Forget add-on modules and external hands-free calling speakerphones. The easiest and cleanest way to make calls in the car is routing them through a built-in Bluetooth phone system. If you’re among the majority of drivers who doesn’t have a factory-installed calling system, Sony’s MEX-BT5100 is a useful all-in-one stereo and Bluetooth calling system for the aftermarket. Retaining most of the features of its predecessor–the Sony MEX-BT5000–the 5100 combines an intuitive user interface, a straightforward menu structure, and a stylish faceplate design.
DesignThe MEX-BT5100 features an elegantly simple design with a usable multidirectional joystick controller, a minimal number of buttons, and some snazzy brushed aluminum trim. The X-shaped motif on the left-hand side of the system shows that it is part of Sony’s X-Plod line of car stereos. This joystick controller provides the primary interface for navigating phone menus, skipping and searching for music, and adjusting sound and volume. In contrast to a number of other similarly designed interfaces, the controller on the MEX-5100 is firm enough to resist tipping over when trying to make a selection, and has a solid feel to it. We also like the accessibility of the other controls including the prominent Source buttons situated closest to the driver, and the backlit phone and menu buttons that call up the system’s intuitive menus. We like the way that the Menu button calls up different options depending on whether the system is in phone or music mode. All information is shown on the stereo’s monochrome LCD display, which features a number of movie and wallpaper screen patterns and which we found a little too busy for our liking. A soft-open mechanical fold-down faceplate completes the picture.