Just as surely as video killed the radio star, the success of the smartphone caused standalone digital music players to take a nosedive. It's clear, however, that Sony can't quite let the MP3 device world of yesteryear go. Its $149.99 Smart Wireless Headset Pro, touted as a Bluetooth headset offering the convenience of cordless calling, sports a cable you can't ignore. That said, it's a truly flexible device that serves up pleasing audio quality, and does connect to handsets so you can conduct hands-free calls and receive basic mobile alerts.
When I first held the Sony Smart Wireless Headset Pro in my hands I immediately experienced a flashback of a bygone era. That's because the device looks suspiciously like a small MP3 player from days of old.
The gadget consists of two parts, a main rectangular unit about the size your average USB stick, and a pair of corded earbud headphones with an in-line microphone. Further reinforcing the music player motif is a small two-row OLED screen that sits on the front of the device. Next to the screen is relatively large circular Action Key that performs a range of functions depending on the situation.
Running along the top edge of the Smart Wireless Headset is a long bar that controls track playback (Next, Play/Pause, Previous) along with a Back button. The device's bottom edge holds a smaller volume rocker while on the left side is a standard 3.5mm headphone jack with a miniscule power button shoehorned in next to it.
I found most controls comfortable to operate even without looking, especially the rockers, which are thoughtfully contoured with peaks and valleys to help distinguish their separate buttons. That said, they're difficult to tell apart blindly since they have a similar feel. I also had trouble with the power key. My fingers barely had room to press it since the button sits so close to the headphone jack.
It was all too easy to hit the Action Key by accident, too, particularly when I wanted to press open the clip located on the product's back. The right side of the Smart Wireless Headset Pro features a cap covering a microSD Card slot (the device comes with a 2GB card) and a Micro-USB port for both charging and for transferring files.
For a product billed as wireless, the Sony Smart Wireless Headset Pro sure comes with a lot of cords. For starters, the included earbuds use a flat wide cable that annoyingly isn't long enough to let you stow the device in pants pockets or even clip it to a belt. The cord is copious enough, however, to become a nuisance.
Also, the cord's rubbery coating adds a premium feel but tends to grab onto itself and nearby objects like bag straps and buttons. Still, it doesn't knot as easily as thinner headphone wires I've used. Sadly this all adds up to a product that's unwieldy at best and at worst extremely frustrating to those with little patience.
Classifying the Sony Smart Wireless Headset Pro and what it can do can be a little tricky. Despite its headset title, this gadget is really a souped-up, hyper-networked digital-audio player. Like old-school portable music players such as the SanDisk Sansa Clip, the Smart Wireless Headset Pro functions both as a standalone audio device capable of playing tracks you transfer to it and as a wireless Bluetooth accessory.
For this purpose, the Headset comes with a 2GB microSD card to slide into its card slot. Sony says the slot accepts cards up to 32GB. Also in the box are a microSD Card reader (connects via USB), a Micro-USB AC adapter, and a short USB-to-Micro-USB cable. You have the option of loading the Headset Pro with tracks either by directly connecting it to a PC over USB (which mounts the device as a data drive), or by filling its microSD card with tunes using the provided card reader.