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Going hands-free with a bluetooth device and Dragon app

Bluetooth devices conveniently clip onto driver's side visor
Bluetooth devices conveniently clip onto driver's side visor
Rick Wonders

It has been nearly a year since Maryland's enhanced cellphone law took effect, and we still see people sitting at traffic lights texting away behind the wheel. We still see people driving with a phone pinned to their ear. They are running the risk of getting a ticket, and there really is no need. With today's advances in apps and bluetooth technology, you can easily text, talk and drive without using your hands.

The first thing you need is a bluetooth device. A decent in-car unit or headset will run you somewhere in the $50 range, and are available virtually everywhere. Your phone provider's store, Walmart, Target, Radio Shack, Best Buy, and warehouse clubs all carry bluetooth devices. There are more expensive devices that provide superior sound quality, and less expensive alternatives that can garble the sound. Our price point here should provide you with a good base product that will allow you to easily receive and make phone calls. Once you have found a suitable bluetooth device, the next step in going hands-free when behind the wheel is to find a decent app that does what you need.

Most, if not all Android phones come loaded these days with Google Speak, which in theory allows hands-free talk and text, along with other operations through a bluetooth device. Problem is, from what we have seen, it works sporadically. Not what you need. Nuance's Voice Commands app is pre-loaded on most Android phones these days, but it does not allow for speech-to-text conversion. Therefore, it is best to check Google's Play Store for a suitable app. There are a host of personal assistant type apps available, but the one we like best is Nuance's free version of Dragon.

You may know Dragon for its speech conversion software that runs on Macs and PCs. Nuance has brought Dragon's technology to a free virtual assistant app that works flawlessly with both Jabra units mentioned above. In addition to making and receiving phone calls and texts, Dragon can check your calendar, the weather, places of interest, and more, speaking the results back to you. Dragon has a number of configurable options, including automatic connection to your bluetooth device.

After configuring the app to work with bluetooth, just say "Wake up Dragon." Your virtual assistant will spring to life, awaiting your command. Say "Call" someone in your contacts list, or say a phone number, and Dragon will connect you. If you want to text a friend, say "Send text to" and speak the friend's name. As long as your friend is in your contacts list, Dragon does the rest. Easy and straightforward.

If you are still risking getting a ticket, invest a few bucks in a bluetooth device. Since fines range from $40 for the first offense, to $100 for subsequent citations, the cost of a bluetooth device is a wash, and the app is free. More importantly, you will be a safer driver.