postheadericon TECH TALK: Beating the Mobile Headset Blues

I don’t know about you, but I am a total wire dyslexic when it comes to any kind of wired tech – just look under my desk and you will find a jungle of power cords hopelessly tangled into small piles that smother the power strips like octopi consuming small fish.

The top of my desk is no better, with USB cords, Ethernet cables, and gizmo wires snaking dangerously about from one device to another. So the last thing that I want hanging off my body and around my neck is even more gizmo wiring. In this light, I decided to go with a Bluetooth headset for my new smart phone.

A little history
For those of you who don’t already know, Bluetooth technology has been around for over a decade, and if you have bought your phone in the past 2-3 years, you already have it built in. The only thing you have to worry about when shopping for a headset is if the set has Bluetooth Version 2.0 and an A2DP profile. These two tech items I will cover further in the future; but for now, you just have to look for those specs in any headset that you purchase.


My selection criteria
Before purchasing a Bluetooth headset that would cover all my bases (for calls, as well as for music and games) I did a bit of hands-on research and testing.

I found these factors to be the clinching issues: 1) stereo sound quality, 2) comfort and fit of the headset, and 3) battery life. Secondarily, I considered the “Dork” factor of wearing something that could make me look like an Indian Call Center worker on lunch break - this expat just wants to somehow blend in.

Now there are hundreds of headset choices on the market, but the number of choices is cut down dramatically if looking for quality stereo reproduction. Most headsets on the market are mono, meaning they fit into one ear and one ear only, and have no way of ever reproducing good quality tunes. These are mostly an over-the-ear fit, some with an extending microphone boom - adding dramatically to the dork factor.

So instead of 1 dorky looking earplug, I was now looking at 2 dorky plugs. And as these in-ear devices have to hold a battery and sometimes the controls as well (stop, pause, take call, etc.), they can be quite uncomfortable to wear for longer periods of time – which in my case is all day and well into the night.

The possibilities
Only one headset I found looked something like the headphones that I use in my recording studio (over the head and with ear-cups), and that was the Jabra HALO (Nrs. 9,600 list price), which fits like a traditional stereo headphone but is small, foldable, and stylish, and without a protrusion for the microphone. Unfortunately, it’s universally agreed upon that this unit is a piece of junk, so I’ll just stop there.

For those that can handle an over-the-ear and around the back of the neck headset, then the Plantronics Backbeat 906 (Nrs. 9,600 list price) may be a good option, but after reading reviews and trying it on for size, I can’t recommend it for those with an active or outdoor life. This device fits above and into both ears, supported by a behind-the-neck brace, and has acoustics made by Altec Lansing, which are very very good. However, there are tons of online reviews out there complaining about moisture and sweat ruining the headshot when used as a workout device, or outdoors during monsoon.

Alternatively, the Motorola S9 (Nrs. 7,400 list price) and Nokia BH-505 (Nrs. 7,400 list price) are similar in design to the Backbeat 906. The Nokia comes in S-M-L sizes, so finding one that fits and feels better over the long term is possible, but finding this unit in Nepal may be more of challenge then finding the right head size.

Sony also makes many models, but the only one I considered was the Sony Ericson HBH-DS200, easily found here in Nepal. It looks and works like the wired version of the headset that comes free with most Sony Ericson music-playing phones. List price is Nrs.7400, but can be found for much less, and this set uses a standard earbud configuration with a clip-on controller. It’s a bit awkward having this added bit to clip on (somewhere), and the sound quality for music and gaming is just “acceptable” (unlike the Back Beat’s very clear highs and very low booming bass).

But one advantage to this config over all others is that you can plug in any earbud into the controller. So if you are not happy with the Sony supplied earbuds, or they break as they always do, you can just plug in another set from a better manufacturer - like Sennheiser. However, I read many times online that the battery life was less then average for this model, which should be between 7 and 10 hours before recharge, and not the reported 3 or 4.

My favorite, and my choice
By now I now knew what I really wanted, and found it with the Jabra BT-3030 (list price Nrs. 5,800). This device, like the Sony Ericson, comes in two parts. The controller is made to look like a fatter military-issue dog tag, complete with metal chain to hang around your neck, and the other bit (the headphones) can be the supplied Jabra ones (top notch, very comfortable, and of great quality) or any headphone of your choosing.

This excited me (as I own a set of Sennheisers), and what excited me even more was that when using this device, I could pair the unit with not only my phone, but also with my laptop or desktop - both at the same time! So now I have a mobile headphone set that I can use around the studio to listen to my huge iTunes music library playing from my computer, and I can also answer all my calls - all at a reasonable price.

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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