Bluetooth Mobile Headset Roundup

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Products: Logitech Mobile Freedom Headset, IOGear GBE201W7 Headset, Plantronics Explorer 320 Headset
Price: MSRP $79.95, $59.95, $69.95 Respectively

Introduction:

I recently upgraded my cell phone to a phone that included bluetooth.  For me, bluetooth is an important feature as when I'm working at my real job (farming) I don't want a wire to get tangled up in machinery.  Much like a cape to a superhero (think Incredibles), a wired headset could be the death of you.  I started out with a fairly limited budget and have tested out a few headsets to find out which works best under various situations and importantly, which is comfortable to wear.  Read along and hopefully you'll find out which headsets not to waste your money on.

The Candidates:


The Candidates

We've got entries from Logitech, IOGear and Plantronics on the bench today, and while these are entry-level bluetooth headsets, they should still provide basic functionality and quality.  Only two of these headsets are Bluetooth 1.2 and one is the older Bluetooth 1.1.  Bluetooth 1.2 should provide less noise than previous Bluetooth products.  We'll soon see.

To test these headsets, we will be linking them with a Motorola V710 phone as well as a PC Connection to test the quality and range.  Results are perhaps somewhat subjective, but we've used these headsets for a few days uner various conditions to find out their quirks, issues, and strengths.  This should give you an idea of what to expect when you go bluetooth headset shopping.

Logitech Mobile Freedom:

The Logitech Mobile Freedom is an entry level headset from Logitech.  While it's not the bottom of the pile, it certainly is not an expensive unit either.  It comes with a very simple manual, two replacement foam earpads, and an AC adapter for charging the unit.


Logitech Bundle


Logitech Front

The Logitech Mobile Freedom is not bunged up with gaudy buttons, and at first glance only a single button is evident.  However, the Logitech logo is actually sitting on a volume up/down rocker switch.  This switch also functions as a mic mute button when the volume is pressed "up" twice rapidly.  Mute may be turned off by pressing the volume control again.

The back of the unit is very simple and actually quite plain.  When I received the headset, I first sat out to charge it and couldn't find the plug.  I was just about ready to consult the manual when I noticed it behind the hinge on the earpiece.  This piece can be rotated out of the way for charging as well as to customize the fit.


Logitech Back


Logitech Power Connector

Pairing - Installation:

Installation of the Logitech Mobile Freedom headset was entirely painless.  To pair the unit you turn the unit on, and continue to hold down the button until the LED flashes red.  Once this is done, you can choose to pair this device with your phone, PDA, etc. and will then be prompted to enter the passcode.  This process should take no more than a few seconds to complete.  The hardest part will be to find out how to find the right option in your phone.

 

Function, Features & Comfort:

Below we've listed the features and specifications according to Logitech:

  •  Bluetooth 1.2 compatible: No additional phone dongle needed to enjoy 10 meters (30 feet) of range. It also works with your Bluetooth-compatible PC. And Bluetooth v1.2 gives you adaptive frequency hopping, quick connect time, and improved audio quality.
  • Logitech´s patent-pending WindStop technology: WindStop enables clear conversations in adverse conditions by reducing the disruptive effects of wind noise, including automobile air conditioners.
  • Comfortable and lightweight: Rotating clip conveniently fits either ear, and lightweight soft foam ear pad stays comfortable even after long talk sessions.
  • Long-life battery: Enjoy up to 7 hours of talk time or up to 250 hours of standby time between charges.
  • Multifunction button: Call/answer button on the headset lets you conduct calls without having to pick up the phone. The Logitech Mobile Freedom Headset also supports several features built into many handsets, such as voice dialing, three-way calling, and mute.
  •  Ultra-light: weighs 23 grams.


Logitech LED

This unit really doesn't have a whole lot of fuctionality built into it other than a simple headset.  Other headsets support redial, hold & more, but the Logitech basically supports mic mute out of the box.  Other features may be available based on phone functionality, but not on mere headset fuctionality.  The Logitech "Windstop" mic is a great addition though and greatly reduces wind noise as well as other background noise.

As far as comfort goes, the Logitech headset is middle of the road.  The padded earpiece is quite nice, but the thick rubber earloop can pinch after wearing it for a while.  I've tried this unit on both ears in various positions, but it lacks long-term comfort in my opinon.  Also, if you have small ears, this headset may not be secure and could fall off your ear.

Sound Quality:

Regardless of the functionality or the comfort of a headset, all would be totally lost if it didn't sound good.  While I don't expect this to be hi-fi by any means, the voice quality should be clear without undue hissing or popping.  I'm pleased to say that the Logitech Mobile Freedom has decent sound quality.  I could hear voices clearly and distinctly although at times I wish the volume could go a little higher.

On the mic side of things, it is a similar story.  The mic seems to work well and pick up voices nicely.  The "windstop" mic does indeed block out wind noise and apparently other background noise as well.  People I talked to could understand me when I was walking outside in the wind and while operating noisy farm equiment.  They could hear the background noise of the equipment, but could hear me as well.

Range & Battery Life:

Logitech claims the Bluetooth 1.2 standard will provide range of up to 10m (30ft.).  This is a bit lean however, and I was able to set my phone down at one end of the house and use the headset clearly in any other area of the house.  At 45 feeet, the signal became a bit staticy, but was still bearable.  I've even ran into the post office while using the headset and left the phone in the truck - it worked very well.  Range is excellent in my opinion.

Logitech claims that the Mobile Freedom will last around 7 hours of talk time and 250 hours in standby.  From my experience, this is very close as the headset batteries outlast my phone by about 3 to 1.  Charging the headset may take up to 4 hours, but in my experience it only takes 2 - 3 hours.

How It Scores:

 

BensCustomCases.com Rating
Installation:
10/10
Features:
7/10
Comfort:
6/10
Sound Quality Ear:
8/10
Sound Quality Mic:
8/10
Range:
10/10
Battery Life :
9/10
Value:
8/10
Total Score 8.25

 

 

Head on over to the next page and we'll take a look at the IOGear GBE201W7.


IOGear GBE201W7:

The IOGear GBE201W7 is definately an entry level headset.  This unit can be found online for as little as $30USD.  The question becomes "Is a $30 headset worth bringing home?"  We hope to find out so read on.

The IOGear GBE201W7 actually comes with a very good bundle.  It ships with a decent manual that includes instructions on connecting the headset to both your computer and your phone.  Also included is an earclip for your right ear only, as well as a couple of foam padded "earbug" covers.  Also included in the package is a lanyard so that you can pull the headset out of your ear and hang it around your neck.  When it comes time to charge the unit you've got a couple of options - the AC adapter or the USB charging cable.  Either one should only take a couple of hours to charge things and be ready to go again.


IOGear Bundle


IOGear Front

The IOGear GBE201W7 is a Bluetooth 1.1 headset that has a lot of features for it's price.  Although we can expect the signal not to be quite as clear with this unit as with a Bluetooth 1.2 device, it may make up for it with sheer features and accessories.

This headset has a single button and a volume rocker switch much like the Logitech Mobile Freedom.  The multi-fuction button is located on the back with the volume conveniently located at the top.  The volume can be easily adjusted while in-call if it is too loud or to soft.


IOGear Power Connector


IOGear LED

The IOGear headset is the smallest of the three tested, and also has the brightest LED.  This LED flashes every few seconds when it's on standby and actually throws quite a bit of light.  If you lost your keys in a dark room, you may be able to find them with this headset.  My 1 year old and 3 year old sons found it quite fascinating.

Pairing - Installation:

Installation of the IOGear GBE201W7 is as painless as bluetooth pairing can be.  Simply press and hold the multi-fuction button down to turn it on and continue to hold it until a red LED appears.  At this point you can choose to pair the headset with another supporting bluetooth device such as a phone, PDA etc.  Once the headset is discovered you will be prompted to enter a four digit passkey in order to complete the process.  This is very simple and can be done in less than a minute.  For those of you who have never used bluetooth devices, a manual is included that should help you in case there are some issues.

 

Function, Features & Comfort:

Below is a list of features and specifications according to IOGear on their website:

  • Hands-free communications via your Bluetooth cell phone
  • Support both headset profile and hands-free profile
  • Class 2 Headset, compatible with Bluetooth 1.1 specifications
  • Can be used as an audio device on the computer with Internet chat programs like Skype, MSN Messenger, etc.
  • Easy operation and comfortable wear
  • Ear hook included to ensure secure wearing
  • Volume control included
  • Built-in re-chargeable battery for 4.5 hour talk time
  • Light and attractive design
  • Supported Voice-Over-IP programs: Skype v1.3, MSN Messenger v4.7, Yahoo Messenger v7.0, AOL Instant Messenger v5.9, and Google Talk.
  •  Ultra Light Weight - 17grams.

This unit doesn't have a whole lot of functionality features in and of itself, but it does make up for it with extremely light weight.  Not only is this headset the smallest, but it ranks among the lightest headsets on the market as well.  IOGear claims that the GBE201W7 has a noise and echo cancelling mic.  If it works as good as they claim, this is an incredible value as these features generally come only on more expensive headsets.

This unit is quite comfortable to wear.  With the included foam earpads and the earclip, I was able to wear it for hours on my right ear with no trouble.  Unfortunately, the earclip doesn't work on the left ear, so if you wear it on the left, you won't be able to use the clip.  However, with this unit weighing in at a mere 17 grams, it won't likely fall out unless your quite active.  If you are worried about losing it, you can always use the included lanyard and clip.  Bonus.

Sound Quality:

Sound quality is where this unit starts to get a little shaky.  Although the earpiece fits well and is comfortable to wear, the quality of the voices heard over the headset are quite poor.  Maybe I was expecting too much from the earbud, but I was a little disappointed in the quality.  Voices always have a faint hiss to them and there is often some popping sound during a conversation.  Occasionally, the sound drops off for a split second during a conversation as if the signal were lost - even when the headset is a couple of feet away from the phone.

The mic on this unit is very powerful and I've been told that I was very loud and clear from the person I was calling.  That's not always a good thing.  In any environment with background noise (office, car, parking lot, farm) the mic picks up background noise and even walking accross a gravel lot generated enough noise that I could hardly be heard over the sound of me walking. . . IOGear claims this headset is capable of noise cancelling, but in my experience it does not do this at all.

Range & Battery Life:

The IOGear GBE201W7 is a Bluetooth 1.1 device.  It claims a range of 10 meters, but falls short of this.  If I wear my phone on my left side and have the headset in my right ear, I often get static as the signal must travel either around or through my body.  I'm no Arnold Schwarzenegger so it shouldn't be that hard to do.  The signal is often plagued with hiss and static from a poor connection.  In ideal conditions I managed 15 feet of range, but it was fuzzy and not really usable.  IOGear has sacrificed size for range I believe, and it's not always the best tradeoff.

Because this unit is the smallest headset we tested, we can also assume that it has the shortest battery life as well.  It only claims a talk time of 4.5 hours and a standby time of 100 hours.  This is roughly half the rated time of the Logitech headset.  The good news is that it lasts all of 4.5 hours talking, but if you do a lot of business on your phone/headset during the day, you'll likely need to charge it during the day.  This is not very convenient for the end user.  Charging nightly is acceptable, but during the day is a pain - even if it includes USB and AC chargers.

Charging the IOGear headset takes at the most 2 hours, and is often ready to go within an hour if you don't let the battery run right dead.  It charges quickly and unfortunately discharges fairly quickly as well.

How It Scores:

 

BensCustomCases.com Rating
Installation:
10/10
Features:
7/10
Comfort:
9/10
Sound Quality Ear:
6/10
Sound Quality Mic:
7/10
Range:
7/10
Battery Life :
7/10
Value:
8/10
Total Score 7.6

 

 

Keep on reading as we take a look at the Plantronics Explorer 320 on the last page.


Plantronics 320 Explorer:

If a Bluetooth headset could be considered sexy, the Plantronics 320 Explorer would walk away with the hotty award in this roundup.  This headset is decent to look at and comes packing Plantronics brand name and quality.  Although it is priced in the entry-level market, don't let it fool you, it has features that other more expensive headsets have.  It certainly has got class going for it.


Plantronics Bundle

The Plantronics Explorer 320 comes with a minimal amount of hardware in the box.  There is simply a AC charger, the headset and a couple of manuals.  The manual covers installation, pairing and basic features of this headset.

Notice in the pictures below that the Explorer 320 only has a single button.  This button functions as a volume up/down switch as well as a multi-fuction button.  To raise or lower the volume you slide the button up and down, and to use other functions, you simply press the button.  This design makes for less clutter and is a very clean, simple design.


Plantronics Front


Plantronics Back

The back of this unit reveals the hard rubber earpiece and the charging jack.  The earpiece is designed so that the sound is carried directly into your ear canal.  There is basically no padding on this unit and it isn't as comfortable to wear as some.  The charging port is quite different but is engineer so that there is not a long power plug that could get broken off inside if it gets dropped while charging.


Plantronics Power Connector


Plantronics LED

The Plantronics Explorer 320 has a couple of LEDs that lie below the surface of a silver strip on the front side of the headset.  The LEDs cannot be located unless they are flashing.  This adds to the sleek appearance of the headset.  Pictured above is the LED as it flashes in standby mode.  When pairing, a red LED is displayed, and when a call has been missed, it appears purple.

Pairing - Installation:

Like every other headset we tested, pairing the Plantronics Explorer 320 was very painless.  The pairing procedure is pretty much exactly the same as the other units.  When the headset is off, you turn it on by pressing the power button and continue to hold it until a red LED flashes.  At this point you can search for new headsets with your other bluetooth device and when it is found you'll be prompted to enter a passkey.  Once this is done, you're good to go.  I had no trouble pairing the Explorer 320 with my phone, palm or computer.  It all worked simply and easily.

Function, Features & Comfort:

Before we take a look and see what this headset can actually do, we'll take a look at the features according to Plantronics and see what they claim it can do.

  • Talk Time - Up to 8 hours
  • Standby Time - Up to 240 hours
  • Range - Bluetooth standard 33 feet (10 meters)
  • Headset Weight - 17 grams (2/3 oz.)
  • Headset Controls - Volume, call answer/end, last number redial, voice-activated dialing
  • Battery Type - Lithium Ion
  • Wireless Compatibility - Bluetooth devices supporting headset and hands-free profiles
  • Version - Bluetooth 1.2

While this list of features appears short at first glance, the Plantronics Explorer 320 actually has more features than the other headsets.  When pairing with my Motorola V710 phone the headset supported redial which none of the other headsets did.  This is really only it's extra feature, but it's one that is actually quite handy.  If the line was busy or there is no answer when placing a call, it's much easier to redial that to go through the voice activated menus again and call the person.  One touch redial is very nice.

What disappointed me with this headset is the comfort factor.  The hard rubber earpiece got quite uncomfortable in my right ear after only an hour of usage.  I tried the headset in my left ear as well in case it made a difference and perhaps I have a mutated right ear.  Apparently I do.  When worn in my left ear, the headset was perfectly comfortable and could be worn for prolonged periods with no discomfort whatsoever.  When worn in my left ear, this is the most comfortable headset I tested.

Sound Quality:

With this headset so comfortable in my left ear, and with other features working great I was very hopeful in the sound quality department.  After the initial paring, I made a call to my wife and chatted up for a bit.  This headset has enough volume to work in most situations and even when working in a noisy environment I could hear the other person very clearly.  The sound was crisp and clean with very minimal crackle and hiss.  I found myself actually turning the volume down after a bit of usage due to the earpiece design.  Overall the earpiece has very good sound quality.

With all this going for it I was left wanting when it came to the mic.  It picks up everything.  The "binging" of a seatbelt alarm in a car was very loud to the person on the other end on the conversation and noisy environments translated to very noisy phonecalls and my voice coming through garbled.  If you are driving heavy equipment, forget about the other person understanding you at all.  However, if you are in a quiet environment the mic is passable.  Even with ideal conditions, people said that my voice wasn't as clear as with the Logitech Mobile Freedom.  Too bad.  This headset looked like it could have been a real winner.

Range & Battery Life:

Plantronics makes no super claims about the range on this headset.  Like the other companies, they claim the default 10m range of the Bluetooth spec, and this headset just makes it.  When wearing a phone on my right side and the headset on my left ear, there was occasional static and hiss from a weak signal.  When placing my phone down with clear line of sight I could get about 30 feet away before the signal dropped and became unusable.  It hits right where they aim in the range department.

Battery life on this 17 gram unit is excellent.  Plantronics claim 8 hours talk time and 240 hours standby.  I used this headset quite a bit to talk to people as well as listen to MP3's and MobileTV.  The talk time is great.  It outlasted my phone over 3 to 1 and should last anyone at least a full day if they are using it for business calls.  Recharging the unit takes only a couple of hours, and Plantronics recommends at least a 20 minute charge before first use.  This headset has the longest talk time and the shortest recharge time, making it a good choice for people who need talk time without down time.

How It Scores:

 

BensCustomCases.com Rating
Installation:
10/10
Features:
9/10
Comfort:
7/10
Sound Quality Ear:
8/10
Sound Quality Mic:
6/10
Range:
7/10
Battery Life :
10/10
Value:
8/10
Total Score 8.1

 

 

Conclusions:

When you are purchasing an entry-level headset you really can't expect premium features.  You should still be able to get a quality product though that works as advertised.  All of the headsets we tested had some hits and misses, but overall there is some good value.  If you would use a headset in a quiet environment, the Plantronics Explorer 320 would be a good choice.  If you are on a tight budget and want to get a basic headset, the IOGear unit can be found on sale for around $30USD right now.  It doesn't have the range of the others, but it's a starter unit.  If you work in a noisy or windy environment the Logitech Mobile Freedom will be your best choice of the three.  You do have to sacrifice some comfort, but the people on the other end will appreciate being able to hear you instead of all the other noise.


Size Comparison

At the end of this testing, I'm left feeling a little disappointed.  I guess I expected to find a great headset for under $80CDN.  What I did find is some average products that can get you by.

If you want to leave your feedback regarding this review, or have other comments and questions. . . or suggestions of a good headset, please head on over and post in our forum.