Great design is uncommon enough these days that “wow-” worthy products still stand out from the rest, using some magical combination of looks, feel, and obvious purpose to snare your eyes, then your fingers, and finally the logical portion of your brain. Native Union’s series of Moshi Moshi telephone accessories — notably including last year’s MM02 and MM03 — have come tantalizingly close to that “great design” mark, operating on the correct assumption that some iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad owners would prefer to make cellular or Skype telephone calls using traditional handsets rather than earbuds, speakerphones, or devices with glass screens. Last month, the company debuted two new models called MM03i ($150) and MM04i, so we’re covering them in two separate reviews today.
Between the two devices, MM03i is the more obvious heir to what Native Union started with the Moshi Moshi family—a wide variety of different takes on traditional telephone handsets, with the “moshi moshi” name coming from the Japanese “hello” greeting commonly used at the start of phone calls. MM01 looks like an old-fashioned phone with a plug for an iPhone, iPad, or iPod headphone port, MM02 has a more modern handset design with the same headphone port connector, and MM03 evolves MM02 by making its connection wirelessly over Bluetooth—a change that previously prevented MM03 from working with iPads and iPod touches, limiting it to iPhones and other monaural Bluetooth devices, while adding the need for wall and rechargeable battery power. All of these models have the same reason for existing: they let you put something up to your ear and mouth that has comfortable distances between the speaker and microphone, with a easily gripped handle in the center. They all look and feel great, but the MM02 and MM03 “curve” design is the sleekest in the family, beautifully complementing the looks of each iPhone released since 2008.
Superficially, MM03i is just a longer version of MM03 with a new iPhone dock built into the charging base, and a higher price tag, but there are some other changes under the hood. First, MM03i has been upgraded to Bluetooth 2.1, and it’s able to pair with two wireless devices at once without complaints. Using the MM03i handset is just as simple as before: there are two volume buttons with a power button in the middle. Pairing is as easy as holding down the handset’s + and central power buttons at the same time, then selecting MM03i from the General > Bluetooth list of devices; no special codes are needed. The handset’s battery provides many hours of continuous talk time, so you won’t run out of juice unless you forget to leave the phone on the charging base for a long time.
Second, either Native Union or Apple has made a change that sort of enables iPod touches—not iPads—to work with this unit for Voice Control and monaural headset purposes, though the feature doesn’t as yet work with third-party applications such as Skype, or even reliably with Apple’s own FaceTime application. Future iOS updates may or may not fix this; neither Apple nor Native Union has promised anything in this regard for iPod touch or iPad users.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, callers said something about MM03i that they didn’t say with MM03: we actually sounded louder and clearer through MM03i than we did through the iPhone 4’s handset microphone. This is a real rarity these days, and arguably a justification for the unit’s $150 asking price, as MM03i isn’t just a great-looking telephone accessory—it can now actually improve the quality of calls in a home or office environment. Native Union has also added an auxiliary audio output port to the charging base’s back, so you can use MM03i as an wired audio dock for the iPhone if you supply your own 3.5mm cable. The company includes a USB cable in the package as an alternative to wall power if you prefer to connect the base to your computer.
On the flip side, MM03i still has some of the same hurdles that we noted in its predecessor. One is the unit’s glossy black or white plastic finish, which looks nice, though some may prefer the soft touch rubber finish used in many of Native Union’s other handsets. Next, and no surprise given its shape and design, MM03i still doesn’t work as a music streaming device, so it’s effectively the equivalent of a common Bluetooth headset in a much larger package. And last, the $150 price tag is even steeper than the prior $130 version’s, which Native Union wisely subsequently dropped to $100—some users will feel compelled to pass on MM03i solely because it’s more expensive than almost every Bluetooth headset on the market and only adds an iPhone dock to offset the price difference.
While MM03i is definitely a niche iPhone accessory, it’s well-executed enough in most of its specifics to deserve our general recommendation. Native Union has attractively and efficiently combined an iPhone audio and charging dock with a modern wireless telephone handset, creating a solution that will work well and look great in any office or home. The $150 price tag may place it out of reach for some prospective users, but those who are willing to lay out that cash—or wait for a price drop—will enjoy the benefits of an ergonomic and comfortable calling solution with generally superior audio quality to what the iPhone’s integrated hardware offers. If you appreciate clean design and great style, it’s an easy pick despite its limitations.
Company and Price
Company: Native Union
Compatible: iPhone (all)