It has been six long months since MINI first started putting the new phone buttons on the 3-Spoke Multi Function Steering Wheel (MFSW) and there’s still no Bluetooth kit available from MINI to make the new buttons function. Unbelievable! I’ve grown so tired of waiting for MINI to release an updated version of their Bluetooth phone kit that works with the new phone buttons that I decided to go ahead and explore other options that might be available. Much to my amazement it turns out that Mike Wildman of Formby Car Electrical Services LTD (A.K.A. “MikeyTheMini” on the NAM & MINI2 forums) has recently released two hands free phone kits that work with the new phone buttons on the 3-Spoke MFSW.

The first hands free phone kit is a Bluetooth kit that’s based upon the Parrot 3000 controller, and the second hands free phone kit is a cradle type kit that’s based upon either the Nokia CARK91, Nokia CARK126, or Sony Ericsson HCA-20 mobile phone hands free systems. Each kit has both its advantages and its disadvantages. The Bluetooth kit has the advantage of allowing you to use a wireless Bluetooth connection between your phone and the car kit (i.e. your phone can be kept in your pocket and doesn’t have to be mounted in a cradle). However, it’s limited to Bluetooth phones only and your Bluetooth phone must be supported by the Parrot Bluetooth controller which is at the heart of the Bluetooth kit itself (although the Parrot controller’s firmware is updatable and so it has the ability to adapt to future models of mobile phones). Another disadvantage to the Bluetooth kit is that it doesn’t have a display that shows caller ID tags, allows you to scroll through your phone book entries, etc. The cradle type kit has the big advantage of using the factory navigation, or radio display, to show caller ID tags, scroll through the phone’s contact/address book list, etc., but it has the disadvantage of only supporting a limited number of older Nokia & Sony Ericsson phones (see the list below) and forcing you to always have to place your phone within a cradle.

Both of Mikey’s phone kits power the hands free phone controller (Parrot, Nokia, or Sony Ericsson), automatically mute the radio, and route the incoming/outgoing calls through you MINI’s radio speakers. The 2 phone buttons on the 3-Spoke wheel are used to answer/end calls & activate voice dialing (and scroll through the phone’s contact entries & call history lists for the cradle type kit only). Call volume adjustment via the MFSW volume buttons is also fully supported. The kits are VERY easy to install. They’re completely plug-n-play and so you don’t have to cut into a single wire in the MINI’s wiring harness in order to install them. All you have to do is remove the radio, unplug the radio’s existing connector from the back of the radio and plug in the one for the hands free phone kit in its place. The hardest part of the entire install is simply locating a place to hide the hands free controller box and the “Connect 2” controller box (which communicates/interfaces with the MINI’s k-bus). You’ll also have to install the microphone for the kit, but that’s very easy (again, there’s no cutting, drilling, etc. involved). You simply run the microphone wire up the driver’s side A-pillar and stick it to the headliner via its Velcro pad as shown in the following pictures (no tools required!):

I went ahead and opted for the cradle type kit as I like having a place to put my phone while I’m in the car, and I really like the fact that it integrates with the MINI’s factory navigation display (or the factory radio display if you don’t have factory sat nav). Unfortunately, the cradle type kits only work with the following (older) mobile phones:

Nokia CARK126:
6100, 7210, 7250, 7250i

Sony Ericsson HCA-20:
T610, T616, T630, T637, T230, Z600, T68i, T300, P800, P900

Nokia CARK91:
5110, 6110, 7110, 6210, 6310, 6310i

Note that many of the phones listed are U.K. based models but the hands free controllers should work just fine with their similar U.S. counterparts if available. Also, the hands free controllers listed may support more phones than just those listed. For example, the Sony Ericsson HCA-20 controller should work with any Sony Ericsson phone that includes the “In Car” profile (no guarantees though as I’ve only tried it with the T610 and T630 phones so far).

Since my current phone was not one on the list, I decided to go ahead and get a new phone. I was pleasantly surprised with the rich feature set that the Sony Ericsson line of phones had to offer (even the older models) and so I decided to go with the T610 (or T616) model. The T6xx line of phones can be purchased (unlocked so they will work with most mobile phone carriers such as Cingular, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.) for around $100 on eBay (no contract required!). The phones offer every imaginable feature (including cameras, Bluetooth capability, calendars, games, etc.) and their small size really fits well with the “MINI” theme.

As mentioned previously, the cradle type kit integrates nicely with the factory navigation system. After installing the kit, a new “Telephone” item is added to the navigation system’s main menu:

When you select the “Telephone” menu item you are shown another menu screen that allows you to browse your phone’s address book and call history lists:

The “Voice” option allows you to speak the name of the caller you wish to call and the phone automatically dials the number for you and connects the call. The “Top 8” option allows you to call a contact listed on your pre-defined list of top 8 favorite callers. The “PhoneMem” option allows you to scroll you phone’s address book in alphabetical order. The “Dialed”, “Missed”, and “Received” options bring up the call history lists from your phone (including the contact’s name and date and time of the call). The “Settings” option allows you to changes the “Connects 2” controller’s settings. The “Dial” option brings up a really cool screen on the nav display that allows you to manually enter in a telephone number and then dial it. Unfortunately, this feature wasn’t working properly for me (but it’s not claimed to be a feature of the kit; It’s just a byproduct of activating the navigation system’s telephone mode I’m sure).

Besides being able to work with your phone via the factory navigation interface, the real power behind Mikey’s hands free phone kits is their ability to dial, hang-up, and answer calls from the phone buttons on the MINI’s MFSW. Clicking on the “R/T” button enters or exits the telephone mode. Once in the telephone mode, you can use the “Phone” button (i.e. the button with the image of a phone handset on it) to move through the telephone mode’s top-level menu items (e.g. Voice, Top 8, PhoneMem, Dialed, Missed, Received, and Settings).

Once you’ve located the menu item that you would like to look at, you simply scroll through its list of items using the MFSW’s Track+/Up & Track-/Down buttons (i.e. the ones that look like upward and downward pointing arrows).

Each contact in your phone’s address book is listed individually in alphabetical order as you scroll up or down through the list. If the contact has multiple phone numbers (such as Home, Work, and Mobile), then they are indicated by a “/H”, “/W”, and /”M” tacked onto the end of the contact’s name. To place a call to the current contact, you simply hold down the “Phone” button on the MFSW.

For incoming calls, the phone rings (via your handset) and the nav display shows the incoming callers name on the following screen (note that the “V—>” text is where the caller’s name/number normally appears):

Using the navigation system’s interface, you can hang-up or answer the incoming call. The call can also be answered by simply holding down the “Phone” button on the MFSW.

Alternatively, when you use the navigation interface to scroll the “PhoneMem” list, multiple contacts appear in the list at one time:

You move through the list seven contacts at a time (using the “< <" and ">>” menu items) and the focal contact is indicated with a asterisk (*) next to their name. Selecting the “Options” menu item takes you to another screen where you can dial the focal contact or add them to the nav system’s Top 8 memory list for quick recall.

Both the Bluetooth and the cradle type hands free phone kits are available from Mikey’s web site at Mikey’s business is based in the U.K., but his web site is setup to handle orders coming from the USA. His kits are very reasonably priced (even with the strength of the Dollar currently getting clobbered by the Pound) and they are MUCH less expensive than the current OEM MINI Bluetooth kit which sells for around $450 plus installation costs. The cradle type kits even include a phone cradle and a system cable matched to your specific phone model as well as a really nice cradle mount that attaches to the hidden radio screws located behind the center column pillars:

Rating: 4.0 (out of five)