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Hands-on with Sony Ericsson's HBH-IS800 stereo Bluetooth headphones

Sony Ericsson's HBH-IS800 stereo Bluetooth headphones pack good sound quality into a package so small it made us light-headed, but it sacrifices some usability to do it

Sony Ericsson's HBH-IS800 stereo Bluetooth headphones pack everything into such a teeny-tiny package, we would never have spotted them as wireless. Gone are the ear cufflinks that mark you out as a plonker with the Etymotic ETY8 -- these are as miniaturised as the future was always supposed to be.

The HBH-IS800 headphones are earbuds, with each bud beefed up to about 3cm long to contain the battery and Bluetooth receiver. They're connected by a short cord that nestles behind your neck and sports a microphone for hands-free calls, and a tiny button for answering and hanging up.

We tried the headphones with a Sony Ericsson W715 Walkman phone, which has great audio quality. We compared the HBH-IS800s to a pair of big and beautiful Audio Technica headphones connected to the W715's headphone adaptor, which makes for a huge setup with a 3m-long cable -- just the sort of thing that wouldn't be suitable for the treadmill. After dragging that around, switching to the super-light HBH-IS800s was a pleasure, and they delivered warm, sensitive sound, although it wasn't as crisp as the wired cans.

Using the headphones for hands-free calls was straightforward, and they support voice dialling. We found it helped if we held the microphone near to our mouths, otherwise we got a few complaints about muffled sound. The tight fit of the rubber buds meant talking wasn't that pleasant, unless you're a fan of talking underwater with a guppy wedged in your ear canal.

There's no volume control, however, which meant we couldn't roam that far from our phone, since we don't want to listen to our mums' calls at the same volume as we do Motörhead. The only controls are the single tiny button on the cord, which necessarily means the choices are limited -- skipping through tracks, shuffling and other music-player controls will also require you to dig out your mobile.

The HBH-IS800s' weeness means they can't pack a big battery, and talk time is rated at 4 hours, with an 11-day standby time. Charging is slightly fiddly since you have to pry open a tiny hatch on the end of one of the earbuds to plug in the charger, so it's not a job for the clumsy.

The HBH-IS800 headphones will set you back about £75, which isn't cheap, but if you prize size and sound quality, we think it's money well spent.