They appear to be crazy people at first, but they're really just geeks. Technology enthusiasts have embraced Bluetooth headsets, tiny earpieces...

Share story


They appear to be crazy people at first, but they’re really just geeks.

Technology enthusiasts have embraced Bluetooth headsets, tiny earpieces that allow them to use their cellphones hands-free. They wander around airports and trade shows looking as if they’re shouting orders at no one in particular.

Unlike regular earpieces, these headsets are cordless, using a radio technology named after a Viking.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Bluetooth radios are common only in pricier phones, so the wireless headsets have taken hold mainly among technology enthusiasts and business types. Dutch manufacturer Jabra’s sleek, sophisticated headsets have become one of the most popular brands.

The Bluetooth wireless radio standard has been adapted in a variety of ways:

• Apple Computer sells a wireless keyboard and mouse that look elegant with Apple’s slim computer designs.

• Nokia’s N-Gage QD gaming device uses Bluetooth to get multiplayer action going in small groups.

• Nonin Medical has used the technology to create a wireless pulse-reader for doctors.

• Ten Technology has introduced the naviPlay, a wireless remote control for the iPod.

I tried out Jabra’s FreeSpeak headset, priced at $100 but available for around $80. I also tested the company’s Bluetooth speakerphone, the $150 SP100, which doubles as a hands-free car phone.

When the technology worked, the audio was as crisp as my cellphone connection, with little latency or distortion. But I couldn’t do anything about looking like a lunatic talking to myself on the street.

To set up each device, I had to press a button to turn on the Bluetooth signal, then scroll through my phone menu to find it. Jabra’s instruction manuals were clear, and I synced all the devices with ease.

I wasn’t sure where to keep the earpiece when I wasn’t using it. I tried keeping it on my ear full time, but it began to feel heavy and constricting.

I finally ended up putting it in my shirt pocket, though I raced to pull it out, curl it around my ear and press the earpiece button before my voicemail picked up.

Bluetooth is a short-range radio technology, so I could only stray a couple dozen feet from my phone. It didn’t work very well through walls, either.

But in the car and when my hands were full, the earpiece was beneficial, keeping me focused on the task at hand while I talked.

The FreeSpeak’s battery life was fine. If I talked for an hour or two a day, I could charge the device every three days with no problem.

Jabra’s speakerphone made life on the road even easier. When a call came in, I pressed the button on the device, attached to the sun visor above my head, and the caller’s voice rang out loud and clear. Callers could even hear passengers in my car.

But the speakerphone had its limitations. When my phone was in my pocket, the speakerphone often didn’t get the signal, though that problem could just as easily have been a failing of my phone’s radio.

In many cases, I found it just as easy to hold my phone to my head. These devices work best for frequent travelers and callers who are willing to adjust to the technology’s limits to get its benefits.