Published on September 9th, 2009 | by Greg0
Bluetooth for All Occasions From Plantronics, Jabra, and Devotec
We’ve seen our fair share of Bluetooth devices. From automobile hands-free kits to headsets, Bluetooth is still the way to go for short-distance wireless audio. We’ve been putting three new devices through our tests, looking at battery life, sound quality, and durability.
The Devotec Solar Sound Bluetooth Stereo Speakers are the least conventional item we’re looking at today- basically a small box about seven inches long and 2 inches wide, with a set of 2W stereo speakers. Built-in Bluetooth requires devices with the A2DP profile (relatively new for the iPhone; make sure your firmware is upgraded to 3.0 or higher), and some basic control functionality is available for devices with AVRCP (pause, play, and power off). The touch-sensitive interface on the unit is simple, and reasonably elegant- three buttons with nicely glowing LEDs allow volume control and easy pause/play/power. We appreciated the easy 3.5mm headphone jack (and included cable) for easy use with non-Bluetooth devices, and the ability to charge the battery via USB or standard outlets. There is a built-in microphone as well for taking calls, but we found it to be pretty poor (especially outdoors).
Of course, the real advantage to this unit is the solar panels lining the top of the box, allowing you to charge the device without plugging it in at all. They claim that you can get 4-8 hours of playtime from the box, we ended up getting closer to 5 with normal volumes, after reaching a full charge. Note: it can take a up to a full day to charge with the solar panels versus about four hours via outlet power- and if you are planning a full day outside, it doesn’t seem to charge as well when the unit is in use. The sleek black unit is almost too light, and feels a bit cheap, with sound that won’t impress anyone (though it is clear and manages surprising volumes for the size, the bass is definitely lacking and there is a bit of distortion). The side facing speakers are odd, and mean that you lose a bit of volume/clarity as well, and the aforementioned mic poorly positioned in the rear. Altogether, it’s an almost-there product, a great idea that makes some compromises to stay small, and we hope a future iteration can do an even better job of filling the truly portable wireless speaker niche. Available directly online, as well as from Amazon, for about $80.
On a similar price level lies the Plantronics Voyager Pro. This is an attractive headset, and durable to boot, as repeated drops didn’t faze it. Featuring several different tips in both silicone and foam for best fit, two noise-cancelling microphones, and Bluetooth 2.1 capability, the Voyager Pro is well-balanced and comfortable in either ear. We were slightly disappointed in the battery life- six hours of talk time is pretty good, but the unit is fairly heavy at 7 ounces. The lithium-ion battery does charge quickly though, and offers up to five days of standby use (in practice, with occasional use and manually turning it off, we were able to make it last about 4 days between charges).
The design is sleek- it feels business-like and a bit conservative, and the bulky nature means it won’t easily fit in a pocket. The boom mic, though, means much better sound quality- we’re thrilled to report that even in windy conditions, the unit worked marvelously. Voices were clear on both ends, and came through well in quiet or busy conditions. The Voyager Pro supports two synched devices (which they call multipoint), and offers the usual features like call-waiting support and muting. Button placement is on the top of the ear; a bit awkward at first but pretty easy to get used to. At less than $100, it’s a great buy, and we’re impressed that it’s taken the throne from our previous favorite, the Jawbone 2.
Finally, we’re hitting on Jabra. Makers of some really great Bluetooth devices, they’ve more recently seemed to lose their leading spot in the field- witness their Innovation timeline, with the last update coming in 2006. The Jabra BT2080 Bluetooth headset is an entry-level device, using Bluetooth 2.1, and part of their Easy series. Easy it is, to setup at least, and it is small, light (8g), and pretty durable.
It isn’t very comfortable, however, either with the over-the-ear hooks or without, and also seemed to have a more limited range than some others we’ve tried- if we moved a few feet away from our phone or put a barrier in the way, sound quality reduced pretty quickly. Battery life is decent though, with 5-6 hours of talk time and up to 8 days of standby! It won’t grab many points for style (or naming) but the BT2080 is a decent, basic headset- call quality is only so-so, and there isn’t anything in the way of noise or wind cancellation- but at around $30 there are definitely some trade-offs. Available online and in stores now.