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4/1/2008
08:31 AM
Fredric Paul
Fredric Paul
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Bluetooth Headsets: The Good, The Bad, and The Geeky

bMighty has just launched a cool new slide show laying out some of the top Bluetooth headset choices for folks in small and midsize companies. I wish I'd had that list when I was shopping for my own new headset.

bMighty has just launched a cool new slide show laying out some of the top Bluetooth headset choices for folks in small and midsize companies. I wish I'd had that list when I was shopping for my own new headset.When I put together the slide show I drew heavily on my own experience researching and buying a BlueTooth wireless headset for my Blackberry.

The process wasn't quick and smooth, for a number of reasons. First off, most companies won't buy bluetooth headsets for employees even when they supply those workers with bluetooth-equipped phones. Typically, the phones come with a cheap wired headset, and it's up to you if you want something better (or actually usable, if you ask me).

So, how do you tell which headset is right for you? Stores won't let you try them on or test them, and many outlets won't take returns once you've used them.

Reviews are equally problematic. There are plenty of professional reviews available online, but they're often incomplete, based on a short period of usage. You don't really learn about something as personal as a headset till you've lived with it for a while, and that doesn't play to the strengths of professional reviewers who have to test multiple products in a short period of time.

Meanwhile, user reviews are often contradictory. One person says they loved it except for the fit. The next says the fit was the only decent thing about it. One reviewer lauds sound quality, while others complain the set sounds like you're calling from the bottom of a well or wind-tunnel. And some people hate even the highest-rated models.

The best you can do is to try to focus on the factors that matter to you. For me, that meant an affordable set with great sound quality -- incoming and outgoing -- enough volume to be usable in a noisy bar or car, and a secure, comfortable fit. I didn't worry about style because to me the all look incredibly geeky (see this story from The Onion). I also wanted decent battery life so I could use it all day.

I had some experience because up until recently I'd been happily chatting away on a Jabra BT350 I got from a friend. It worked great for a year or so until one day it just stopped charging - and a new charger didn't solve the problem. (It was most likely my fault, - the unit's micro USB interface made it hard to tell which way to plug it in and I probably broke the connector.)

That's not all. Last Black Friday, I bought a Motorola H500 as a present -- for just $9.99 after rebate at Radio Shack! At that price, I should have bought several, and I thought about paying full-freight for one when the Jabra died. But while the H500 is a decent unit, it just doesnt fit securely on my admittedly oversize ears. It sort of dangles lightly and constantly feels like its about to fall off.

So, I shopped around -- for weeks -- and finally ordered a Plantronics Voyager 510 from Amazon. Sure, the 510 is kinda big -- and you cant hide it when you dont have hair! -- but my research showed that most folks thought it met my requirements for fit, sound quality and volume. So far that's all turned out to be true for me and the Voyager and I are very happy together. Now I'm just hoping that this relationship will last longer than the Jabra BT350 did.

Finally, a word about price. My online searches revealed that street prices are often -- but not always -- much, much lower than list prices. And that they vary, sometimes day by day. So if a headset you like is just out your price range, don't give up. It might just drop into the affordable range. On the flip side, though, if you see a good price for the headset you want, snap it up right away before it's sold out or the price changes.

That's one man's story of buying a Bluetooth headset, but I'd love to hear yours - both happy and unhappy. And any suggestions for a better way to buy these things...

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