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How to buy a bluetooth headset

01 Dec 2011

With police cracking down on cell phone use while driving, there’s never been a better time to invest in a Bluetooth headset. We talked to Peter Petrides from Plantronics and Paul Ranson from Cellnet to bring you the inside scoop on Bluetooth and what to look for when shopping. Q: What exactly is Bluetooth and how is it used? Bluetooth is a proprietary open wireless technology standard for exchanging data over short distances. A Bluetooth headset is simply a device that transmits audio wirelessly to either a handset, tablet or notebook computer, provided it also has Bluetooth technology. Q: Why do I need one? Having the ability to take a call without using your hands is an ever growing theme amongst phone users. Ever missed a call because your hands were busy or dirty? Drive a car and want to answer calls safely and efficiently? Even look at the way handset manufacturers design their phones today, they are not designed to rest against your face like the trusted home phone, they are a talk, type and swipe device that you need to operate with two hands and still view when taking a call. A Bluetooth headset enables you to do all this and more, without the hassle of wires.  Additionally, New Zealand police are actively targeting drivers on mobile phone use now – $80 fine and 20 demerit points too! Over 15000 tickets have been issued over the last two years (more than most people think). Q: How secure is the Bluetooth network? Whilst wireless technologies have some security issues, Bluetooth technology (using short wavelength radio transmissions in the ISM band from 2400-2480 MHz) from fixed and mobile devices creates personal area networks (PANs) with high levels of security. Q: What are the most important points to consider when shopping for a Bluetooth headset? You should always consider the various environments in which you personally would use a Bluetooth headset. For example, loud environments require superior noise cancelling and a secure fit, whilst if you were using Bluetooth in a quiet home office, a simple headset may be enough. Talk time, style and wearing fit are also key considerations. Q: How important is noise cancellation and does it vary greatly from one headset to another? Noise cancelling is hugely important, as this is the main reason (other than handsfree conversations) that we use a headset. Some headsets on the market have limited or no noise cancelling abilities at all.  On the flip side, there are many that have excellent capabilities for noise cancelling, but are at the detriment of your voice quality sounding like a robot to other users. You should choose one that has adequate noise cancelling abilities, but make sure you still sound like you on the other end. Q: What about battery life? You will find that battery life of a headset ranges from 3-4 hours, up to 11 hours of talk time. Usually new users buy an entry level headset to try Bluetooth technology, and often manufacturers add a larger than normal talk time to these beginner sets. This eliminates the need to charge the device all the time and allows users to enjoy their first Bluetooth experience. As you go up in the range, you will find headset talk time gets smaller, as the technology demands more power. Q: And range? 33 feet (10 meters) Q: Are different brands of Bluetooth products compatible? Handset manufacturers that have Bluetooth capabilities built in to the phone are usually compatible with all Bluetooth devices, but you should always read the package. Q: What are the different styles of Bluetooth headsets available? There are 2 main wearing styles, over the ear and in ear. Q: Which style is most comfortable to wear? Ever seen a guy walking down the street with a headset in his ear, but talking to nobody? It’s likely he has forgotten it in his ear because of the headset’s inapt ability to feel weightless. This is a personal choice, and not all in ear or over ear products actually feel the same on. Look for awards on products or reviews online to see what most people think of wearing a certain product you are keen on purchasing. The Voyager Pro + from Plantronics is an over ear headset that has been ergonomically designed to feel like you’re not even wearing one. Similarly the Plantronics Savor M1100 has a sophisticated gel ear tip that, once worn in your ear for some time, becomes weightless and literally feels like nothing but a voice. Q: What are some bonus features to look out for? Warranty is a major benefit. Look for a replacement warranty, not a limited repair warranty. An On/Off switch, as opposed to just a simple multifunction button that does everything. Voice and text services, like having the ability to Answer/Ignore with just your voice. Q: How much should I expect to spend? Anywhere from $39 up to $199. Keep in mind the better experience you have being wireless, the longer you want to avoid holding a handset to your head. The higher in price you go, the better the overall experience is.