A couple of weeks ago, I received an Iqua Bluetooth Smart Badge from MobileFun.co.uk. They'd offered me the opportunity to review some mobile phone accessories and this was the one that stood out as being most interesting... The Smart Badge is a holder for a corporate ID/smart card, which combines a Bluetooth headset into the lanyard.
My initial reaction was that it was an interesting combination. If you're wearing a lanyard holding a badge throughout your work day anyway, why shouldn't it have another function? Of course you could counter that with "why should it?!", but in this case it's a sensible pairing because housing the battery behind the ID provides room for a much bigger battery than you can fit into a headset that's hanging off your ear. Also, I can't get into my office without my smartcard, so I'm very good at remembering to take that with me, but I'm equally good at forgetting my Bluetooth headset.
When I unboxed the Smart Badge, I'm pleased to say that my wife thought it looked ok. She was quick to point out that she would tell me "if it looked too geeky". With the mic/headphone cable woven into the lanyard, it's nice and discrete. I spent a good few days wearing it and nobody looked at it twice (which is a good thing), untill I showed them what it was at which point the feedback was pretty positive.
The manual is like a double-bill of War and Peace and the Bible, but fortunately that's because it's in a gazillion languages, and actually you get most of the information that you need to operate the Smart Badge from the quick reference card that comes in the device as a placeholder for your own ID card. Also in the box is a case, clear plastic cover to go over your ID card (which I didn't use, but if you have a paper ID, it's a good idea) and cables for charging. Yes, I said cables. You get a mains charger and a USB cable as charging options.
The device is quite light and I very soon forgot that I was wearing anything different to my normal card holder. That is an advantage over an ear-mounted headset, since you're unlikely to forget you're wearing it unless it makes your ear go numb. When you don't have the headphone in your ear, it's held to the microphone housing on the lanyard with a magnet, which keeps it nice and neat. One thing that surprised me and reminded me that I wasn't wearing a normal card holder was the fact that the Smart Badge vibrates when you receive a call. I found that the vibration wasn't very strong, but on an occasion when I was walking and didn't feel my phone vibrate in my pocket, I did notice the vibration from the badge, so that's handy.
In terms of audio quality, I thought it was perfectly fine for a headset that doesn't claim to do any noise cancelling. I even made a point of standing next to a motorway to make some calls and although there was obviously a significant amount of background noise, I never had to shout or move the microphone closer to my mouth to make myself heard. The same was true of calls made on the metro train I use to get to work. I made a point of asking everyone I spoke to whether they could hear me ok and the feedback was positive again.
The controls of the device are sensibly positioned, with a button next to the microphone handling answer/reject/hang-up/redial and the power button and volume controls on the top of the badge itself, next to the indicator light, where they're all easy to glance down at (an advantage of this design over a standard Bluetooth headset). Only one thing seemed a little bit "off" about the controls - when pairing the headset with a phone, you press the power and volume down (-) buttons, while to forget paired devices, you press power and volume up (+). It's just a bit counter-intuitive and I think it should be the other way round.
The distribution of the weight and clever positioning of the headphone wire coming out of the lanyard also means that there's next to no weight hanging from your ear. That's a big deal with an earpiece like this because they usually drop out of my ears with the slightest turning of my head, or just from the weight of the cable. I walk quite a lot through a normal work day, often wearing headphones, so I've settled on the type of headphones that have a rubber tip pushed into the ear canal, which hardly ever fall out. Headphones like the one on the Smart Badge don't normally stand a chance, but it only dropped once in a whole morning of wear (when I was specifically trying to test that). You aren't going to be able to go jogging with it in your ear, unless you make use of some tape, but then you wouldn't go jogging with your ID badge on anyway, would you?
That really brings us to the crux of this device. It suits a particular scenario very well, but if you want a Bluetooth headset for all occasions, this isn't it. If you're one of those people (and I sincerely hope that you're not) who wears their Bluetooth headset round the supermarket on a Saturday morning, you probably wouldn't also want to be wearing your corporate ID.
If I could suggest some improvements to a future version of the Smart Badge, I'd say it would be nice to have stereo headphones so that I could make use of it in listening to music. It would also be nice if it used a mini-USB connecter to charge (as most of my other devices do), although the fact that you're provided with a mains charger that you can leave at home and a USB charging cable that you can have hooked up to your desktop or laptop means that I'm not too concerned about that.
At the time of writing this, MobileFun.co.uk has the Iqua Bluetooth Smart Badge for just £14.95, which I think is a very reasonable price for an accessory that a lot of people could make great use of. Even if this device isn't for you, if you're interested in mobile accessories, you should check out the Mobile Fun Blog.