). Here’s an example of such a video for the Toyota Matrix that I have:
Another thing that they’ve done is they make the tools that you need to install these kits available for sale along with a video showing how they are to be used properly. Thus you can get everything that you need to do this yourself. Now based on the feedback that I have seen, installation is achievable by most people. But if you’re not good at doing this sort of thing, you may wish to get a pro in a car stereo shop to do it for you. Alternately if you live in Toronto or the Greater Toronto Area, they can install it for you for a fee. That’s the route that I went and it only took them about 30 minutes to install it. One thing that I’d like to highlight is the placement of the microphone as pictured below:
Clearly they were able to pop off the panel on the “A” pillar to route the cable for the microphone. Even though it is hanging off the “A” pillar, I’m fine with that. When I examined the car later, I found no dents or scratches on the dash or the “A” pillar. In terms of the electronics, everything worked when I tested the functionality of the in-dash CD player, built in AUX port, and any of the lights or switch gear (that would be the passenger airbag lights and the hazard lights switch) that they would have had to disconnect to install the kit.
Now, I did not leverage the AUX port option as my car already had one built in. I also did not leverage the USB charging option as that would require them to drill into the dash which I did not want them to do. Plus I will be getting this accessory from Garmin to charge my phones. Thus I was left with just having Bluetooth which is what I wanted.
The way the kit works is that it plugs into the CD changer port at the back of the factory stereo and basically fools the factory stereo into thinking it has a CD changer connected to it. Once you set it to “Disc 1″ here’s what you can do:
- You can listen to music via Bluetooth as it supports the A2DP Bluetooth profile. You can change tracks using the car stereo and steering wheel controls. However you have to choose the playlist and start and stop the music from the phone. Preferably while you are parked.
- If a call comes in, you can answer it by pressing the seek forward button. You can also hang up by using the same button. Now if you’re listening to music via Bluetooth, the music will stop and the call will come in. When you are finished with the call and you hang up, the music will start up again automatically. However, if you are listening to the radio or CD, then you will have to hit the AUX or CD button on your stereo before you answer the call as it doesn’t automatically switch over when a call comes in. That is understandable as the factory stereo wasn’t designed with this in mind and I am guessing that GTA Car Kits couldn’t figure out a way to make this behavior happen automatically when a call comes in.
The kit supports two phones and pairing phones is easy:
- Put your phone into pairing mode and start the car.
- Wait for a device called “GTA Car Kit” to appear.
- When it does appear, simply pair the two devices. If it asks for a pairing code (My iPhone 6 did not ask for one), use “0000”.
- Done. Declare victory and have a beer.
That is way easier than many factory stereo systems that I’ve tried lately where you have to do all sorts of stuff to pair a phone to it via Bluetooth. In my case I paired my wife’s iPhone 6 along with my iPhone 6. The key thing to keep in mind is that if you have both phones in the car at the same time, you need turn off Bluetooth on the phone that you do not want to be paired with your car (which should be the phone that belongs to the person who is not driving). Also, I note that the phone auto-connects quickly once it is paired.
In terms of the audio quality while playing back music, it was exceptionally good. No hiccups, distortion, or any other issues were noted in my testing. As far as I am concerned, it is CD quality or better. In terms of audio quality during phone calls, everything that I heard inside the car was clear and crisp. People who heard me speaking in the call commented that it was easy to hear with and at worst there was a bit of echo. On this front, I have no complaints.
Oddities? I noted that music would auto play sometimes when I put it into the Disc/AUX mode of the factory stereo or when my iPhone connected via Bluetooth. That’s not the fault of the Pure Bluetooth car kit as this is a long standing bug that has been present in iOS since iOS 7. I also noted that it sometimes had problems auto-connecting properly to my iPhone with the core symptom being that music was not routed from the phone through the factory stereo, but phone calls worked fine. A reboot of the phone fixed that issue which implies that this is another Bluetooth related issue with iOS. Finally, to properly hear anything over Bluetooth, you need to crank up the volume on your phone to the max. That’s not the fault of the kit as this is common thing that you have to do when you stream from a Bluetooth phone.
Wish list? How about the ability to invoke Siri? That would be cool as it would allow you to use your voice to pick playlists and send and read text messages among other things. In my e-mail conversations with GTA Car Kits, they did say that they were going to be doing some testing on this front in the next few weeks. If this functionality does appear and they tell me how to invoke Siri, I will update this review. Having said that, I did an experiment where I plugged a external battery pack into my iPhone 6 to simulate the phone being plugged into AC power and used the “Hey Siri” phrase which only works while on AC power to get Siri’s attention. That worked. But a button press would be better.
Now to how much this setup costs. The Pure Bluetooth kit for my Toyota Matrix was $159.85 and GTA Car Kits charged me another $100 to install it. The company makes kits for a number of car makes and models, thus I would suggest that you check their website to see if your car is on the list.
What’s my verdict? If you’re in the position of owning a car with a factory stereo that lacks Bluetooth and you want to add Bluetooth, this is a good option for you as it is way cheaper than swapping your factory stereo out for an after market unit. One thing to consider is that the company offers a 60 day refund policy. That way you can try it and see if it is right for you.