Review: GlobalSat iWAG iPod Wireless Bluetooth Entertainment Kit (BTH-820 / BTA-809)
Pros: A small, relatively inexpensive Bluetooth Dock Connector add-on with wireless transceiver capable of broadcasting iPod audio at distances of 20 feet, assuming you’re standing still. Transceiver is lighter and smaller than an iPod shuffle, and can interrupt iPod music with cell phone calls. Includes rubber-tipped earphones.
Cons: Audio quality of earphones and transceiver are unimpressive, the latter because of base-level static; signal has consistency problems once iPod and transceiver are placed at 8+ foot distances, requiring user to stand still, and signal falls off entirely at 20-foot mark, thereafter requiring user to re-pair the items. Because of transceiver, battery life is limited to under 4 hours before recharge is required. By comparison with similarly designed competing option, Dock Connector attachment lacks stand to let iPods stand up when broadcasting.
Bundled together as the iWAG iPod Wireless Bluetooth Entertainment Set ($130), GlobalSat’s BTA-809 is a Bluetooth 1.2 attachment for the iPod with an internal battery that is promised to run for seven hours, while the BTH-820 is a Bluetooth 1.2 remote control and listening device with a battery that’s supposed to run for six hours. GlobalSat - also known as G-Sat - claims that you can plug the included in-ear headphones (or your own) into the BTH-820 and walk up to 32 feet away from the iPod while still hearing its music. An integrated microphone allows the remote to work with your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone, and a plastic clip on its back mounts it on your shirt or pants - you’ll need it close to your mouth to use the microphone. A power charger is included to charge both devices at once.
On a positive note, iWAG’s design is pretty exciting: G-Sat has essentially shrunk TEN Technology’s original naviPlay (iLounge rating: A-) into a much smaller, lighter, and less expensive package, combining the benefits of iPod Dock Connector audio output with a transceiver (transmitter/receiver) that can be used with any pair of comfortable headphones you own. In essence, you get the benefits of wearing something lighter and smaller than an iPod shuffle, plus Bluetooth cell phone access - while having access to a much larger iPod music library, stored in a nearby bag or your pants. Not surprisingly, the unit’s shuffle-like controls (volume, track forward/backward, and play/pause) worked just fine, and there’s also a physical hold switch on the back, and a combination power button and cell phone call button. The only serious physical compromise over TEN’s design is the absence of a built-in stand on the iPod bottom attachment, which some users will mind more than others.
That’s pretty much where the good news stops. Like a number of other Bluetooth accessories we’ve tested, G-Sat’s included headphones aren’t great - here, they feel good in your ears thanks to silicone tips, but the sound quality’s mediocre and the cord is way too short. Unless you clip the transceiver to your shirt, you’ll want to use your own phones here, a solution that similarly won’t eliminate your need to wear something with cords, but will sound at least a bit better.
We also weren’t impressed with other aspects of iWAG’s performance. Even at close distances, there’s a noticeable base level of static in the audio signal that can be heard somewhat with the included headphones, and more with any other pair you attach, including Apple’s. It’s not terrible, but it’s not pleasant, either. More seriously, the unit missed the company’s distance performance claims. At an 8-foot uninterrupted distance, iWAG began to experience connectivity issues - interruptions in the signal that only ceased when we stood still. We also found that it couldn’t come near the supposed 32-foot broadcasting maximum: the signal fell apart at a 20-foot distance when uninterrupted by physical objects, and, not surprisingly, at even shorter distances when exposed to simple objects, such as a thin metallic window screen and frame. Past 20 feet, and sometimes under other normal usage conditions, the two components needed to be re-paired in order for your music to resume, a simple but inconvenient process. Additionally, though the BTH-820’s battery fell only an hour under its promised 7-hour run time, the BTA-809 receiver clocked in at under 4 hours, which effectively limits the system’s usable life before recharging to the lower number. Plan to recharge often, a process that takes around 2 hours.
As a budget Bluetooth option, iWAG isn’t bad, but it’s not that good, either. Though we liked the size of the transceiver and felt that it has the potential to be great with some additional radio performance and battery tweaking, as-is, the current version isn’t something we’d recommend over other options.