Review: Apple iPhone Bluetooth Headset

Apple Bluetooth1

I still remember the keynote of keynotes: MacWorld 2007. Towards the end of the iPhone presentation, Steve Jobs showed the Apple iPhone Bluetooth headset. My jaw dropped. Small, light, perfect! I only held off on my purchase due to the slightly inflated price of $129. So in November of 2007 when Apple had their one-day sale event, I picked one up for $99. Here are my thoughts after 3+ months of usage.

What's in the box

What exactly am I getting for my $129 with this headset? You get a few things actually. For starters you get the headset and a great combination dock. The dock holds both the iPhone and the headset, which is magnetically held in an upright position. You also get a two-in-one charge cable that connects to both the iPhone and headset at the same time. There is no external powercord, instead you use the supplied USB cable with the powercord adapter to charge the headset, or charge it in the dock when plugged into your computer.

Size and build

Apple Bluetooth4

Tiny. This thing is small! It is the smallest Bluetooth headset I have ever seen (other then the Samsung WEP series of headsets). The headset is 2.0 x 0.5 x 0.2 inches and is a solid piece of aluminum. That's right, this headset is NOT plastic, yet it is still very light.

Feel in the ear, fit:

I have noticed that when anyone looks at this headset, their immediate reaction is that it will fall right out of your ear. However, it does fit rather securely. The earpiece itself is large, larger then the typical ear piece so when you position it in your ear, it does not fall out. I never experienced a concern of the headset falling out. Of course, you may have oddly shaped ears, if so, then this headset is not for you. I have had no problems keeping it in my ear. However, I have had the headset feel uncomfortable after about an hour of use. When this happens, I just switch ears.

Outgoing sound quality:

I live in Cincinnati, OH and my best friend lives in Las Vegas, NV. When I would talk to him with this headset he would tell me, "Dude, it is like you are in the next room". Thus, it goes without saying that the sound on the receiving end of the conversation is good. Granted, driving with the window down on the freeway does tend to muffle calls. I have called people locally and again, there are no issues. The sound is crystal clear.

Incoming sound quality:

Apple Bluetooth2

This is where the rosy picture of the Apple iPhone Bluetooth Headset starts to turn a rancid, deteriorating black. This headset excels in so many ways, however, I cannot look past the very poor Bluetooth quality on the originating end of a call. When you make a call, the headset automatically kicks on. Ok, that works, check. I can start to talk to the person on the other end. Check. Wait, wait, what is that? Oh, I can't really hear the person on the other end of the call because there is so much static!!! I need to clarify this. If you held the iPhone say, 1 foot from your ear in any direction, calls sound great, they really do. However, if you move the headset any further away than a foot, it becomes impossible to listen to the other person. Let me give you an example:

You are standing upright and you have the Apple iPhone Bluetooth headset in your left ear. You are also holding the iPhone in your left hand with your elbow bent perpendicularly. When you make a call, the phone and headset sounds great. Now, if you lower you left arm to be parallel with your body, the call becomes riddled with static.

This end result is very surprising to me for a couple of reasons. 1) This is Apple and they are known for making great products that are well designed. How could a flaw like this slip through the cracks? I keep hoping it will be resolved in each subsequent release of firmware updates, but alas, this has not happened. I could say that I thought there was a slight improvement with firmware 1.1.4, but I think this would be more wishful than factual. 2) The iPhone is rated as having Bluetooth 2.0+EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) which bumps the data rate to a possible 2.1 Mbit/s. So there are no excuses as to there not being sufficient bandwidth for voice.

Battery Life & Charging

What good is a Bluetooth headset if the battery does not last? The Apple headset is rated for 5.5 hours of battery life. I would say it really pulls in around 3.5, but I suppose there are a lot of variables that can impact this such as time used and how long the device was in sleep mode between calls, what its charge level is going into a call, etc. One of the particularly neat features of the headset is when placed in the combined dock with the iPhone, the headset appears on the screen with the iPhone battery. The headset is essentially a shadow and is filled with green to indicate its charge level; very clever. When using the device you also see the headset battery charge level at the top of the iPhone next to the Bluetooth indicator. This is particularly helpful since once the battery gets low enough, it turns red, similar to the iPhone battery.

Apple Bluetooth3

Conclusion

I want to love this headset, I really do. Even after having it for 4 months I still tend to use it every now and then in hopes that the static has somehow be repaired. There is so much to like: the combined dock charging mechanism, the size, fit are all A+'s in my book. However, where the Apple iPhone Bluetooth headset needs to shine is in voice calls. Although the receiving person can hear you just fine, the call quality for the originating caller is just horrible. I even thought my headset was defective and took it back to the Apple store and got another one. The Apple representative even said that the headset was not that great, but I continued on in hopes that he just had a bad experience as I did. I am so sad to say that this headset disappoints too much in its call quality to make me sing its praises. Although, maybe there are just perpetual sunspots overhead... for the last 4 months, please, prove me wrong.

Ratings (out of 5)

  • Size and Build: 5
  • Fit and Feel: 5
  • Outgoing Sound Quality: 5
  • Incoming Sound Quality: 2
  • Battery Life: 3

Overall:

starStarStarStarStar

Pros

  • Small
  • Light
  • Great dock

Cons

  • Very poor incoming sound quality
  • Less than stellar battery life

Chad Garrett

Software trainer, blogger and mobile technology enthusiast living in the suburban Midwest.

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There are 3 comments. Add yours.

Luigi Semenzato says:

I don't have any sound quality with the headset. It's comparable with other bluetooth headsets I've used. However, the unit has one little annoying quirk: even if it is off when I put it in the charger, it turns itself on when I remove it from the charger. I have learned to turn it off every time I do that, but I wish I didn't have to. I don't like to leave the unit on unless it's in my ear.
As pointed out in the article, the battery life is a lot shorter than most other bluetooth headsets. Interestingly, this isn't really a problem, since it last longer than the phone battery anyhow, and you don't need to carry a separate charger. OK: you can talk on the phone while it's charging, but you can't do that with the headset---no biggie for me, but if you like running on empty that may be an issue.

Chad Garrett says:

The issues with this review really stemmed from the iPhone 2G. I have had no problems with the iPhone 3G... it must have been the Bluetooth radio in the first-gen model :-)
Chadman

Bob Q. says:

I have been searching for a solution to securing my Apple Iphone headset in my ear. I finally found it. I popped an EargGel from an old Jabra headset on to the Iphone headset's ear bud. Now it's very secure and provides good sound isolation. Jabra EarGels come in packs of various sizes left and right. Inexpensive and worth it compared to having the headset fall into a puddle.