Saturday, May 31, 2008

Wired wirelessly with Bluetooth

I've always had a little bit of spite for those Bluetooth headsets I see everyone and their brother using, but I finally got one.

I remember our last vacation, in the Atlanta airport, this guy was looking right at me and talking. I answered back, but then realized he was on the phone. He wasn't holding a phone - in fact, I couldn't even see his phone. But he had a little contraption on his ear which blinked every few seconds, which was connected wirelessly via the Bluetooth technology, to his cell phone.

It wasn't the first time I'd seen one, of course, but it annoyed the hell out of me. I thought I would never own one. Part of the reason, though, was the cost. I'd looked at them at the US Cellular store (my wireless carrier), even Walmart, and you can't get one for less than $50. They used to be around $75, so they have come down... but a guy I work with said he got one for about $30, shipped.

So I did some research online. I started with, because if you spend $25 or more on certain items, the shipping is free. However, I couldn't find one under $30 I liked. They all had some problem or other. So I went to, where I've spent close to $3,000 over the years in computer hardware. That's no exxageration, either, and I'm almost ashamed of the total. (I spent just under $1,000 at one time buying the parts for this computer when I first built it, and I've probably dumped another $500-$750 into more parts for this computer. The rest must just be miscellaneous purchases.) Anyway, Newegg didn't really impress me with its sub-$30 earpieces. (For the record, Newegg has the least expensive one, at $13.) So I looked a little higher.

Plantronics is a name I know and respect from a few jobs, I know they make corporate-level headsets and speakerphones, but most of their products are too expensive for the casual consumer to own. So I was surprised when I found a Plantronics earpiece for about $25. I wasn't interested though, because it got mostly bad reviews. So when I started looking at slightly more expensive Bluetooth earpieces, their Plantronics Explorer 370 caught my eye. It looked better than their entry-level unit, and only had one review, and it was good. So I Google'd the name, and found more positive reviews on various blogs. I decided to go for it.

$41.98 shipped - it was a little more than I wanted to spend, but still less than the cheapest one at Walmart. And I have the confidence of knowing that I did my homework and found one that is generally well reviewed.

Now that I have it, I have a few complaints, but overall I'm satisfied. It's not a very good fit, for example. It has a molded piece which fits inside the ear, and it's tricky to insert. Once it's set up, it's not entirely comfortable. It's not bad, but I feel it could fit better. By contrast, my coworker's earpiece doesn't have the molded piece, just a speaker, and he says he can't really feel his on his ear. And his is a Motorola, which as he points out, you really can't go wrong with. I've never had a bad experience with Motorola technology, but the Motorola earpieces I researched were of low quality (and I could not find the one he has). Also, the instructions say that if you receive a call and press the "call control" button on the unit, it will accept the call. I tried that when Jen called, and it instead rejected the call. So I have yet to learn all its features.

As you can see, it's kinda discreet, but not as discreet as perhaps some of them. It's also kinda neat-looking, dark blue with a rugged black rubber grip. I had selected the basic 370, which was black and silver, but for some reason upgraded me to the Sport version, which I considered but did not choose because I didn't like the look. Still, I'm not going to complain about the swap - at least it's not yellow and black like some of those "Sport" electronics. (If it were, it would have been sent back unopened.)

Overall I'm happy with the unit, though. I talked to my mother for about 5 minutes, and she hates when I put her on speaker or use a handsfree solution (wired). She claims it sounds bad and complains until I "take her off the speaker". Well, after 5 minutes of talking I finally said "you don't even know I'm using a handsfree do you?". She admitted that I sounded a little different, but she said it wasn't enough to complain about. Also, when Jen called me, I left my phone on the desk and did the Verizon-patented "Can you hear me now?" test. Even in the bedroom, about 30 feet away, she could still hear me fine. But when I laid on the bed, she said I was starting to break up, but it got fine as I got off the bed. So if my phone is in the bathroom or something (where I have the charger) it should be fine. At work I carry my phone in my chest pocket and the Bluetooth in another pocket, and when I take calls I take them on the Bluetooth, so it's within a foot of the phone - shouldn't be a problem then.

Next step - to pair my Bluetooth with my PC and use it as a microphone, e.g. for voice chat.

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