Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Bluetooth stereo headphones

I got a neat thing, just arrived the other day: Motorola HT820 bluetooth stereo headphones. Amazon has them for a decent price; I got 'em (new) on eBay for a little less. At the same time, they pair with the laptop as a stereo and remote-control device, and with the BlackBerry as a hands-free headset. I have Windows Media Player set to shuffle-play my music folder (listening to the Allman Brothers, "Trouble No More", right now), I can press the right earpiece to pause it, and there are buttons to skip to the next and previous song (that is, the headset also acts as a remote control).

And if I get a phone call, I can press the left earpiece to answer it, and it will automatically pause the music, and un-pause it when the call ends. Bluetooth, so no wires, of course. Once the initial pairing is done, it automatically reconnects when I power it on, and Windows XP nicely switches the default audio device to it, and then back to the built-in audio when I turn the headset off again. And it's comfortable, light-weight, and good-sounding.

Technical details: it uses the Bluetooth profiles A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) and AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile) to talk to the laptop, and HFP (Hands-Free Profile) for the phone. That gives it full high-quality stereo on the former, and more functions on the cell phone than just a plain headset.

That's all the good stuff. The less-good stuff is mostly minor:

  1. Not all Bluetooth stacks and devices support A2DP yet. When I first tried it, I could pair it with my laptop but not get sound — what sound I got came only in brief bursts, and seldom. I found a firmware update for my computer's built-in Bluetooth device, installed it, and that fixed that problem. But it means that one should be sure one can return the headset if it doesn't work with one's Bluetooth setup.
  2. Even with it working correctly, there are occasional momentary drop-outs, presumably due to some radio interference. Wireless isn't perfect, and the more things we use wirelessly the more opportunity there is for disruptions. If there's a glitch when you connect to the Internet wirelessly, you usually don't notice it. With a real-time application, like audio, you do. It's not frequent enough to be much of a bother, so I consider this minor.
  3. The buttons for pausing/resuming playback and for answering the phone are big and easy to use, but the buttons for adjusting the volume and for changing to the next or previous song are small, hard to find by touch (that might improve with familiarity), and hard to press (I don't think that will improve). I'd have designed those buttons a little differently. At least the two buttons one needs the most are the easy ones.
  4. The microphone doesn't seem to be very good. Part of the reason — maybe all of it — might be that it's in the right earpiece, so it's pretty far from your mouth. This seems fine as a way to answer the phone while you're listening to music, but wouldn't be a good choice if you primarily want a phone headset. I have a Logitech Mobile Traveller headset (also Bluetooth), and its microphone, which extends halfway down your cheek, is much better for phone use.

And I experimented with the distance. I can walk into the hallway and go into Wolfgang's office, next door. If I go one more office down, it cuts out... but I'm getting somewhere between 25 and 30 feet, and the optimal distance is supposed to be 30 feet. Pretty good. Testing the battery life now — Motorola claims 12 hours of music on a charge.

I love technology.

Update, 9 Feb: The battery lasted three full days at the office, before running out in the morning of the fourth day. And that with my making a point of using it as much as is practical, in a week that's not very heavy with meetings. I think that with the use I'd normally make of it, I'd only have to charge it once a week. Cool!

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