Plantronics giving away Bluetooth headsets in Twitter contest

As the end of the year approaches, some new states will be on the list of places where it is against the law to use your mobile phone without a hands-free device.

On January 1st, Hawaii joins the states and cities banning the use of mobile devices when driving. You are still allowed to use a hands-free headset, but you can not hold your phone, read your email or send text messages.

Violations will cost $150, or $500 if you caused an accident when using your phone.

A new Oregon state law also goes into effect on January 1st prohibiting the use of mobile devices for text messaging. Only adult drivers will be allowed to make phone calls when driving, and only when using a hands-free device.

To raise awareness of these new laws, Plantronics is offering free headsets to Twitter users. If you fancy a chance at winning one of their Voyager Pro or Discovery 975 headsets, head on over to Twitter and follow @plantronics, then send a tweet including @plantronics, #behandsfree and a link to during the Sweepstakes Period (December 1-29, 2009). One winner will even receive a headset and a $1000 gas card!

Plantronics also has a great overview of the laws by state, and as these laws all seem to vary from state to state, it really does pay to play it safe and invest in a good headset.

Gadling gear review – Jabra HALO Bluetooth stereo headphones

Welcome to my Gadling gear review of the new Jabra HALO Bluetooth stereo headphones. When it comes to Bluetooth headphones here on Gadling, I’m only interested in products that stand out in the busy headphone market. The Jabra HALO headphones fit that quite well.

The HALO’s are very stylish, and look more like a pair of DJ headphones than Bluetooth headphones. For travelers, the HALO’s have a couple of pretty handy features – most importantly, they can fold. When folded they may not be as compact as a pair of in-ear headphones, but it certainly decreases their size. . Their best travel feature is the ability to become wired headphones. Included in the box is a cable that plugs into a normal headphone jack, which means you can listen to music in-flight without worrying about the “No Bluetooth” rule.
Controlling the headphones

Controlling the HALO’s is simple – there is just one button,and a touch sensitive sliding control. Sadly, that touch sensitive controller is a pain to deal with. It is usually too sensitive, and when your hair gets in front of it, it becomes even harder to control. It is a great design feature, but not very practical.

There is no power button – to turn them on, you simply unfold them, turning them off works the same way – just fold them up. This is a really elegant solution to something that usually annoys me. This also means you’ll never forget to turn them off before flying.

The single button is for picking up a call, ending a call and pausing your music. When listening to music, the touch control adjusts volume (by sliding) and changes tracks (by tapping). As you can probably guess, this sometimes goes wrong, and you’ll change tracks when trying adjust the volume, and vice versa.


The Jabra HALO’s are very comfortable – the entire inside of the headband is covered in black velour, all the way down to the earpieces. Those earpieces can slide up and down about an inch and a half, so even those with a larger than average head won’t have a problem getting a good fit.

Because the headband fabric lacks “grip”, the HALO’s don’t sit too tightly on your head. This is obviously fine if you are relaxing in your first class seat, but don’t plan on running through the airport with them.

Sound quality

I put the Jabra HALO’s through a whole bunch of tests. As Bluetooth stereo headphones, they sound good – really good. In fact, I could not really detect any difference between wireless or wired mode. Audio does lack some bass, but without a pair of massive cans, you’ll always suffer from this.

Volume is good, but because the earpieces don’t go around your ears, too much ambient noise will mean you’ll need to turn them up quite a bit.

Call quality is decent, and obviously depends on the environment. In a moderately noisy room, they performed very well. The HALO’s feature dual microphone noise canceling circuitry, which obviously works hard in the background. That is, until the outside noise becomes too much for them to deal with. In a noisy location, like a train station, the HALO’s pick up quite a lot of noise. The call is still quite acceptable, but you’ll need to talk up, and the person on the other end of your call may start complaining.

Design and features

Jabra headsets have always had a strong emphasis on design, and the HALO’s continue that tradition. From the inner fabric lining to the touch sensitive controls, they certainly manage to stand out in the busy Bluetooth world.

The folding mechanism initially scared me – when you fold the HALO’s, there is a loud “click”, and the first couple of times, I was worried that I’d break them. I’ve now opened and closed them 100’s of times, and they are still going very strong, so Jabra clearly put some effort into this mechanism. The black velvety fabric on the inside feels nice, but it also acts as a bit of a dust magnet, so may need some cleaning every now and then.

The HALO’s come with multi-use technology, which essentially means you can pair them with two Bluetooth devices at the same time. This allows you to connect them to your mobile phone and Bluetooth enabled MP3 player simultaneously.

Battery life is rated at 8 hours talk/music time, which means you can use them all day long. You can charge them using the included adapter, or any powered USB port.

In order to use the Bluetooth stereo feature in the HALO’s, your phone will need to support the A2DP audio profile, and for controlling music, they need to support the AVRCP profile. Most Bluetooth enabled phones tend to include support for this nowadays, though some phones have a limited implementation. The iPhone supports Bluetooth audio and remote control, but only for pause/play, not for track forward/backwards.

Final thoughts

Despite the average call quality, I like the HALO’s a lot. Music sounds good, but could have a little more “oomph”.

The one feature that went from quirky to annoying is the touch sensitive control – it really is a good idea, but poorly executed. Sometimes “real” buttons work best.

PROS: Great Bluetooth stereo audio, ability to fold and become wired, fold to power on/off

CONS: Confusing touch sensitive controls, average performance in loud environments

The headphones come complete with a USB charger, AC charger, audio cable and carrying pouch. You’ll find the Jabra HALO’s at your local Best Buy store, or They retail for $129.99.

Gadling gear review – Motorola Endeavor HX1 Bluetooth headset

Welcome to my review of the Motorola Endeavor HX1 Bluetooth headset. If headset reviews bore you, let me say right away that this review is going to introduce you to the best Bluetooth headset I have ever tested. Got your attention now?

The HX1 does not look particular special. The only noticeable feature is a longer than normal earpiece and a sleek chrome finish around the sides.

Buttons are on the side (power and volume) and on the front (call control and steath mode control). Operating the headset is a treat – all functions are assisted with friendly voice prompts telling you how to pair the phone and whether stealth mode is on or off.

The power button is worth some extra attention – it is a “real” power button. By this, I mean it is a sliding switch that will turn the headset on or off. No silly “hold down for 10 seconds” on the HX1.

The HX1 charges using MicroUSB, the same kind of cable used on many modern mobile phones. What this means to travelers is one less charger, and no investments in dedicated charging cords.

Technology inside the headset

The most interesting parts of the HX1 are hidden away inside the headset. Motorola advertises the HX1 as being equipped with true bone conduction technology.

The Motorola HX1 actually features two different noise isolation systems – its CrystalTalk circuit uses dual microphones and some nifty electronics to cancel out noise in most normal situations. This means it’ll work fine when you are walking down the street or riding a bus.

When things get a little more intense, you can activate the bone condition technology, referred to as “Stealth Mode”. Stealth Mode actually uses a tiny balloon on the earpiece, inserted in your ear to pick up your voice. No microphone, just bone conduction. This means very little of the outside noise gets picked up.

Sound quality

So, with all those nifty technologies, how well does the HX1 perform? As the opening sentence said – this is the best headset I have ever tested. For starters, it is extremely comfortable. The earpiece goes inside your ear a little more than I was used to. Because the earpiece forms a pretty decent seal, you’ll have a much easier time hearing the other side of your call, without having to turn the volume all the way up.

The basic noise cancellation is very impressive – when standing outside in a very windy station platform, the other side of my call could not hear the difference between me talking on the HX1, talking on a wired headset or talking directly on my phone. There was very little outside noise pickup and virtually no wind noise.

For my second test, I waited 25 minutes for a train to pass, and turned on the “stealth mode” feature. When turned on, the person on the other side of my call could still hear me, and did not know I could barely hear myself talking over the noise of a passing express train. Sadly, the stealth mode does make your voice sound muffled, but without it, there is no way you’d be able to have a conversation.

Performance, power and range

Battery life is listed as 7 hours talk time, and 10 days standby. I did not talk for 7 hours, but after 5 days and multiple calls, the headset still says its battery life is good. Since it uses the newest Bluetooth version, you’ll get a very decent range, without the old fashioned crackle and pop of first gen Bluetooth headsets.

The headset weighs just 0.4 ounces (about 11 grams). Attaching the headset is easy – you pop it in your ear, then you use the ear hook to keep it in place. No matter how hard you shake your head around, there is no way this thing will fall out. I kept the HX1 on for several hours, and eventually just forgot I was wearing it.

Final thoughts

As I said earlier – this is currently the best headset I have ever tested. Every aspect of the Motorola Endeavor HX1 impressed me, from the design, to minor details like the physical power switch. I love that it charges over MicroUSB, and I’m pleased that it really does deliver the sound quality it promises.

Personally, I would have loved to see the headset come with a carrying case, especially since it retails for a pretty steep $129.99. At the moment, Sprint is selling the Motorola Endeavor HX1 for $110.49. Sprint is also the only place where you’ll be able to order an HX1, through their web site and in their own retail stores.

My final conclusion is simple – this is the headset you need if you demand the ability to use it anywhere, without sacrificing sound quality on either side of your call.

Gadling gear review – nio Bluetooth property security tag

It was back in March when I posted a product announcement for the nio Bluetooth security tag, and as with many gadgets, I’ll admit that I was losing faith in the product actually hitting the market. So, imagine my surprise when I was contacted last week asking whether I wanted to review the actual product. Obviously, I owe nio an apology for doubting them!

Today, nio arrived, and as is customary with any new gadget, I immediately unpacked it, put the user guide aside and started playing with it.

But first a quick reminder of what nio is – the product is a small “tag” that can be attached to your personal belongings. Inside the tag is a complete Bluetooth radio, a loud buzzer and a battery pack.
The tag itself is very small, and it weighs next to nothing. It has no visible buttons (there is a small reset button hidden behind a hole).

The battery is behind a cover with a screw, so there is no risk of it falling off. The nio tag can be recharged using MiniUSB, and a charger is included. Thankfully, MiniUSB is so prevalent nowadays that most people will already have a charger in their bag.

The idea behind nio is that you “pair” it with your mobile phone, and allow the two to stay in constant contact. If you attach the tag to your suitcase or laptop bag, both the tag and your mobile phone will start beeping loudly if they move too far away from each other.

At the moment, nio supports Java enabled phones, Blackberry devices and Windows Mobile. For my review, I took it for a spin on a Windows Mobile phone (the Sprint Touch Pro).

Getting the software installed is pretty easy – you can point your mobile browser towards the nio download site, or you can have nio send you a text message with the download location. The application itself is 1.12MB, so on a 3G network, it’ll be downloaded in under a minute.

Once installed, the first step is to have your phone search for the nio tag. This involves putting the tag in pairing mode (by pressing the small reset button). You’ll need a paperclip to do this.

Once paired, the application allows you to configure a number of settings on the tag. The most important settings are 3 different security “zones”, enabling or disabling the motion sensor in the tag and activating the “locate me” beacon on the tag.

The security zones are pretty simple – you pick how far away your tag can move before it warns you. I found the high sensitivity setting to work to about 5 or 6 meters, and the lowest sensitivity let me move about 20 meters away before setting off the alarm.

The alarm on the tag is loud enough to be heard by anyone around it, but don’t expect to hear it from the other side of the airport if someone walks off with your bag. I do suspect that any thief will drop whatever he or she stole if the item starts beeping loudly, most thieves don’t like drawing attention to themselves. In order to hear the tag, you’ll need to have it on the outside of your bag.

The Windows Mobile software client was a little tricky – my first installation was on an HTC Touch Pro2, which did not work, most likely because this newest HTC device uses a different Bluetooth stack than other Windows devices (Broadcom versus the Microsoft stack). In nio’s defense, the Touch Pro2 is not listed as being compatible, so I can’t really hold this against them.

So, now of course it is time for the most important part of any gadget – does it work? Well, I’m happy to report that it does, and it actually works very well.

Separating the tag and my phone set off an alarm every single time I tested it. My phone also connected to the tag every time I turned it on.

That covers the important parts – the hardware appears to be rock solid, and very well designed. The software on the other hand needs some work. At one point I ran into an issue where the application would no longer start, and I had to uninstall, manually remove some stuff, and then reinstall in order to get things working again. This is obviously an early stage of the product, and software can easily be fixed (unlike hardware), so I’ll not hold this minor issue against them.

Update: The software appears to be a little buggier than I initially realized – last night (at 3 am), the nio software decided that I’d slept long enough, and set off its alarm (note; only the phone alarm, not the nio tag itself). The “silence alarm” button did nothing, so in a semi-asleep state, I had to pull the battery from my phone.

The practical applications of the tag are pretty easy to spot, though they may not be applicable to everyone. In my personal setup, I could really benefit from having a nio tag on my laptop bag, I’ll often have over $4500 in equipment in that bag, so anything that can keep us from becoming separated is more than welcome. Tags could also be great on a handbag, a purse, keys or a camera. And finally, you could even pop a tag on your kid(s). The tag has everything you need to prevent your kid from getting too far away, plus you can activate the locator feature if you want to scare them.

The software version I tested did not have a timer or scheduling feature, so you will need to manually disable the tag any time you voluntarily become separated (like having to gate check your bag). If you don’t, the tag will assume it is being stolen, and will start beeping.

The same applies to putting your bag in the overhead compartment of the plane – if you are out of range, the tag may start beeping during flight, and a federal air marshal will shoot you if you try to disable it (ok – just kidding there, but seriously, a beeping bag mid-flight is probably not a good idea).

So – is $70 for a nio tag a good investment? Only you can be the judge of that. If your belongings are worth enough, then yes, I could certainly see people investing in it. That said – software support is still rather limited, and is currently only offered on Blackberry, Windows Mobile and Java devices. This means people with an iPhone, Palm (PalmOS or WebOS), Android and anything else out there are going to be out of luck.

There are plans to release versions for other platforms, but this obviously requires support from the manufacturer, and the ability to actually communicate over Bluetooth. Some devices (like Android and the iPhone) are limited in what they’ll allow over Bluetooth, so it may take some till till they offer nio support.

Final thoughts

I really like nio – I think the concept is brilliant, and I think it is surprising that it has taken this long for someone to embrace the concept of a Bluetooth enabled luggage tag.

The hardware portion of the tag is very good, and works perfectly, but the software obviously needs a little more work. For $69.95 (and $8 shipping to the US), you get a tag, a MiniUSB cable and a USB charger. Surprisingly, no attachment hardware is included, so you’ll need to recycle a keyring, or make a trip to the local hardware store.

You’ll find nio, and how to order one, over at their web site.

SkyMall Monday: Stealth Secret Sound Amplifier

We all want to look cool. Cool looking people are just, well, cooler than regular people. Sadly, as we get older, it becomes harder to look cool. Unless you’re Sean Connery, who is just a cool old man. But I digress. Here at SkyMall Monday, it’s important that we always look cool and help you do the same. So, as you age and your faculties begin to fail you, fear not. Our favorite catalog is there to catch us when we fall. If you’re getting up there in years and your hearing is beginning to worsen, you can’t just go around cupping your ear and saying, “What’s that?” at an obnoxious volume. No, you need to discreetly and sexily enhance your hearing. And that’s why there’s no better remedy for your hearing problems than the Stealth Secret Sound Amplifier.

This is no average hearing aid. This device looks like one of those fancy-schmancy Bluetooth gadgets that all the hip and happening young professionals are wearing with their Blackberries and whatnots.* Your hair may be silver, your face may have more crow’s feet than, well, a group of crows (which is called a murder), but that doesn’t mean you’re out of touch with today’s trends. With this baby in your ear, you’ll be popping and locking rather than Lindy Hopping in no time.

Think I’m over-playing my hand? Well, the joke’s on you because we’re not even playing cards. But, as always, the proof is in the pudding product description:

If a conventional hearing aid sounds like an embarrassment to you, try the Stealth Secret Sound Amplifier. It looks just like a cell phone ear adapter and works as a sound enhancer so you can join conversations and even hear soft voices from 50 feet away. Now you can enjoy the best of both worlds: a more youthful appearance and better hearing.

So, if a minuscule, flesh-colored, in-ear hearing aid sounds like an embarrassment to you, why not be that guy who keeps his phone earpiece on at all times? People are sure to think that you’re a cool old man now. Now, if you could only figure out how to use those new-fangled cellphones and could convince your grandkids to turn down that noise that they call the hip hops.

* And by hip and happening I mean tremendously douchey.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.