A couple of weeks back the postman came to my door with a small package, containing a small box, housing the world's smallest Bluetooth headset, the SmallTalk Mini Bluetooth Headset.
In the box:
- Very small headset with ear hook attached
- USB charging cable
- In-car adapter for USB charging cable
Pairing the headset with my phone was incredibly simple, however it didn't go exactly as the manual described on my Android 1.5 powered HTC Hero. While the phone found the headset just fine when I'd engaged the pairing mode, it didn't then ask for the PIN to complete the pairing. That's fine, and nothing to do with the headset, but I'd never thought of that step as optional and I guess it could be confusing to some people.
This headset obviously has an incredibly small battery, yet it clams to be good for 3 hours talk time and up to 100 hours on standby. I'm not sure how much charge is in the battery as shipped, but I hooked it up to my PC to fill the battery and it didn't take long to tell me it was full (I know I should really time these things when I'm writing a review, but in this instance you can take "didn't take long" to mean "less than the 2 hours that the manual suggests it can take to fully change the battery from flat"). I don't make a lot of calls, so I managed my normal usage and a bunch of test calls over the course of a week without the battery showing any signs of running out.
My first set of test calls was made in my office with little ambient noise and the incoming audio quality was perfectly fine. I left some messages on my voicemail so I could listen back to the audio that I was sending out via the headset, and while it perhaps wasn't "broadcast quality", it was perfectly clear.
I like to do some call quality tests in noisy environments, so I stood next to a motorway and made some calls. I was able to make myself understood at the other end of the line, but it was sub-optimal. The next test was on a train, and while it wasn't as good as in the quiet office, it wasn't terrible - about what I'd expect from a headset with no noise cancellation in an environment with some noise. The worst experience was when walking down the street alongside a reasonable amount of traffic with a decent amount of wind blowing - it wasn't really possible to have a conversation.
Personally I don't tend to make calls on the train (aside from annoying other passengers, you are far too readily overheard), and I wouldn't expect to make calls with a headset in a noisy environment where I wouldn't expect to make calls without one, so the above call tests aren't exactly damning. Where I do make most use of a headset is when I'm driving, and in all the test calls I made in the car I was very happy with the results. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the device had been designed for optimal operation in that situation; something which is further reinforced by there being no mains charger, only a car/USB charging cable.
When I was doing the call tests on the train, I did experience a few random disconnects, where the phone and headset would lose contact. It didn't happen every time and I don't know whether the fault was with the phone or the headset (or the train!). It's not the first time that I've suffered Bluetooth connection failure on that train (using two completely different devices), so it may have been some kind of interference. I didn't have the problem at any other time.
In some if the marketing photos and the illustration on the front of the manual, it shows the headset without the ear hook attached, obviously in an attempt to make it appear as small as possible. You can't wear it without the ear loop though; you might be able to if you had exactly the right sized ear canal, but it doesn't appear to have been designed that way. The speaker, which is surrounded by a rubber ring for comfort, just sits at the opening of your ear canal.
I wonder if it may have been possible to make an in-ear version of this, shipping with a selection of rubber ear buds, as many in-ear headphones do. Given the typical choice of 3 sizes, you may have been able to just pop this in your ear and have it stay there without the ear hook. That said, the ear hook, while it may just be a bit of stiff wire with a plastic coating, is perfectly comfortable and can be reversed to be worn on the right or left ear. It pops on very easily and you barely know it's there - it's just so light. It holds in place pretty firmly too, so while I didn't actually try going jogging with the headset on, I'm pretty sure that you could - the only problems with that being that I don't think that's going to give you wonderful call quality as you run, and the fact that the multi-function button that makes up the majority of the face of the device does rattle a bit if you joggle it around.
While the headset can be worn on either ear, it comes out of the box ready for the right ear. That's sensible because that's how most people will likely wear it. I say that not out of any particular research that I've done myself (I haven't), but when you see headsets that are specifically designed to only be worn on one ear, it's invariably the right one. I don't recall ever having seen a device that was designed solely for use with the left ear. They may exist; possibly on sale in one of those shops that sells items specifically designed for left-handed folks; I don't know. I'm going to assume that the companies making devices specifically for right ears have done their research and know that's what most people do. That's fine, although it does bring me on to a gripe that I have...
I can't understand the product designer who would decide, in the default right ear configuration, to have the volume up button on the bottom of the headset and the volume down button on the top! That's just not intuitive and it bugs me just like the pairing functions being on the wrong buttons on the last headset I reviewed. It makes sense when you wear the headset on your left ear, so perhaps the designer is one of the few people who will be doing that. Either way, I don't imagine they'll be getting a job designing products for Apple any time soon.
Overall, I have to say that if you're looking for a small, lightweight headset that you're primarily going to use while you're driving, then you can't go wrong with this device, especially when I tell you that MobileFun.co.uk, who sent me the unit to review, have it priced at £15.47 - that's a steal! If you're looking for a headset that's going to be used in more noisy environments, then you may want to look at something with active noise cancellation, but if not I would suggest you don't pay more to get a headset that's heavier and less discrete than this one.
I would like to make it clear that MobileFun didn't pay me to write this review - I'm really interested in mobile technology and they supplied me with unit to review - I was certainly under no obligation to recommend that you shop with them, regardless of whether I liked this headset or not. That said, I do suggest that if you're looking for a Bluetooth headset or Bluetooth headphones, you should check them out.