Friday, March 8, 2019

iClever Himbox HB01 Bluetooth Car Receiver

Now that I’m using an iPhone XR, I no longer have a headphone jack. I’ve had bad luck with combination charge/audio dongles, and the Qi charger car mounts I’ve seen have been unwieldy. So extended car use will require the Lightning port for charging, meaning that audio must be played wirelessly. Fortunately, I’ve found a much better Bluetooth-to-headphone jack adapter than the Anker SoundSync Drive I had been using. It’s called the iClever Himbox HB01.

The Himbox works in the same way as the SoundSync, just more smoothly. Most importantly, it auto-connects to my phone so that when I press the Play button it’s already ready to go. There’s no variable delay, no need to retry, no question about whether it will actually connect. It’s just transparently ready every time.

This can actually be unexpected or unwanted. For example, if I’m playing audio with my AirPods and get into the car, when I turn on the ignition (which powers on the Himbox) it will steal the Bluetooth connection from my phone. Even with no audio playing, it will proactively switch the phone’s audio output.

I can prevent the Himbox from stealing the connection by unplugging it, but it would be better if it simply had an off switch. The USB connector is tight enough that pulling it one-handed will unplug the entire four-way cigarette lighter adapter, which other devices are using for charging.

There are buttons to Play/Pause and to skip Back and Forward. You can long press the latter two to adjust the volume. It has its own microphone for calls, which is great because this lets me answer calls when the phone is in my pocket. You can also long-press the Play button to initiate Siri. I like this because I’ve not found Hey Siri to be reliable when driving. Unfortuantely, unlike AirPods, the Himbox does not seem to use its own microphone for Siri. At least, it never seems to understand me when the phone is in my pocket.

There’s a bright light that’s always on when paired. This is helpful for finding the button, and it flashes when a call comes in, but it’s just too bright at night, even when I’m not looking directly at it, when my eyes are adjusted to the dark.

I also ran into a problem mounting the Himbox. You’re supposed to stick a metal mounting plate onto the car. The Himbox then attaches to the plate magnetically, so it can easily be removed. However, the adhesive never felt very secure and came unstuck within just a few hours (fortunately leaving no residue). I ended up putting gaffer tape completely over the mounting plate. The magnet is plenty strong enough to work through the tape.

This reads like a list of complaints, but I’m actually very happy with the Himbox. The common case is when I do want it to auto-connect. That works very well. I don’t want to go back to the SoundSync or to manually plugging and unplugging a mini-phone connector.

For some reason, the Himbox is currently unavailable at Amazon, but you can get one at Walmart.

7 Comments RSS · Twitter

I have been using the same one for a couple years. Most of the time it works great, although it doesn’t auto connect every time for me. It supports two phone connections which is awesome but might be the cause of that issue. I think the microphone on it is horrible, that is why Siri doesn’t work, and I definitely don’t attempt to use it for hands free phone calls anymore. We stuck ours in place with some Velcro command strips after the magnet sticky failed and it fell between the seats. We also have a weird issue where the sound skips a beat ever few seconds sometimes. Not enough to really be irritating because it comes back immediately, but it is there. It might be time to get a new one.

What kind of head unit these days doesn't have a USB port to do charging and audio over? I have older cars who's factory head units had cassette and CD's respectively and replaced them with an under $150 Pioneer with the whole front is a display (shows album art and lots of nice info) and the USB port charges my phone and let's me play music over the USB too. Heck, this isn't new - tons of head units support audio over USB since the iPod days.

You should be able to determine if the Himbox has a mic by tapping the Bluetooth button at the bottom of the Siri screen while you're in the car. I used to use this (when I used Siri at all) to switch the Siri and dictation mic back to the phone when I got in my car, since the delay in using the car's mic was pretty frustrating to me (you know, I start talking immediately out of habit and the first part gets cut off because nothing was ready yet). It's frustrating Apple never cared enough to have the phone remember this preference, though perfectly in line with Apple never bothering to end auto-play-on-connect, which for me occurs a) even if I'm not playing audio on the phone when I turn on the car and it connects, and b) even when the dash system is apparently off.

>I can prevent the Himbox from stealing the connection

Are there really situations where you get in the car, turn on the ignition, but want to keep listening on your earphones? I kinda have the opposite problem, if I get in the car and forget to turn off my earphones before turning on the car, my phone will stay connected to my earphones instead of connecting to the car.

@Tom Yes, it does have a microphone. It’s not clear to me why this works better for calls than for Siri.

@Lukas Yes, if I know I won’t be in the car very long, i.e. after a short drive I’ll be doing an errand or run where I’ll be using the AirPods.

@Michael I meant you can verify which mic it's using for Siri this way, since you said "unlike AirPods, the Himbox does not seem to use its own microphone for Siri." It should be using the same mic as for calls, so maybe Siri is just extra bad when it can't use the iPhone's multiple mics to improve clarity.

@Tom You’re right: that shows that the Himbox microphone is being used for Siri. So I don’t have an explanation for why Siri seems to work much better with my phone in the mount than in my pocket.

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