Review of Bluetooth Headsets
With BB 7250 and BB 7100t
I have both a Blackberry 7250 and a Blackberry 7100t. The 7250 is running OS 188.8.131.52A and the 7100 is running OS 184.108.40.206. Both have Bluetooth with the same respective version numbers.
I am seeking a headset that will work well with at least one of these two phones. What do I mean by working well you may ask? The following is my criteria in rank order:
1. Assuming I am the caller, the party being called hears my voice clearly, even if I am in a noisy or windy environment (2 different difficult scenarios). The other party hears no echo and does not hear their voice.
2. I hear the other party clearly and with sufficient volume that I can hear them even when I am in a noisy environment like an airport or bar.
3. I can wear the headset comfortably for extended periods without irritation to either my ear canal (small) or to the back of my ears (medium to large).
4. Pairing is quick and easy and connection to a call is quick.
5. Operation is easy and straight forward with out causing discomfort in the process.
6. Functions such as redial and voice dial (for the future?) work well.
7. The size is small and unobtrusive and doesnít make you look like a Borg or some other strange creature.
8. The battery life is decent (>4hrs talk time) and the charger is small or better yet uses mini USB.
9. Quality of construction is good and unit feels solid.
10. Supports Bluetooth 1.2.
I have a soft voice that people often say they have a difficult time hearing, especially if the environment is noisy. As a result meeting criteria number 1 above is a challenge.
I will update and revise this review as I test additional headsets or complete additional tests on headsets I currently have under review. My ratings may change as I have more experience with a headset or more data on which to judge it. Take these simple ratings for what they are. The first two headsets I tested were the Motorola HS850 and the Jabra BT800. I am now adding to that set the Plantronics M3000 and the Tekkeon ezTalker mini or ET2000. I am very particular about the quality of items and their functionality. In my other life I am involved in the establishment of national standards that we develop for the DoD and provide to NIST and in the independent assessment of a variety of advanced technologies from biological and chemical detectors to advanced laser target designators to night vision goggles and missiles. Some of you readers will probably think my criticism too harsh or demanding.
Unfortunately, I donít have the time or the equipment in my home to provide the level of scientific evaluation that would be required to do a really first class job. My testing consists of the following:
1. Calling my answering machine and letting it record my conversation while trying to keep my voice at the same level and varying the background noise using the TV set and its volume control to vary the level of the background.
2. Calling people I know with first one headset and then another and asking them their opinion.
3. Using it in actual everyday usage and seeing what kind of comments I get from the people I speak with, occasionally asking them if I sound ok and sometimes just seeing if they will make a comment.
The Motorola HS850
The HS850 had a sound that was more toward the tenor end of the scale with less bass than other headsets. It was clear and had sufficient volume on my end. It sounded better to the other party when used on the 7250 than did the BT800; especially, in a noisy environment. It was comfortable to wear but tended to flop a little. I would say that it could be work for a couple of hours without too much of a problem. The folding boom mike is its biggest plus feature with it acting like an on-off switch. I could not recommend it for either phone after 2 weeks of usage. Too often the other party complained of having difficulty in hearing me or understanding what I was saying. It appeared to be nicely made and looked very nice in shiny black. I returned the unit.
The Jabra BT800
I really liked the looks of this headset and really wanted to keep it. It had every bell and whistle including digital signal processing, noise cancellation, caller ID display, etc. Too bad it failed where it counted the most. The sound was fuller than the HS850 but in a noisy environment the noise cancellation algorithm went nuts and garbles your speech beyond recognition. It worked a little better on the 7100t but the called party still complained. The sound I heard was very good and the headset was comfortable to wear. Both the BT800 and the HS850 come with little belt cases to carry them in and the HS850 also came with a neck strap. The volume in my ear was very good and I preferred its sound to that of the HS850. The buttons are a bit complex to use but you get used to them pretty quickly. Alas, I returned it too.
The Tekkeon ET2000 ez Talker mini
I have just received and started testing this unit. It is nice and small, smaller than any I have tried thus far. I havenít gone into any detail on buttons and their operation in this review and I may add this information later for those that are interested. My initial tests of this headset appear to have it outshining the better known brands. It is comfortable to wear (the most comfortable so far). In the recorded test it out performed all three of the headsets included thus far in this review. It worked better on the 7250 than on the 7100t. My voice sounded very clear even when I was speaking softly. The sound in my ear was pleasant and of sufficient volume to be usable; however, when I increased volume too far, at least one person I called complained that he heard his own voice echoing. When I turned down the volume on my end it went away. I could not hear any echo though I could hear a slight background hiss. In a back to back A-B comparison the party I called much preferred the sound of this unit and complained that they could barely hear me with the Plantronics M3000 (the next unit I tested). For some reason, this unit does not have as much outgoing volume on the 7100t as it does on the 7250. Iím still testing this unit. I did additional testing today 3/15 using my standard noise background test and in the real world outsie and in my car. It did not fair as well as the M3000 in the noise background test. It was more intelligble than either the BT800 or the HS850 but surprisingly the M3000 was better. In the car the unit worked well and I received no complaints. Outside (it was windy) the caller said my voice was breaking up and complained the my speech was unintelligible. It is making me rething my early reccomendation but not enough data yet to withdraw it. Further update (3-23). The unit seems a little fragile and the plastic creaks ans squeaks as you handle it. I found that using it without the earhook works better and is more comfortable but you worry it will fall out and you will lose it. I am withdrawing my reccomend and going to a neither reccomend or thumbs down for now. It certainly doesn't make the noise test that I think is important.
The Plantronics M3000
The M3000 is rather large and a bit less comfortable to wear (1 hour would be max for me). It does hug your ear when worn correctly and despite its size, surprisingly doesnít seem as obtrusive as it must be. The sound quality on my end is very good with a loud clear sound. The mic doesnít seem to work as well. In an A-B test the other party said that the M3000 was so low in volume they could barely hear me whereas the ET2000 was loud and clear. This was also confirmed by my call to voice mail test. I have only tested it on the 7100t thus far and I donít think I could recommend it as the volume level that the called party hears is abysmally low. I will add my finding on the 7250 next update. I conducted my background noise test today 3/15 and the M3000 was clearly better. I only got to test it on the 7100 and not the 7250 so I am holding back on further reccomendations until I do more testing. On the M3000 the mike faces in toward the user's cheek rather than straight down and this may account for its rejection of the loud background noise. I haven't tested in the car and outdoors yet. Not enough data yet to change my ratings but its getting close. It is still the unit with the best sound quality and noise reduction. In the car the other party could not tell I was in a car driving at 80mph even though there was considerable raod noise. Its big negative is size and discomfort. I just can't wear it very long without it hurting my ear alot.
I recieved the Bluespoon AX and I loved the size and the fact that it charged using USB and was discrete. Comfort was the best so far, though not to say great. I also liked that you could use it with glasses. The downside is the sound quality was not on par with the Tekkeon or the M3000. The question I needed to answer was whether it was good enough given its other pluses. You can hear its sound in one of my later posts and judge for yourself. For me, the sound on my end was not clear and static free and that bothered me. In a quiet environment the other party thought it sounded good but in my in car test they complained that they could hear a constant roar (road noise). I confimred it was road noise because the roar would go away whenever I stopped the car. However, they could still hear me but the road noise was irritating. The unit has no noise cancellation and hence the sound is poor in a noisy environment. The other negative note is battery life is no where near the advertised 4-6 hours of talk time. I find the unit cannot make it through a day of standby time with less than 40 minutes of talk time. The other issue has to do with range from the headset and here it was not very good with line of sight needed.
Sound posts updated to add Bluespoon Digital. Its noise canceling abilities are pretty good as I had the TV turned up very loud. I was surprised it heard my voice as I could barely hear myself over the noise. At first trying to wear it was really PAINFULL. It kept falling out of my ear and the more I tried to push it in the more it hurt and the faster it popped out. I kept thinking that my ear canal was just too small. Also, I couldn't hear a thing on playback when I had it on, yet I could tell the mic was working and recording. Duh! it took a while for me to figure out that I was not wearing it correctly. The trick is in the little spring. If you get the little spring hung in the right spot you barely have to push the headset in with a very slight twist. I kept trying to corkscrew it in and that hurts and doesn't work. I am wearing it now and it is pretty comfortable once you figure that out. The little videos make it look simple and easy and it is; however, what you can't tell in the video is how hard or far to push it. Answer, hardly at all. As you will hear in the sound recordings it sounds more on the bass side so it is not tinny.
How about in actual use? I spoke for about an hour yesterday using the 7100t. I was both inside and outside. My house has WiFi (A & G) and several computers going 24/7 so it is a high electronic noise background. The other party said that he could hear a little static in the background but that I was perfectly intelligible. I too could hear a little static and I could not quite get the volume level I would have preferred. There was no echo on either end and when I was outside there was a light wind blowing and it never effected the conversation. I tried it inside with the V3 and I had problems with the other party stating that he could not hear me and it would occasionally disconnect from the phone. Yet when I did my recording test, it sounded better than the 7100t. Pairing it up has been easy, but that can be misleading because after pairing behavior can be erratic. I had a very difficult time getting it to work with MS Recorder and it would be hit and miss. The Tekkeon never presents that type of problem. Same can be true with the phone. The unit definitely prefers line of sight to the phone for the cleanest sound. I find the button placement to be a bad choice as it hurts to push on the headset and they are hard to locate for volume usage. I have only had it a few days so I will test further before giving my final conclusion and recommendation. Like all of these units, they work better with some phones than with others. I finally decided to send it back. I really wanted to like it and keep it as it has DSP and noise cancellation but I got too many complaints from the other party that they could not hear me and with the V3 it would lose the Bluetooth signal in the middle of a conversation, recover it and then lose it again even though I would be holding the phone less than a foot away from the unit on my ear. Additionally, I have small ear canals and the speaker placement would often be closed off so that the volume level would be very low. If I lifted the set up and held it in a certain way manually the volume would come up but that was not a practical solution.
This is turning out to be a lot bigger project than I thought and much more difficult. Before you go out and buy based on my review make sure that you are interested in the same criteria as you may find a set to be perfectly acceptable that I would not consider and vice versa. Your ears are the best test instrument and that is why I will give you sound recordings to help you judge what is best for you. I will soon update the matrix and add more criteria.
I compared my recording of quiet and noisy environments today (3/16) and created the following matrix. The scale is 9 is excellent and 1 is awful.
As you can see, based on sound quality the M3000 is currently leading; however, it is the largest and least attractive. It does seem to be better built than the Tekkeon. Interestingly, I am finding that sound quality of the 7100 seems to be a little better than the 7250. I am getting some complaints on the sound of the 7250 even when used without a headset. In all fairness thought, the 7250 is behind in software revisions having only the original release code. I have given the M3000 a thumbs up on the basis of the additional testing. I will soon update the matrix to add the newer units.
Adding sound posts here so you don't have to search for them:
The last two are without headsets so you have a basis for reference.
They were recorded at the same level and they sound different played back on Windows Media Player 10 than they do played back on the sound recorder application used to record them. They were down converted to phone quality.
Thought I would throw in some comparative pictures of the Plantronics, Tekkeon and Bluespoon Digital (not the best quality).