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Budget Bluetooth headsets (under $100)
Depending on where you buy, you can pick up a Bluetooth headset for $30 or less. Don’t. Just don’t go there unless you’re on a tight budget and seek bare-bones calling features (that is, just the capability to make and receive calls adequately). With the exception of the Jabra Easycall recommended below, at the $30 price level you can expect below-average audio quality, as well as limited wearing options.
To find a headset worth its salt, look to headsets that cost $40 to $50 (MSRP) or more. In this price range, you’re more likely to end up with a model that delivers average or above-average call quality, a solid fit, different wearing options, charging accessories, noise cancellation that works, and complementary smartphone apps. Of course, you may not get all of these things for 50 bucks or less; there will be tradeoffs. The models I’ve recommended here represent the best of those tradeoffs.
Higher-end Bluetooth headsets ($100 and up)
Once you cross the $100 threshold, you enter the realm of high-performing headsets. You increase your chances of owning a headset that (almost) has it all: above-average audio quality you can depend on, a comfy and stable fit, several earpiece covers, clever design, sophisticated call handling, superb wind and noise reduction, advanced smartphone-app features, multiple charging options, and motion sensor technology. You may also get other bonus items, such as charging cases, durable carry pouches, or Bluetooth dongles for using the headset with a computer.
I say “almost” because even at $100 or more, you’ll still encounter tradeoffs. For example, a particular model may offer great background-noise cancellation and a luxuriously leather-like earhook, but callers may say that your voice sounds robotic, or the package may not include an A/C charger.
Depending on the manufacturer’s focus, you can expect some headsets to be crammed with more capabilities than others. Users of some Jabra headsets, for instance, are eligible for a free 60-day trial of Voice Assist, a service integrated into the headset that lets you sync your contacts, as well as listen to or reply to your email and text messages using dictation. You can even post to Twitter and Facebook. Do you need these features? Maybe not, but the options are there.
- Motorola Sliver II ($100)
- Plantronics Voyager Legend ($100)
- Plantronics Voyager Pro HD ($100)
- Jawbone Era ($130)
- Jawbone Icon HD + Nerd ($140)
- Jabra Supreme UC ($150)
- Bose Bluetooth Headset Series 2 ($150)
Bluetooth car speakerphones
Sure, a headset is convenient for talking hands-free in the car. But if you spend a good chunk of the day driving and you’d like to use that time for calls, a dedicated in-car speakerphone doesn’t require you to keep a headset in your ear. Many new car models arrive from the factory with Bluetooth-speakerphone capability, but if your ride lacks this feature, you can find a range of reliable car kits starting at about $60.
Installation is straightforward: You attach the Bluetooth speakerphone to your car’s sun visor, dashboard, or windshield, and you manage calls using voice commands or the device’s buttons (or both). Some manufacturers even offer solar-powered units. (Note: Before mounting the speakerphone, check your state’s regulations, especially for windshield installations.)
Hardware makers have done an admirable job loading up speakerphones with various bells and whistles beyond basic call handling (that is, initiating, accepting, rejecting, and ending calls). As you shop, expect to see units with FM radio transmitters, automatic contact syncing, support for multiple languages, Caller ID announcements, power-saving features, dual speakers for music, and advanced noise cancellation. Some companies also offer smartphone apps or trial services. For example, with some models, you can listen to newly arrived text messages through the speaker, and even reply to them by dictating your responses, which are converted into text.
I’m a big fan of car speakerphones that let you utter specific commands instead of tapping buttons. When receiving a call, for example, some units will identify the caller and prompt you to say “Answer” or “Ignore,” allowing you to keep your hands on the wheel.
As for audio quality, call me a grumpy old troll, but in my testing of car speakerphones, overall call quality is not up to the standards of a good headset. Voices coming into your car through the speaker sound fine most of the time. Sometimes they’re a bit tinny, but they’re generally acceptable. Outgoing call quality, on the other hand, is not impressive. People at the other end of test calls consistently complained about my voice sounding far away or splotchy, and my conversations have that unmistakable in-car ambience, which can be frustrating for those on the other end of the call. Your mileage may of course vary, depending on the tolerance level of the folks you call, and your own, but don’t expect great audio quality with a speakerphone.
It’s worth noting that while these types of speakerphones are specifically designed for in-car use, there’s nothing stopping you from using an in-car unit as a speakerphone in, say, a conference room, since these products are all portable. That said, keep in mind that Plantronics, Jabra, Ion, Spracht, and other companies offer dedicated home/office Bluetooth speakerphones with features that may be a better match. Conversely, many Bluetooth speaker systems also include speakerphone functionality and can be used as a car speakerphone in a pinch.
- Plantronics K100 ($80)
- BlueAnt Commute ($99)
- Jabra Cruiser2 ($99)
- Jabra Freeway $99
- SuperTooth HD Voice ($130)
Updated 11/27/2013 to add Plantronics Voyager Legend to the $100-and-up recommendations.
This story, "Buying Guide: Find the best Bluetooth headset or speakerphone" was originally published by TechHive.
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