Bluetooth Headset Buying Guide
All you need to know about picking the right Bluetooth headset
Jun. 02, 2008
Joni BlecherFollow me on Twitter
Bluetooth has been around for about 10 years, but its only been in the last few years that Bluetooth technology has appeared on more and more cell phones. When cell phones first sported this feature, it was typically found only on high-end and smart phones that could use Bluetooth to send files, seek out other cell phones with Bluetooth activated, and of course with a headset. Today, just about all new cell phone models have Bluetooth, and at the very least, they can be paired with a headset for hands-free calling, though some can do more. For example, some can even be used with stereo Bluetooth headphones or, if they support Stereo Bluetooth (known in technical circles as A2DP), stream music stored on your cell phone through a portable Bluetooth-enabled speaker system.
What is Bluetooth anyway?
In short, Bluetooth is a wireless technology in which one Bluetooth device can pair (or connect) with another Bluetooth device up to 30 feet away. In order for the technology to work, both Bluetooth devices say, a cell phone and a headset must have the feature activated, be visible (meaning other Bluetooth devices that are also on and within the 30-foot range can find it), and support the same protocol. When it comes to basic Bluetooth headsets, cell phones and headsets pretty much work together. Even if you have an earlier-version headset and a newer cell phone, chances are the phone will be backward compatible with the headset, and making a connection shouldnt be an issue.
What kinds of Bluetooth headsets are available?
Like anything else regarding cell phones, theres a large variety. They come in all price ranges and have loads of different features. You can get a Bluetooth headset, such as the Jabra BT135, for as little as $25. This is a basic headset thats not too intrusive. Or you can get a headset, such as the Plantronics Voyager 520, that can connect to two different Bluetooth-enabled cell phones so that you can take calls from either phone without having to swap out the headset. Of course, a headset with that many features will run you closer to $70. Really, when it comes to Bluetooth headsets, choice is not the problem. Rather, its knowing which model is right for you.
What should I look for in a Bluetooth headset?
As noted above, Bluetooth headsets have a lot of features, but how do you know which features you want? Thats easy: check out the list below, identify the top 4 or 5 features based on your needs, and pick a headset that rates highly in all those areas.
- Comfort and size: Remember--this is something youre going to put in your ear, so comfort and size should be at the top of your list. Along these lines, youll want to look at the overall size and weight of the headset. This number should be fairly low--for example, 9 grams is just 0.29 ounce. Not enough perspective for you? Consider this: A silver dollar weighs just under 9 grams.
- Style: Like many other accessories, when it comes to headsets, there isnt just one style or color from which to choose. Some headsets have loops that you can use to help secure the headset around your ear. Maybe you prefer a headset you dont need to keep in your ear constantly; no problem, there are pendant models that you wear around your neck and insert the earbud in your ear when you receive or make a call. Physical styles arent the only things to consider; of course, theres always a fashion statement to make. In that case, you might want to look for headsets that come in different colors such as red, pink, or blue (instead of basic gray or black). Maybe you want something that will match your outfits on a more daily basis; check out a Bluetooth headset that comes with changeable faceplates. Yep, just like there are faceplates for handsets, some headsets sport this chameleon capability too.
- Battery life: A Bluetooth headset typically has longer life than your mobiles battery (anything listed at 6 or more hours of talk time should fit your needs). Still, its best to be conservative when reading the battery life numbers. For example, if the battery life is rated at 10 hours talk time, youll likely get about 8 or 9 hours of use before needing to recharge. About recharging: See if the headset comes with a car charger or has a charger similar to the one you already have for your handset. The fewer chargers you need to tote around, the better. There are even some models powered by batteries no need for Bluetooth headset either by using your voice to instruct the headset to answer or end a call or by pressing its dedicated talk button. However, thats not all you can do with a Bluetooth headset. If you've set up voice-activated calling on your handset, you can also use it with some headsets. It will even dial your 10 contacts who have dedicated speed-dial numbers. Other headsets will even provide caller ID information for incoming calls, so you can decide whether you want to answer.
- Noise/environment controls: These are particularly popular headset features, and of course, to identify them is to know their acronym. One popular acronym you may see a lot is DSP, short for Digital Signal Processing, which is a fancy way of saying a headset that has this technology is working hard to filter out external noises so that you can ultimately hear callers better. This feature is found on many high-end headsets. However, there are other technologies as well; some are proprietary, such as Jawbones NoiseAssassin, which is designed to separate voice from ambient noise, thereby making it easier for you to hear callers and for callers to hear you. In short, if youll be using the Bluetooth headset primarily in a convertible or while walking on busy streets, get a headset that comes with noise canceling technologies.
- Additional features: Depending on what you want to do with the headset, there are other options available as well. For example, you can get a stereo Bluetooth headset; if your phone supports stereo sound, you can listen to music through the headset, and when a call comes in, you can take the call in stereo, then resume playback of the song when the call is over. Additionally, some headsets can pair with multiple handsets simultaneously. This feature is particularly helpful if you use two different cell phones often and need to take calls from both handsets. Unlike many headsets that can be paired with only one phone at a time, these advanced headsets let you have two active paired devices simultaneously.
How do I make a connection?
Its true not all Bluetooth headsets are created equal, and theres no universal way to get them to work. One thing is certain before pairing any cell phone with another Bluetooth device (i.e. a headset): Power off the Bluetooth headset, then power it on to get it into pairing mode. Also, dont throw away the manual; key instructions for making a connection can be hidden in those pages, especially with more feature-rich headsets. In the meantime, these 5 tips should help you get started:
1. Figure out if you have a Bluetooth cell phone. Although most cell phones these days support Bluetooth, you should first check to see if your cell phone works with Bluetooth. Theres no need to mess with a manual; you can find this information in your cell phone. Depending on the cell phone you have, there may be a Bluetooth option in the main menu. If its not there, check under Connectivity, Settings, or Tools to find an option to turn on Bluetooth.
2. Deciphering when Bluetooth is activated in your cell phone. In order to make a pairing, youll need to activate the Bluetooth feature on your cell phone. The good news is that when Bluetooth is activated, the Bluetooth logo (it's a B) will appear in the cell phones display, typically next to the battery meter or the network strength logo.
3. The key is in discovery. Just because the logo appears in the corner of the display and Bluetooth is activated doesnt mean you can pair it. To keep your cell phone safe from other Bluetooth activity, it automatically defaults to nondiscoverable mode, which means it cant make a connection with another Bluetooth-enabled device. In the Bluetooth menu, often in Options, you can choose to make the cell phone discoverable. Typically, the cell phone will stay discoverable for just a few moments so that you can pair it with another device.
4. Make sure your Bluetooth headset is fully charged. Before pairing a Bluetooth-enabled headset with a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone, charge the headset, then turn it on. Once the headset is on, youll need to press and hold down the talk button until the blue light either flashes quickly or stays illuminated in order to pair it with a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone. (Note: This really varies among headsets, but when you see a regular flashing light, you probably won't be able to make a connection.)
5. Password clues. Making a connection is great, but sometimes a password is required to complete the deal. The password is almost always 0000 (four zeros), and in some cases, it can be 1234. Typically, though, it's four zeros.