Bluetooth has been one of the smartest additions to mobile phones in recent years. It makes it a cinch to use wireless headsets and speakerphones with your mobile, and now with A2DP technology you can also stream music from your handset over the air to a pair of Bluetooth headphones. Here we've rounded up the best Bluetooth headsets, speakerphones and headphones currently on the market.
Bluetooth headsets let you keep your hands free to do other stuff, such as driving a white van, while talking on your mobile. So when you're buying one you'll want it to be comfortable to wear and have easy-to-use controls. Naturally, long battery life and good call quality are also very important.
Priced at £80, the Plantronics Voyager Pro is one of the more expensive headsets around and its long boom mic won't appeal to everyone. It's extremely comfortable to wear for longer periods, however, and has great call quality, thanks to its excellent noise-cancelling capabilities. Battery life is pretty good too, as you get around 6 hours of talk time from it.
In contrast to the large Voyager Pro, the Bluetrek Metal is one of the smallest headsets you'll find on the market. Available for under £30, it's only ever so slightly thicker than a stick of chewing gum. Its small buttons are quite fiddly to use, however, and while the earpiece is loud, the audio it produces isn't as clear as some other models. This, combined with the fact that the headset lacks noise-cancelling technology, means call quality is slightly compromised. Nevertheless, battery life is good at 5 hours, and its attractive price makes it a good buy for the style-conscious, but cash-strapped.
Jabra's BT530 is slightly larger than the Metal, but still dinky enough that you'll hardly notice it when you store it away in a shirt pocket. Priced at around £35, it's comfortable to wear and has good battery life, as you'll get around 4 hours 30 minutes of talk time from it. The dual-microphone system and onboard noise-cancelling technology also make sure call quality is always first-rate.
We think these three headsets come off second best when compared to Motorola's H780, however, which costs £35. Motorola's gone for a traditional short and narrow boom design, but its headset still manages to look tasty. More importantly, the buttons are well laid-out and the call quality is first rate, thanks to the excellent noise cancelling. Battery life isn't bad either at 7 hours, so all in all we think it offers a great lineup of features for the price.
The addition of A2DP technology to the Bluetooth standard means Bluetooth devices can now send stereo audio over the ether to wireless headsets. As a result, pretty much every mobile phone on the market, including the iPhone 3G and 3GS, is compatible with the latest stereo Bluetooth headsets. What's more, unlike a normal pair of stereo headphones, these headsets can also be used to make and receive calls.
The Halo from Jabra, which costs around £70, is one of the smaller over-the-ear designs and has the advantage that it folds up neatly so it can be easily stored in a backpack or bag. It also feels comfortable to wear, as it's relatively light and the headband is simple to adjust for a good fit. Call quality is excellent and battery life isn't bad either, as you'll get around 7 hours out of it for a combination of mobile calls and music listening. The combined touch-style volume and track-skip controls are difficult to use, however, and the sound quality is only so-so, as the cans lack decent bass response.
The STK BTHS600 is much cheaper than its rivals, costing just £35. It has better sound quality than the Halo, as it's louder and has slightly deeper bass. Call quality wasn't as good though, as the mic tends to sound a little distant. Nevertheless, the music controls are easy to use when you're wearing the headphones and the battery life is also pretty good, as you'll get roughly 7 hours 30 minutes from it for music and calls.
Nokia's BH-905 Bluetooth headset is significantly more expensive than its rivals at around £180, but it's also a much better performer. For starters, it offers brilliant sound quality with really full-sounding bass and tight mid range. As a result, everything from classical to thrash metal sounds the business. There's also onboard noise-cancelling technology to block out the background din when you're using it in noisy environments such as trains and buses. Call quality was also first-rate and battery life is extremely impressive -- you'll get around 15 hours from it for calls and music listening. It's certainly pricey, but the onboard noise cancelling and superb sound quality mean the BH-905 is worth the extra outlay.
Not everyone wants to use a larger-style over-the-ear headphone with their mobile phone. Many people want something closer to the in-ear headphones they've previously used with their MP3 players. Luckily, the manufacturers have cottoned on to this and have come up with a number of smaller stereo headsets in a range of interesting designs.
The Bluetrek Duo Stereo, which costs around £60, was one of the first in-ear models to hit the market. It looks like a standard mono headset, but it comes with a pair of stereo earbuds you can connect to it when you want to listen to music. In truth, this two-part design makes the headset fiddly to use, but audio quality is very good, with tight, punchy bass and solid mid range. Call quality is less impressive as there's no noise-cancelling, so it tends to pick up a fair bit of background noise. Battery life is also relatively short. You'll get around 4 hours from it for a mixture of calls and music.
The Altec Lansing BackBeat 906, which can be picked up for around £70, has a completely different back-band type design where a wire runs around the back of your ear to connect the two earpieces together. It's not the best-looking pair of cans we've seen, but it's quite comfortable to wear and has the benefit of music controls mounted on the ear pieces. Music quality is good, but the cans aren't as loud as they could be and often struggle to produce really strong bass response. Call quality is decent and battery life is good, as you'll squeeze around 7 hours from it.
Overall, though, we think the Plantronics Voyager 855, which is priced at around £50, is the best of the bunch. It can be used as a standard mono headset, or you can connect the extra earpiece to it via a short cable that goes around the back of your neck to turn it into a stereo model. It's light and comfortable to wear and the combination of its sliding boom-mic design and onboard noise-cancelling features mean call quality is excellent. It's also a joy to use for music listening, thanks to its warm-sounding bass with crisp high-frequency response. Battery life is none too shabby either, as it'll manage around 7 hours for a mix of phone calls and music.
Talking on your mobile while driving has, quite rightly, been banned in the UK since 1993. If you do need to use your mobile in your car, getting a Bluetooth speakerphone is probably a less fiddly option than using a small in-ear headset. Speaker phones have larger controls than headsets and so are less distracting to use while you're driving.
Jabra's SP200 isn't the most exciting-looking device, but it's a decent entry-level option, as it can be picked up for around £30. As with most speakerphones, it's designed to clip on to your car's sun visor. The front edge of the unit houses a large volume control, while the whole face of the device acts as the call answer/hang up button, so it's very easy to use while driving. The noise reduction keeps the roar of your engine to a minimum and the loud speaker makes calls easy to hear and understand. Battery life is good too, as it's good for around 10 hours of talk time.
Whereas the SP200 is an entry-level model, the BlackBerry Visor Mount VM-605 is a more upmarket affair and is priced at around £50. It has a much slicker, glossy black finish and along with its onboard speaker also has a built-in FM transmitter so you can route calls through your car stereo's speakers just by tuning your car's radio to the required frequency. Call quality is pretty good when you're using the built-in speaker, but it's even better when you're using your car's speakers, as naturally they're louder and sound more distinct. Battery life is also impressive as you'll get around 12 hours talk time from it.
The Jabra SP700 has very similar functionality to the BlackBerry model, but we think it's the best option here as it's better value -- you can pick it up for about £40. Like the BlackBerry device it has an FM tuner along with its onboard speaker, so you can route calls to your car stereo. Call quality is truly excellent, thanks to the built-in noise-cancelling technology and battery life is impressive too, as it'll give you around 14 hours of talk time. All in all, it's an excellent option for those who need to be able to use their mobile while driving.
As most headsets are small, they're also relatively fragile. This isn't such a big issue for most people, but if you try to use them in a more challenging environment, such as on a building site, or when you're out jogging or mountain biking, you'll probably find they soon give up the ghost. This is why some of the headset manufacturers have introduced ruggedised models that are designed to be much tougher.
The X3 from Bluetrek costs around £30 and is both dust- and shock-proof. It's also splash-proof, but not fully waterproof, so you can't drown it and expect it to not suffer any ill effects. Impressively, the X3 is no bigger than a standard headset and is held in place on your ear via a thin wire ear-hook. This looks like it's going to be quite torturous to wear, but in actual fact feels quite comfortable when you've got it on. Call quality isn't too bad, but the earpiece is rather on the quiet side and the headset lacks noise cancelling. Nevertheless, battery life is good at around 6.5 hours of talk time.
Although the X3 is good, we think the Plantronics Explorer 370 is better. It can be picked up for under £30 online and looks quite different to your average headset. For starters, it has a much tougher exterior, with the hard plastic on the outer edge matched by its rubberised sides and ear hook. It's built to the US military MIL-STD-810 specification, which means it's designed to withstand knocks and scrapes, immersion in water as well as dusty and sandy conditions. The headset also feels a little bulky to wear though, and the hard plastic ear piece can be a tad uncomfortable. Nevertheless, call quality is excellent and the battery life is impressive as you'll get some 7 hours of talk time from it.