Whether you're a tradie or office worker, a Bluetooth headset frees you up to take calls while you keep working.
Not only that, some are even designed so that you can use them while working outdoors in the rain (for example, the Plantronics Voyager Legend).
These Bluetooth headsets can also come in very handy if you do a lot of driving, especially now that there are strict laws around Australia about using a phone in the car.
Bluetooth and cars
It is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving without a hands-free kit or fixed cradle. And in Victoria, the rules become even tougher recently with a 100% ban on P-platers using a mobile phone even with a hands-free kit.
There are specific rules for each state - we recommend you check these carefully before using a phone at all while on the road. For example, the RTA has this web page answering frequently asked questions about the rules for NSW drivers.
Here are some handy links explaining the road rules for mobile phones:
- A summary of the rules in various states over at the Lifehacker web site.
- Victoria Police provides some more information on their website
- The RTA in NSW has a detailed document spelling out changes that came into law in November 2012.
So, how do you choose a hands-free kit? What are the key features to look out for?
We’d suggest that comfort is THE key feature. Some hands-free Bluetooth devices can become painful if worn for a long time.
If you’re on the road a lot, even a lightweight device can become uncomfortable if the mechanism used to keep the unit in place is too tight.
The problem is it’s not easy to try lots of them out. If you can't, at least check to see that there are multiple earpieces and some way of adjusting the earpiece so you have a chance of getting a good fit.
With that sorted, we suggest that looking for a headset that’s voice activated so that you don’t have to tap your ear, like a secret agent, to receive calls. This means your hands don’t leave the wheel.
The next obvious criteria is sound quality. Many high-end units have multiple microphones so that they can carry out noise cancellation and reduce the background noise so that you can hear the conversation more clearly - this helps so that you don’t get distracted while driving.
Battery life is also important. All of the devices we looked at are charged over USB. That means you can hook them up to the USB port on your computer, or use a cigarette lighter adaptor in your car. All the devices we've looked at below have a "talk time" of several hours.
Also keep in mind that there are "over the ear" headsets, which often fit you’re your ear too, and earbud types without the ear loop.
Jabra Stone2 - $146
At first glance, we thought that the Jabra Stone2 was going to be the least comfortable headset of those we looked at but we were pleasantly surprised. The curved shape was a near-perfect fit for our right ear – it’s not ambidextrous like the other headsets we looked at.
The Stone2 comes with a charging station that connects to a power source over USB. However, the charger has a battery of its own so you can charge that and keep it with you for when the Stone2 runs out of juice.
Pairing to the iPhone we used for testing was straightforward – we didn’t encounter any problems and the Stone2 was ready for use in just a few seconds.
Sound quality was excellent – both sides of the conversation reported clear sound with very little interference from ambient noise. The Stone2 sat snugly in our ear canal without feeling like an auditory exam. Tapping the one button on the Stone2 gave us an instantaneous voice prompt for battery life.
Incoming calls could be answered handsfree as the Stone2 has voice recognition. Simply say either “answer” or “ignore” and you can either start chatting or the call goes to voicemail. Incoming calls also get vocal caller ID as the Stone2 tells you the name of the caller so your eyes don’t have to leave the road to know who called.
In short, this is a great headset. Score: 4/5
BlueAnt Q3 Platinum - $99
The BlueAnt Q3 was almost an excellent headset but missed with a couple of niggling annoyances in our view. Of the four headsets we tested, it was the heaviest and most difficult to put on in a hurry – as is often the case when you’re in the car and a call comes in.
Setup was straightforward. Once the Q3 is switched on, you receive voice prompts guiding you through the pairing process.
The Q3 charges over USB and there’s a cable and AC adaptor in the box. However, there’s no car charger or alternate power source so you’ll need to bring it into the office after a few hours of talking.
Sound quality was very good with most ambient sounds, such as other traffic, either eradicated or dulled enough to make both sides of the conversation clear. The Q3 can be used 100% handsfree as it supports voice recognition for answering or ignoring calls. It also provides vocal caller ID as it tells you who is calling based on the names in your address book. However, we did find the pronunciation less precise than the Jabra Stone2 with the speech sounding a little rushed.
The main button on the Q3’s body is used for answering calls manually and getting an audible indication of battery level. However, we found the button to be quite stiff and hard to press.
The BlueAnt Q3 Platinum is a competent headset that isn’t far from being great. Score: 3.5/5
Plantronics Marque 2 - $69.99
The Plantronics Marque 2 is a light and comfortable Bluetooth headset. It comes with a car charger and USB cable so that it can stay juiced up in the car or office. The USB cable has a pass-through so that you can charge the Marque 2 without sacrificing a USB port – that’s a handy bonus.
The initial set up was easy although our iPhone identified the Marque 2 as a PLI M165. It’s not a big deal but could be confusing as that designation doesn’t appear anywhere on the packaging.
When the Marque 2 is powered on, it gives an audible indication of battery life. When we first turned it on, it told us that there were seven hours of battery life – enough to get through a day considering that it comes with plenty of charging options.
Audio quality was excellent with both sides of our test conversations reporting clear voices even when there was ambient traffic noise. It can be used fully handsfree as it responds to verbal “answer” and “ignore” commands although it wasn’t always 100% reliable in our testing. However, the button on the side is easily tapped. There’s no audible caller ID – a feature that we liked in the BlueAnt and Jabra headsets.
With its many charging options, comfortable and light weight design and solid battery life, there’s a lot to like about the Plantronics Marque 2. Audible caller ID would make this a sensational headset. Score: 3.5/5
Kogan Bluetooth Headset - $19
Although it was easily the least expensive headset we looked at, the Kogan Bluetooth Headset will suit those after basic handsfree functionality.
The first thing that stood out to us was the design. The neck connecting the earpiece to the main body of the device is quite thin. We’ve owned similarly designed headsets in the past and seen that component snap a couple of times. While this didn’t happen eth Kogan’s device, it’s worth noting. Then again, you’d need to break a few of these before you were behind on cost.
Set up was straightforward with our iPhone detecting and pairing to the Kogan device in a few seconds. There’s no audio prompting or other advanced features – but it works quite well.
Sound quality was very good. While Kogan may have skimped on some features, we didn’t have any problems hearing or being heard. As the unit is quite light, it’s comfortable to wear. We found that it sat snugly in our ear canal without needing to attach the optional over-ear arm.
The Kogan headset charges over USB but uses a pin connector on the headset rather than a USB socket. That means you won’t want to lose the charging cable. There’s no AC adaptor or car charger but for the price these aren’t serious omissions in our view.
While the Kogan Bluetooth Headset is inexpensive, it does work quite well. Score: 3.5/5
In our view, the clear winner was the Jabra Stone2. Despite its unusual shape - it looked like something Lt Uhura would wear on the bridge of the Enterprise - it was light and comfortable. The sound quality was excellent and the ability to answer calls via voice recognition, plus the audible caller ID, meant it stood out from the rest.
Although it cost the most, we felt that it was the best fit for the way we use a Bluetooth headset. Keep in mind though, if you want to save a few dollars, the Plantronics Marque 2 was also very good - no audible caller ID was the only reason we didn’t score it higher.
From Jabra to BlueAnt, Plantronics and Kogan, see our reviews of four Bluetooth headsets. Handy for taking calls in the car or while you're around the house.