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Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones

Mon Jul 2, 2007 - 2:10 AM EDT - By Douglas Morse

Overview

I love testing Bluetooth headphones. Not only does it give me an excuse to listen to more music than I ought to, I get to experiment with more technology than I have a right to. When I received the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones, I suspected I was in for a treat as the other Motorola products I’ve used have been well worth the time to test and most often I am loathe to give them up, but other headsets and headphones on the test bench are waiting their turn.


Design

The Motorola S9’s are billed as Active Headphones and they are just that. They are of the backphone style, hard plastic, and weighing in at nearly an ounce. They are the sort of thing you can conveniently wear jogging, cycling, or other light or strenuous activities. Although I do see many cyclists using iPods or what have you, I am sure that this is not a safe way to travel. I would caution you to use common sense when using an ‘active’ headset like this. I certainly advise you not to use it in any sort of traffic, but other exercise or work activity would be well worthwhile.


You’ll need to charge the headphones using the slender AC adapter for about 2 hours. Like the other Motorola headphones and headsets I’ve tested, they’ve settled on the standard mini-USB adapter – all manufacturers should go this route, though Motorola does not include a USB to mini-USB charger with this one.

Pairing the unit took a few tries, perhaps because the power button was supposed to be pressed for 3 seconds. Most units need a good 6 seconds to help the device distinguish from a simple power on and a pairing. However, following the more detailed instructions in the manual (as opposed to the little easy pairing guide) did the trick. The clearly written manual is in both English and Spanish. The status LED which is capable of Blue, Red, or Purple blinking lights, is unobtrusively situated on the underside of the back loop. Like all of these types of headsets, it is well worth it to study the manual to decipher how to use all of the call controls.


One thing that makes these headphones stand out are the controls. On the right ear is a raised button for Play/Pause and track control, just below and above. On the left earphone is a raised button for call control, with volume buttons above and below. The raised buttons are the usual click and release. However, as much as I tried to get a click out of the other buttons, I got nothing. I came to realize that these take only the slightest amount of pressure to activate – nearly touch sensitive. A barely perceptible tap is all it takes to get a change in volume or advance or reverse a track.

Before I go into the nitty gritty of functionality, I should mention that these headphones look good. They are a simple matte black offset with a matte red inner band. Also, they are billed as water/sweat resistant – though I didn’t test these claims.



Functionality

Like all of the new A2DP headphones, these wireless Bluetooth headsets support both streaming music and calls. I’m beginning to take this functionality for granted, but if I pause to think about it, it’s a wonderful change. Long ago in the Visor days, Jeff Hawkins envisioned an integrated phone and MP3 player and this is the logical conclusion. A headphone that handles both stereo music and voice calls wirelessly. Ironically, the Palm OS seems to be incapable of handling streaming music protocols. Even the newer Treo 755p seems stuck without this capability, a good reason to give it a miss over its more functional Windows Mobile cousin (which even supports wireless albeit through an add on card) It’s not much of a secret any more that Palm is developing a new OS based upon Linux. We can all hope that it not only betters the Windows Mobile platform, but can rival the iPhone’s OS X functionality.

As for music quality, the S9's, though not great, is strong. Nothing can yet reach the subtleties of the Motorola S805 over the ear headphones I tested a couple of months back. Part of the reason is simple mechanics. The speakers in these headphones are by necessity smaller. Therefore dynamic range suffers and the sound is a bit tinny compared to a more full featured headset. I don’t see this as a fault of these particular headphones, simply a design trade off.

Phone sound quality is also in the same ballpark. It’s not really any better or worse than your typical Bluetooth headset. Occasionally a bit scratchy or echoey; it’s fine for day to day use. I mentioned that the track and volume controls simply require a light tap. These are simply the best controls I’ve used on a wireless headset. By setting the buttons to either side of a raised button, they are easy to distinguish. Note that the sound only comes through one ear when on a phone call.

The Motorola S9 is NOT the most comfortable headset I’ve used. The in ear design gets a little tiresome. I find the earpieces are a bit hard for my taste (this ships with an extra set in a different size just in case). The over the ear plastic is a bit hard as well. Again, this is a trade off. To keep the headphones in place during active pursuits, a bit of stiffness is needed. Also, to keep up with the water resistant claims, a hard plastic is the logical choice. When you’re tearing your muscles during a workout, it’s unlikely you’ll notice a bit of discomfort on your head. Also, these are one size fits all. The manual advises that you stretch these out to fit a larger head size.

The headphones are rated for six hours of play, though I estimate my first use at a bit less than that. In making such a lightweight headphone, the rechargeable battery is by necessity smaller than some.



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