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The best gadget I've ever bought...will surprise you

A little piece of technology that cost me $20 years ago is still one of my most valued possessions.

My beloved Jabra BT8040 has offered 3 years of almost daily companionship...for $20. Eric Mack / CNET

I'm one of those Bluetooth people--you know, the guy who's always got a weird flashing thing stuck in one ear and you can never quite be sure if he's actually listening to you. But I can take the stares and the eye rolls and the mockery, because I know the rest of the world just doesn't understand what we have; my old Jabra BT8040 headset and I have been through a lot together.

In the rural area where I live, many folks don't have e-mail or any kind of smartphone yet, so I can look particularly ridiculous jogging down the road or snowshoeing a high-altitude trail with an earpiece jammed in the side of my head. But it's worth it--my Bluetooth is my window on the world.

The best buy I've ever made... Jabra

Most of my time online is spent on work, leaving little time to follow news and podcasts or check out new music. Whenever I'm not staring at a laptop, I'm probably driving, exercising, or doing chores with my trusty BT8040 in my ear getting caught up on those sorts of things, or with friends and family on the phone. In short, I constantly hear little voices in my head in more ways than one.

Making my bond with my Bluetooth even stronger is the fact that it's asked so little of me as an owner. First released at the beginning of 2008, the BT8040 was a midrange headset at the time it came out, offering great sound quality, Multipoint technology for connecting to two devices simultaneously, and A2DP for streaming music and media--obviously that last one was the big selling point for me. I picked mine up at a deep discount from an overstock sale at an online retailer in 2009, paying just $20, or about 75 percent off the original price.

Not only did my BT8040 ask so little of my wallet to begin with, it's also put up with years of constant abuse. In addition to the wear and tear of almost daily use, my Bluetooth is almost constantly being flung about--sometimes literally by my young daughter, but more often by myself. Whenever I pull my phone or wallet from my pocket too quickly the tiny gadget frequently falls out with them onto a busy roadside or parking lot.

In fact, my BT8040 has survived some remarkable cases of neglect that just hearing about would void the warranty of most other gadgets.

Last year while driving my full-size truck around, I took my beloved headset out of my ear to assure my wife--riding shotgun at the time--that I was able to hear her (sometimes I do react to those eye rolls, I guess). Carelessly, I set the BT8040 in my lap. When we arrived home, it fell from my lap onto the ground without my noticing. For the next two days, I searched the interior of the truck for it to no avail. On the third day, while climbing into my truck, I caught a glimpse of the headset. It had been ground into the soft dirt of our driveway, clearly after being run over by my truck tire once or twice.

I plucked it out of what I initially figured to be its tomb. Its center seam had cracked open and I could peer at the tiny circuitry inside. I was able to snap the plastic chassis back together, but two narrow strips of duct tape were required to keep it together. Otherwise, there was no permanent damage. This thing was the gadget equivalent of a UFC champion.

Just this week, apparently unable to learn from the past, I made the same mistake. This time, my BT8040 fell onto my driveway in the midst of a wild snowstorm, where it stayed for a full week until most of the 8 inches of snow we received melted on and around it. When I finally recovered it, I was sure my negligence had finally done in my trusted Chinese friend.

I brought it inside, cleaned off the layer of mud and grime, and let it dry out. I charged it up about halfway. It turned on, but didn't seem fully functional--the lone button didn't always respond when pressed and a strange beeping started about 5 minutes in to listening to a podcast. I had finally murdered my old companion.

Or maybe not. Unwilling to give up on my friend, I let it charge fully overnight. That seemed to do the trick--it works as well as the day it arrived in the mail. Today my BT8040 looks about as shiny and new as the Commodore 64 in my mother's basement, but we still manage to listen to Buzz Out Loud together, and later, we might even call my mother. Our relationship is strong as ever. Not bad for $20.