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March 7, 2009

Review: Griffin SmartTalk Bluetooth Headset

Griffin Technology, maker of all sorts of wonderful gadgetry accessories recently launched a high-end bluetooth headset to compete with some of industry's best (ie. Plantronic Discovery 925, Jawbone 1/2, etc...). With many States cracking down on hands-free driving law, lots of people are considering to pickup a solid bluetooth headset and Griffin's SmartTalk Bluetooth is definitely something worthy of consideration.

looked into a bluetooth headsets largely because I didn't want to be bDue of my obsession with smartphones w/ music-playback ability, I've neverothered with having to charge both of my phone and headset frequently due to the incremental battery drain while using bluetooth wireless. Until today, I've largely been using stereo headsets w/ mic like the V Moda Vibe II and Griffin's TuneBuds Mobile which as been working out great with minimal maintenances involved. My only other bluetooth headset for comparison purpose is the Official Sony PS3 Bluetooth headset.

Packaging: Griffin packed their SmartTalk Bluetooth headset with plenty of accessories. It comes with 2 ear clip sizes, 3 in-ear buds (I believe they are interoperable with Griffin TuneBuds Mobile), AC Charger with a relatively short cord, a "mini-USB" cable and a thick manual written in English, French and Spanish. The choice of mini-USB cable is interesting since it isn't the most popular by today's gadgetry definition. Most cameras and smartphones like G1 or BlackBerrys uses the slightly wider Micro-USB cable. The only thing I can think of to make the packaging better is if Griffin had tossed in a small pouch to keep the headset protected or store the extra components.

Design and Features: The SmartTalk Bluetooth itself is very compact and lightweight. It is well built and features in-ear design (which is something I generally prefer for a better fit as well as noise isolation). Griffin used two mics with capabilities to filter out ambient noises. With a total of 3 buttons (vol +/- and button), this little headset offers plenty of functions; call/end, reject calls, redail, voice command, call waiting, reject call waiting and must (very good if you use it for PS3). Of course you'd have to study up on the button commands to memorize all of its functions. One cool feature is the headset actually speaks to you via English or French to verify the function selected (ie. hello, phone call, pairing, etc...).

Real World Test: Griffin recommends new headset to be charged for a minimum of 2 hours. If the headset if fully charged the LED indicator should switch from red to blue. I charged it for about 4 hours and the LED was still red but I figured it was good enough so I begin using it. Pairing it to a device is very easy, in fact, it is one of the best bluetooth pairing experience I've had. Under normal room conditions, the headset performed like any other. I took it with me to lunch at a California Pizza Kitchen where the kitchen is exposed and they were playing some background music, the recipient claimed to be able to hear some ambient noise and hear my wife's voice who's sitting next to me. Its too hard to jump to conclusions based on one complaint so I took it up another notch. I went to a busy Starbucks inside the Short Hills Mall in Jersey. There, you can hear lots of ambient conversations and espresso machines cranking out some high DB steams nearby. I called a buddy up and asked how I sounded; he was impressed at how clear my vocal was and mentioned he can barely noticed the background noise. On my end, however, things are a little different. Because of the ambient noise being so loud, I actually had a hard time hearing the other party. I pressed the volume button up and sees it communicate with my iPhone pushing volume indicator all the way up. While I was able to maintain a conversation, I could use at least another level or two of amplification. I was surprised to see that the volume button merely controls the phone's output instead of it's own amplification. On a side note, I was surprised to note that the medium sized in-ear bud was too big for my ear canal hence failing to stay in position as well as blocking out noises; also the default larger ear clip is too big for me as well where if I were to bend down to pick something off the floor it would want to fall out. After getting home, I swapped out the ear bud to the smallest one as well as using the smaller ear clip and it held to my ear much better as well as blocking out the noise level. I can actually shake my head side-to-side while the headset stays planted firmly. It is very comfortable wearing it for extended time whereas my PS3 headset sometimes gives me a cramp.

* Compact and good looking design with a grip load of accessories
* Noise filter technology works well in loud environments
* Full of features and functionality, love the in-ear design and how comfortable it is

* Volume can be a little louder, also the volume buttons are hard differentiate while wearing
* Mini-USB jack instead of Micro-USB jack makes it less inter-operable with my existing cables
* Griffin should toss in a small pouch for storage protection
Conclusion: Griffin's entry into the high end Bluetooth headset market is very well done. As a non-bluetooth user myself, I was pretty happy with this headset's overall design and functionality. If you have a lot of Griffin accessories like the iTrip Auto or TuneBuds in the past, its nice to know that this headphone can share its accessories (ear bud size) and play well (charge over USB cig charger) together with them. At MSRP $99, this headset pegs right up there against the other big players of the industry and it definitely gives them a good run for the money. Big thanks to Andy C. and Evie S. at FortyThreePR for this story opportunity.

Please find a slideshow of the photos I've taken below or click here to view gallery.


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