As surprising as this may seem, we are genuinely enthusiastic to receive new Bluetooth headsets to test with our iPhones; having used similar, earlier earpieces before with our favorite mobile phones, we are always looking for the latest and greatest ways to communicate without holding phones up to ears, and Bluetooth offers the wireless solution. A good Bluetooth headset places a small, lightweight combination of speaker, microphone, and battery in your ear, enabling you to hear your callers and callers to hear you for multiple hours of conversation.
This week, we’ve tested two new Bluetooth 1.2 headsets that we really wanted to love: Aliph’s new Jawbone Bluetooth Headset ($120), and Bluetake’s BT400GL Bluetooth Headset ($65). They’re both major contrasts with a headset we’ve considered for the past year to be a very solid reference point, Plantronics’ Voyager 510 ($100), which we’re not fully reviewing today because of its age, but rather using merely as a useful comparative design. Whereas the Voyager is fairly typical of Bluetooth headsets that can be used with iPhones, other cell phones, and computers, the others are not; each has a unique feature designed to appeal to the ears or eyes.
Bluetake’s BT400GL Bluetooth Headset is an almost completely different animal than Jawbone and the Voyager 510, but in our view it’s not as worthy of a lengthy review. It is marketed, and accurately, as one of the smallest and lightest-weight monaural Bluetooth wireless phone headsets around—at 39mm by 17mm by 12mm and 8.5 grams, that’s its major selling point. Two years ago, it would have been seen as a technological marvel based on the fact that it does everything Voyager 510 does, yet consumes less volume than an iPod shuffle. It’s also available in two colors, pink (as shown) and silver. But callers report that its audio quality is awful, like listening to a phone call made underwater, and unless you’re unusually curious, that’s pretty much all you need to know about it.
Distributed in the U.S. by RadTech, BT400GL uses a novel three-piece system for power management. You get the earpiece and three silicone rubber tips that are designed to help it stay mounted in your ear, as well as a miniature charging dock that can be pocketed or worn around your neck with an included lanyard. Both the earpiece and the dock contain Lithium Polymer batteries, which when combined promise 15 hours of talk time on a single charge; the wall charger is included to help replentish both batteries at the same time. A “tough” carrying box is also included for most of the components if you want to use it during travel.
As you might guess from its size, BT400GL uses very small buttons mounted on the earpiece to let you change volume, initiate and end calls, and on supported phones—not iPhone—you can transfer calls and use voice dialing features. As with the other headsets, pairing is painless with iPhone; we were able to get BT400GL set up in seconds, and the iPhone’s volume buttons worked to change the headset’s volume level, as well. Battery life isn’t quite up to BlueTake’s 15-hour mark, but you’ll do quite a bit better than with most six-hour headsets if you keep dropping the earpiece into the cradle after every use.
The good news with BT400GL is that calls sounded good to us—typical by Bluetooth 1.2 standards, only with slightly better isolation thanks to BlueTake’s decision to use silicone tips to channel the audio directly into the ear canal. We generally found that BT400GL fit snugly into our ears, but one smaller-eared iLounge editor found it too big to stay properly in place; your experience may vary, but since there’s no reinforcement for the outside of your ear, if it’s not snug in your canal, it’s going to fall off. You can keep the earbud in the wearable charging cradle when it’s not in use, but you’ll have to depend on iPhone’s own ringer or vibration feature to let you know a call’s coming through; a cradle vibration feature did not work with the iPhone in our tests.
Most unfortunately, callers did not like how we sounded when we called them with BT400GL. Unlike the Voyager 510, which is almost always described as “pretty good,” and the Jawbone, which received comments varying from “good” to “impressive,” callers unanimously agreed that BT400GL sounded bad. Even in a relatively quiet room, one told us that we sounded like an echoing robot, with no apparent tonality left in our voice; others described the sound as muddled and indistinct, as if we were underwater and the microphone was not filtering our voice out from background noise. We were not surprised that one person told us that this should not be a headset we use to call back on in the future.
Most of the problem is due to BT400GL’s size. Putting a microphone immediately outside your ear, rather than near your mouth, isn’t a wise move for any phone headset, and if you’re going to do that, you need much more intelligent voice filtering than what BlueTake has included here. At such a distance from the mouth, we’d be surprised if even Aliph’s Noise Shield technology could properly create listenable voice audio in an enclosure like this.
Overall, the BT400GL’s performance illustrates why solutions as large as Voyager 510 continue to exist and flourish: as inconvenient and awkward as a repositionable microphone near your mouth may appear to be, paying $65 for a Bluetooth headset no one likes to hear you on makes little sense when the 510 is available for under $50 at this point, and delivers substantially better sound quality. We consider it unfortunate that the outgoing sound quality is as mediocre as it is here, as BlueTake’s quality aesthetic design, decent pricing, and two-stage battery would otherwise be enough to merit BT400GL our recommendation. Superior noise filtering and a longer, narrower redesign could make for a better sequel.
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