While I typically don't like to post consumer product reviews on our corporate blog, this one is different... really.
As a developer, I have fallen prey to what appears to be a stereotypical developer behavior -- listening to music while coding. Whether it's a behavior picked up through "peer pressure" or my own personal inability to focus without some sort of constant noise to block out my surroundings, I don't know. However, listening to music has become critical.
In addition to my music listening, I have also begun to extensively use Skype. Over the last two years, Skype has become an indispensable tool for all Consejo consultants to communicate with each other and our clients -- whether through VOiP, IM or file transfers; Skype just works.
As a result of all of these uses of audio with my laptop, I began searching for a decent set of stereo headphones that had an integrated microphone. For me, I was specifically looking for something that had the following characteristics:
- Stereo headphones that produced good quality sound
- Integrated microphone that could be used with Skype or other audio recording tools
- Wirelessly attached -- I've tried wired headphones and they're just inconvenient
- Long battery run-time -- I looked for something that had more than a continuous 8 hour run-time (tough to find)
- Rechargeable via a USB cable
- Rechargeable via AC cord
- Reasonably priced. For me, this meant under $100.
Although I found a number of candidates, most had short runtimes, were too bulky to fit in my laptop case (since I travel extensively, this was also key) or were too expensive. Ultimately, I found the Insignia brand Bluetooth-attached headphones at Best Buy. At $49.99 and a 10 hour run-time, they fit the bill.
Figure 1 - Insignia Bluetooth Headphones (model: NS-BTHDP)
I have been using these headphones for about three months now. In that time, I've never run the battery totally down. In addition, they can pair with more than one Bluetooth device (e.g. my computer and my cell phone), making it possible to listen to music and, when a call comes in to my cell phone, switch to that device and then switch back when the call has completed.
Beyond all of this, here's what I really liked about these headphones:
- Decent run-time.
My experience is that they easily last a full eight hours of continuous use, but will likely last longer. In addition, should the batteries start to run down, you can have the headphones simultaneously connected to a USB port and continue to list simultaneously. The cord defeats the wireless nature of the unit, but at least you can keep using them while they recharge.
- Multiple Device Pairing
The headphones can pair with more than one device. I'll typically pair the headphones with my cell phone and my computer. This allows me to take calls on my mobile phone and listen to music without having to switch listening devices. It may seem trivial, but given the number of calls I get throughout the day and the fact that when I'm not talking on the phone, I'm usually using my laptop, switching between headsets is really inconvenient! One other advantage is that the A/V control profile on my laptop will pause Windows Media player when a call comes in and resume music play once I disconnect the call. As a side note, my cell phone is a Samsung BlackJack, I've also used the headphones to listen to music on that device as well; it works very well.
- Controls on the headset
The headphones have audio control controls right on the headset. Volume, connect/disconnect, play/pause, track selections and power are all conveniently located on the right headphone. It took a bit to get used to the location of the controls, but once my muscle memory kicked in, I was able to control both my phone and my laptop without too much trouble.
I have been very impressed with the range. Bluetooth is supposed to be good for up to 33 ft and I have, on many occasions, used all of that range plus some. Whether this is a consequence of my laptop's ability to transmit or the headphone's ability to receive I don't know. In fact, (for better or worse) it seems that the connection is either there or not; there's no graceful degradation in sound quality as I move away from my laptop -- when you get too far away, the sound stutters and then ends. I regularly use the headphones on my laptop in the basement of my home (where my home office resides) and walk up to the first floor without an interruption in sound.
At $49.99, the headphones are a real bargain. I had originally thought about buying the Motorola Rokr stereo Bluetooth headset at $99, but with only a six hour run-time, I didn't think they'd fit my work schedule.
- Comfortable and Light
The headphones are only 2.8 ozs and are very comfortable to wear for long periods. I've not had a huge success in wearing most headphones for long periods -- most are either too tight or too loose and become very uncomfortable after two to three hours. I've worn these for four hours or more without a problem. That said, everything eventually becomes uncomfortable and I'm often glad when I can take them off.
- Microphone Sound Quality
The microphone in the headphones is built in to the right ear piece. There's no boom and it seems like it picks up more than its share of the surroundings background noise. It does work reasonable well, but it's not as good as a dedicated wireless headset.
- Profile Madness
Whether it's a consequence of my laptop's Toshiba Bluetooth module, the driver or simply "the way things work," I can't use the headphones as headphones with a mic on my laptop. In order to use the mic on my laptop, I needed to create two profiles -- one for dedicated headphones (no mic) and one as a headset (with a mic). I would probably be content to listen music in "headset" mode, except the sound quality takes a dive in this mode (sound quality is noticeably fuzzy). For this reason, I tend to use the headphones paired with my mobile phone for conversations and my laptop for music, unless I'm going to use Skype extensively.
- No Convenient Carrying Case
As I mentioned earlier, I travel a great deal. As a result, I rely on my laptop case to contain all of the equipment and supplies I need to haul around from client to client. As it is, my case weighs in at around 25 lbs (with all of my gear). It's become quite packed and space is at a premium. In addition, because of the amount of stuff, everything is packed tight and when the bag is tossed (thrown into a rental car seat or shoved under an airline chair), items inside the bag are crunched. For these reasons, I wanted to protect my investment by buying something that would keep them safe while occupying minimal space in my laptop bag. Unfortunately, a quick search around the Best Buy did not yield a suitable option. In fact, Best Buy does not sell any sort of case for them at all. After looking for about 20 minutes, trying everything from a CD case to a camera case, I couldn't find a good solution. As a result, I've been carrying them around, precariously floating around the inside of my bag. So far, nothing has broken, but we'll have to see after a year...
- Difficult pairing with a iMAC
I happen to have both iMAC (PPC not Intel-based) and Windows machines in my office. The MAC is primarily used for testing, but I do have Skype and some other common services (like e-mail) configured on the machine. I've had difficulty pairing the headphones with the MAC and have not had success (once paired) getting them to work. Looking through some discussion boards leads me to believe I'm not the only one. However, I'm not committed enough to spend time trying to fix the problem.
So, in short, if you're looking for a pair of decent, reasonably priced, wireless headphones, you should consider the Insignia NS-BTHDP. If you have them, I'd love to hear your feedback as well.