Cardo Scala Rider review: Cardo Scala Rider

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The Good Clear audio quality; solid battery life.

The Bad Tiny controls; volume can be too loud.

The Bottom Line The Cardo Scala Rider Bluetooth headset offers motorcyclists clear audio quality, but the tiny controls hamper its usability.

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7.0 Overall

Cardo Scala Rider

With a Bluetooth headset, you can take your mobile conversations around the office, onto the street, and into your car without being tangled in the messy wires found on a traditional cell phone headset. And now with the Cardo Scala Rider Bluetooth headset, you can even chat wirelessly during your next motorcycle ride. The Scala Rider brings a Bluetooth headset to your motorcycle helmet and offers superior audio quality without requiring you to stop your bike to chat. The design needs important refinements to make it more user-friendly (the tiny buttons were especially troublesome), but the Scala Rider is nonetheless a satisfactory first try at a convenient and innovative cell phone solution for motorcyclists.

Though it shares part of its name with Cardo's Scala 500 Bluetooth headset, the Cardo Scala Rider looks nothing like its sibling. In fact, it resembles no other Bluetooth headset we've seen before. Its most prominent feature is a compact (1.18 ounces), wedge-shaped battery pack that fastens to the outside of our helmet. To attach it, we had only to slide a strong clamp between the helmet's inner padding and exterior shell, then secure it with the included Allen wrench. The whole process took just a few minutes, and though the fit was extremely secure, the clamp left no marks on the helmet and did not damage it in any way. The battery pack is also weather resistant for rain and snow.

Extending out from the battery pack are a speaker that wraps up to the right ear and a short boom mic that extends out toward the mouth. Both the mic and the speaker fit comfortably inside the helmet but only after we tinkered with the placement for some time. While it's best to have the speaker as close to your ear as possible, there is such a thing as too close. After long periods, it began to rub against our ear until it was quite painful. The same was true for the microphone. If we didn't put it close enough to our mouth, no one could hear us, but if we put it too close, it was uncomfortable as well.

The Scala Rider's controls consist of volume rockers and a multifunction button that turns the headset on and off, manages calls, and readies it for pairing. While the controls are conveniently located on the exterior battery pack, they were much too small to be user-friendly. Finding and using the buttons while riding was very difficult and even potentially dangerous. Since we could use only one hand while trying to keep our eyes on the road, we found ourselves fumbling with the volume buttons for much too long. Additionally, thick motorcycle gloves exacerbated the problem.

We tested the Cardo Scala Rider with the Motorola V551. The pairing process took just a few seconds, and we were ready to hop on our bike in no time. Audio quality was clear and very loud. Even with loud engine and wind noise, we could hear our callers plainly. That said, finding the correct volume can be tricky. If turned up too high, the audio is nearly deafening, and it can be quite a jolt (not a good thing while riding) when you first answer a call. It's best to start off low, then turn up the sound level to your liking. Yet considering the volume controls are so difficult to manipulate, we struggled with the overall usability. On their end, callers could hear us clearly. The Scala Rider includes a wind-resistant microphone cover that performs admirably. The headset wisely supports voice dialing, but it registers the correct voice-dial name only about half the time--not convenient when you can't stop to dial manually. It also supports call reject and last-number redial. On the upside, battery life is solid. The Scala Rider has a rated talk time of seven hours and a promised standby time of one week. In our tests, we came away with six days of standby time.