Company: Native Union
Compatible: iPhone (all), iPod touch 2G/3G/4G, All iPads
Native Union MM05t Solo Travel Handset
Traditional telephone handsets were great for what they did -- letting people talk and hear one another despite whatever great distances might separate them. And while mobile phones have become even better, removing your need to stay near the wall or building connected to the land line, they also come with consequences: pocket-sized phones aren't as ergonomically comfortable as large ones, and emit radiation that's better off at a fair distance from your head. Native Union has spent the last several years finding ways to bridge the gap between traditional phones and mobile devices, and its MM05 Solo / MM05t Solo Travel Handsets ($30-$40) are the latest iterations on the theme, traditional handsets that can be attached to any iPhone for cellular calls, or to iPads and iPod touches for VoIP calling. We received only the $40 Solo Travel for review, and thus our rating is solely for that model, though we include a little information about the less expensive Solo below.
Like several other Native Union handsets, MM05 and MM05t are the work of French designer David Turpin, whose past odes to traditional phones have varied between modern and classic touches; these are both decidedly futuristic. Made from hard plastic that’s finished with black soft touch rubber, each features the typical ear speaker, microphone, and call accept/end button we’ve come to expect. Both share a shape that looks like a tall, slim J from the side, and like earlier Native Union rubberized handsets quickly begin to show fingerprint oils when in active use. That aside, the design is very comfortable, resting its curve right in the palm of your hand.
The two versions are a little different from one another. Solo uses a black coiled cable, while Solo Travel instead has an especially long gray fabric cord with a plastic headphone plug at the end, and a black Velcro cord manager in the middle. The call accept/end button is color-matched to the cable, so Solo’s is black and Solo Travel’s is gray, and Travel comes bundled with a neoprene carrying sleeve so you can easily carry it around in a bag or briefcase.
On a positive note, our Solo Travel review unit generally worked as we’d expected—at least until we turned the volume up above the 65% level. Callers said that Native Union’s microphone was actually a little better than the one Apple uses in the iPhone 4S, with superior clarity that made us easier to understand. No one had a problem hearing us.
But there was a catch—a big catch. Since MM05t’s speaker doesn’t have any power save for what it gets from the connected Apple device, the handset only gets a little louder at max than the speaker built into the face of the iPhone. Unfortunately, when MM05t’s used above an iPhone’s 65% mark, callers reported hearing an echo of their own voices reverberating in the unit’s microphone. Only when we stepped below 65% did the echoes go completely away. Despite a roughly 4.5” gap between their centers, MM05t’s mic is picking up what’s being performed through its speaker. And the major way to fix it is to use the handset at a lower volume than what the iPhone’s capable of performing on its own.
Some users mightn’t mind this limitation, particularly if all they’re looking for is a way to use an iPad or iPod touch as a VoIP phone without trying to hold it up to your head—a dubious idea in both cases—or if limiting radiation exposure from an iPhone is a primary concern. MM05t is a very acceptable, nice-looking handset with all the nice looks and comfort we’ve come to expect from Native Union, and if you’re not turned off by the low volume limitations, it’s worth considering. However, the microphone and speaker really need a little additional tuning to perform properly together at all volumes; until that happens, MM05t is worthy of only a limited recommendation.