I hate to admit it, but it’s not uncommon to find me wandering around with one of those bluetooth headsets sticking in my ear. I am the first to admit that it’s not exactly fashionable, and I hate the image it projects – “I’m so damned important that I need to be able to answer a phone call in less time than it requires to take my phone out of my pocket.”
Years ago, I swore off bluetooth after a terrible experience trying to use a headset with my Palm Treo 650. For starters, the handoff between the phone and the headset was never smooth. The phone wouldn’t realize that the headset was there, and it would take an agonizing couple of seconds when I answered the phone to route properly. Sometimes it would never route at all, and I would have a confused moment trying to talk into the headset while the call was still on the phone.
Worse, no one could hear me. “Could you speak up?” “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?”
Plus, it was another device that needed to be charged regularly. Why bother?
Now, after seven years, I decided to give bluetooth another look. In my new job, I am on the phone a lot, either on my cell phone (we’re a startup and don’t have landlines) or on my computer using voip conference tools like WebEx, GoToMeeting, and Skype. Much of the time I tried using my Apple Earpods, but several people were having trouble hearing me. Also, I often like to pace when I talk, and the cord was keeping me chained to my laptop.
One of my colleagues uses a bluetooth headset and swears by it. I’m convinced he spends about 70% of his waking hours on phone calls, so I figured if he uses it, it must really work. Perhaps the technology has improved.
I selected a Plantronics Voyager Legend. The most important thing to me was that people be able to hear me well, and Plantronics has a strong reputation building headsets for use in office phones. This model was bulkier than some other headsets, but it had a nice, long boom microphone that would hopefully pick up my voice well.
Another nice feature is that it has multi-pairing, where it can be connected with several devices simultaneously. This meant that I would be able to switch between using it with my laptop and with my iPhone seamlessly.
To my amazement, when I got the headset and tried it out, it really worked. All of the problems I had with my old Treo were gone. Handoff between the iPhone and the headset was seamless, and I could press a button to swap back and forth instantly. Best of all, people could actually hear me. My father, who is constantly complaining about an inability to understand me, says it’s the best I have ever sounded on any phone.
The Plantronics Voyager Legend has another cool feature – a capacitive sensor on the headset itself. It knows when you put it on or take it off and behaves intelligently. If my phone is ringing and I put the headset on, it automatically answers the call. If I take it off, it routes the call back to my phone. It’s a small detail, but one of those touches that really makes it useful.
So far, so good.
The thing about the headset is that it works well enough that I find myself using it for more things than phone calls. I listen to NPR podcasts while driving, and the iPhone naturally streams them to my headset. When I reach my destination, I’ve found myself routing the podcast to the headset so that I can keep listening while I walk from the car or run into the store.
One of its most unexpected uses came the day of the Boston Marathon bomber manhunt when I was sheltering at home alone with the kids. I wanted to follow the news while attending to the kids, but I was trying to keep them unaware of what was going on. I realized that I could wear the headset and stream NPR from my phone so that I could hear, but they couldn’t, even as I was sitting with them at lunch or helping them with their coloring books. Late, that day, when we had evacuated to Providence to pick my wife, I was using its hands-free Siri integration to coordinate with her via text message while I walked around searching for a bathroom for my daughter and carrying my son. It was invaluable.
It really does deliver on the convenience they promise, so I find myself using it.
Even if it does make me look like a jackass.