Cheap Bluetooth Headsets
With more and more state laws requiring drivers to use hands-free devices when speaking on cell phones, cheap Bluetooth headsets are in demand. They use low-frequency radio waves to let users talk or listen to multimedia audio remotely. Some high-end Bluetooth headsets also convert text messages, emails, and tweets to audio. However, most frugal consumers aren't concerned with such features and just want a cheap headset that delivers good sound quality and fits comfortably.
Bluetooth Headsets Buying Guide
If you're in the market for a cheap Bluetooth headset, companies offering entry-level devices include Samsung, Jabra, Plantronics, Motorola, and BlueAnt. The Samsung HM3300 (starting at $30) is our top pick on the strength of its excellent audio quality, above-average noise cancellation, and the inclusion of three soft gel eartips.
|Bluetooth Headset Reviews|
Note: When choosing a cheap Bluetooth headset, make sure it's compatible with your phone. Most headsets are backward-compatible with older versions of Bluetooth software -- that is, they support older technology in your phone. But if the Bluetooth software on your phone is a newer version than what your headset uses, you won't be able to do some of the cool stuff the phone could do with a newer model.
What We Looked For in the Specs
Noise-Canceling Technology.Any Bluetooth headset worth buying should include some kind of noise cancellation feature to filter out sounds from the surrounding environment. Brands have their own proprietary technology for doing this, but those in the entry-level segment of the market seem to manage this feat less well than upmarket models like the Jawbone Era (starting at $100). Still, experts say relatively kind things about the noise cancellation performance of the Samsung HM3300.
Headsets with two or more microphones also tend to provide better audio quality and noise cancellation than single-mic headsets. Among the models we researched, the Plantronics Marque 2 M165, Jabra Extreme2 (starting at $45), and Jawbone Era are dual-mic headsets.
Multiple Eartips.You'll need an eartip (also called an earbud) that rests in your ear and/or a hook that wraps around the back of the ear to hear anything. Many headsets come with a selection of eartips so you can choose one that fits snugly and comfortably. A good fit in the ear is also essential to maximizing the sound. It's easier to find just the right fit if the headset package includes a variety of eartips.
Some of the best entry-level Bluetooth headsets, including the Plantronics M55 and Jabra Style, come with only one or two sizes and if one or both don't fit, you're out of luck. We prefer models that come with at least three, as do the Samsung HM3300, Samsung HM1900 (starting at $20), and Plantronics Marque 2 M165, but relaxed this criteria when making our picks because other factors, such as call quality, size, and battery life, matter at least as much.
Useful Connection Options.There are various ways that cheap Bluetooth headsets can connect to other devices, and most support a handful of the popular technologies. Bluetooth headsets with A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) technology can be paired with devices other than phones to stream music or other audio from a music player, navigation system, or computer to your headset. All the models we researched feature A2DP technology. Multipoint support, a feature found on all our picks, lets you connect your headset to two devices at the same time -- a work phone and a personal phone, say -- so you can take calls from either one.
NFC (Near Field Communication) is another useful technology. If both your smartphone and your headset support NFC, you can just tap the two devices together to pair them; the Samsung HM3300 and Jabra Style both provide NFC support. AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile) lets you control the streamed audio through the headset (assuming the host device also supports AVRCP); none of the best cheap Bluetooth headsets we researched support AVRCP, although the pricey Jawbone Era does.
Convenient Controls.Bluetooth headsets perform a variety of functions controlled with recessed or raised buttons. Some Bluetooth headsets have cut back on the buttons in favor of a multifunction button that typically covers some combination of call answering and redialing, call mute, call hold, and call transfer from the headset to the phone or vice versa. Among the models we researched, only the Jabra Style and Jawbone Era sport multifunction buttons.
These days, most Bluetooth headsets, including the cheap models on our list, convey voice prompts that tell you when the battery is running low, when you're connected to a device, and/or who is calling. In the budget segment, only a handful, including the Plantronics M55 and Plantronics Marque 2 M165, also respond to basic voice commands -- take a call simply by saying "answer," for example -- which eliminates the need to tap a button. Some low-cost headsets, such as the Samsung HM3300 and Jabra Extreme2, come with audible "help" guides.
Bluetooth headsets commonly feature an LED that shows connection status, battery life, and call connection status. A power switch to turn the device on and off is useful for preserving battery life, and is present on the models we researched.
Bluetooth Headset Reviews
Even a budget Bluetooth headset shouldn't fall short on sound quality or comfort. Bluetooth headset reviews by consumers and experts make very clear that no user wants to sound as though they're in a bathroom or tunnel, either to themselves or the party at the other end. Reviewers also snub earpieces that fall out or are too uncomfortable to wear for extended periods, but there was little consensus on the comfort of the models we researched.
Ease of use is also a priority, according to Bluetooth headset reviews. That means syncing a headset with a phone or other device should not be an all-day affair, and the battery should last long enough that the device doesn't need daily charging unless it's constantly in use.
We relied on a combination of reviews from experts and consumers to assess the performance of Bluetooth headsets. The expert reviewers used hands-on testing, while posts from shoppers provide a variety of perspectives and indicate how well a headset works in the real world. The two cohorts don't always agree.
Effective Noise Cancellation.The chief downfall of cheap Bluetooth headsets is their mediocre ability to cancel out background noise, according to reviews. All the models on our list are noise-canceling Bluetooth headsets, but some perform better in this dimension than others. The Jabra Extreme2 (starting at $45) is particularly good at filtering out background noise, according to an expert from Top Ten Reviews, but doesn't appear on our list because it's hard to find at a cheap price. CNET also commends the Jawbone Era (starting at $100), a much more expensive headset, for delivering excellent noise cancellation, and says the Plantronics M55 (starting at $30) quells background noise indoors but struggles to block out wind and traffic noises when outside.
High-Quality Audio.It's pretty simple to determine the audio quality of a headset: The sound is loud and clear on both ends of the call, without distortion or tinny or muffled sound. Voices seem natural, and background noise doesn't interfere with the headset user's voice.
For the most part, users who posted Bluetooth headset reviews are satisfied with the sound clarity of these devices, especially given their budget prices. An expert at Tech Hive writes of being particularly impressed with the audio quality on the Samsung HM3300 (starting at $30) for adequately meeting these standards. The outlier among the models discussed here is the Plantronics Marque 2 M165 (starting at $30). Expert reviews assert voice quality is thin and strained, especially for the headset wearer, although many users serve up more positive appraisals.
Comfortable Fit.Eartip comfort is middling with the Bluetooth headsets on our list, but everyone's ears are different so assessments of fit for any given model vary. The small, medium, and large soft gel eartips that accompany the Samsung HM3300 and HM1900 (starting at $20) increase the probability that one will be a match. And yet, we read Bluetooth headset reviews decrying the discomfort and lack of fit (especially for small ears) with the Samsung models; others extol the fit, with one user who normally refrains from ear-in devices reporting pleasant surprise at the gel tip's functionality. The Jabra Style (starting at $45) and Plantronics M55 also take some heat for ill-fitting earpieces (each comes with just one eartip), and in the case of the former, for an alternative ear hook, as well.
Battery Life.For anyone who really likes communicating through a Bluetooth headset, long battery life is essential. The Plantronics M55 rings in with an unusually high manufacturer rating of 11 talk hours before needing a recharge, and it wins kudos in Bluetooth headset reviews for that feat. The Plantronics Marque 2 M165 beats the average with an official maximum seven hours of talk time whereas most headsets, including the Jabra Style and Jabra Extreme2, deliver a rated talk time of five to six hours.
Some, like the Samsung HM3300 and Samsung HM1900, underperform here, with rated talk times of four and four-and-a-half hours, respectively. Although we read a few muted grumbles about this limitation, users generally seem indifferent to the matter and assign greater weight to assets such as good audio, good price, and ease of use.
Painless Pairing.Pairing is the process of establishing the wireless connection between a Bluetooth headset and a cell phone or some other electronic audio device. Generally speaking, when pairing a cell phone and a Bluetooth headset, the phone is the "host" and the headset is the "guest." To pair the devices, turn on the pairing option for both and then use the phone to identify the headset and confirm the connection.
If both devices use Bluetooth 2.1 or higher, pairing is usually automatic. All the headsets we looked at are Bluetooth 2.1 or newer. If you have an NFC-enabled headset (e.g., Samsung HM3300, Jabra Style) and smartphone, pair them with just a tap. We found no complaints in Bluetooth reviews by experts or consumers about pairing. This is one task that headsets seem to manage very well across the board.
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