Jabra Freespeak Bluetooth headset

As the amount of time we spend on mobile phones continues to grow at an exponential rate, it was only a matter of time before the practice of holding a phone to speak into it became enough of an inconvenience to generate a serious new market.

The free mike-and-earphone cord you get with an average mobile package was never a serious contender to take the phones out of our hands — they’re usually cheap add-ons that don’t stand the test of time or wear.

Enter technology standards like Bluetooth. We’ve been hearing for a few years now how it’s going to revolutionise connectivity, watching the multinational billionaire stakeholders fight over the standards and methods that are going to affect the rest of us on the street.

But if having your PC talk to your fridge to order the weekly shopping from your local online grocery supplier still sounds like the stuff of science fiction, handsfree mobile communications will probably be the first area Bluetooth will make an impact on you. The good news is that it’s useful, and it works.

And American company Jabra are on a winner with their Bluetooth mobile headset product, Freespeak. An attractive, comfortable and easy to use tool, you’ll wonder how you ever did without one, fumbling with flimsy wires and earpieces every time the phone rang.

It certainly looks like the stuff of science fiction, and until this sort of equipment catches on and becomes more widespread (and designers put some serious R&D behind it) people will look at you like you’ve been assimilated into the Borg Collective.

Not to say it’s ugly (it’s futuristic looking and quite beautiful) it’s just bigger than anything you’ll be used to. And that’s not to say it’s uncomfortable, either. Freespeak’s true beauty is that you can leave the phone on the passenger seat or in your bag and wear the headset for the whole trip — it hugs your ear so snugly you’ll forget it’s in. While you’re talking with it, the ‘eargel’ (Jabra’s patented gel rubber-like earpiece) channels the sound straight into your ear and blocks everything else out. What’s more, you can rotate it 360 degrees if you want to swap ears.

The range differs under different conditions — sometimes it’ll work perfectly when the phone’s at the other end of the house, but with a lot of interference around it’ll break up before you go too far (although you’re unlikely to ever have it far from the phone itself).

More important is the lifespan. The manufacturer claims up to 3 hours of talk time and 96 hours between recharges. The standby battery life of the Bluetooth model certainly lasted as promised and talk time easily clocked a couple of hours — if you spend longer than that on your mobile it’s reason enough to invest in a handsfree system. However, the non-Bluetooth model seemed not to last as long after charging.

Non-Bluetooth model, you ask?

You heard right. In a clever move, Jabra produce two alternative models that between them cover most of the Australian mobile market that isn’t Bluetooth enabled — one that fits recent Nokia models and another that fits most 2.5mm socket phones.

Via a small adapter or straight into your charging socket, a lightweight dongle (the diameter of a golf ball) connects to your phone, and that becomes the Bluetooth base station. In both cases, the Bluetooth ‘link’ is established by pairing the headset and base station (the phone or dongle) via a very simple process.

If you’re using a Bluetooth-enabled phone and don’t need the attached dongle, you can control your call right at the headset — just dial the number on the phone, and make or hang up your call with the button behind your ear. The non-Bluetooth model requires you to make calls and hang up using the phone (pressing the headset’s connect button opens or closes the link while dialling or after hanging up), but having a comfortable hands-free setup is a luxury in itself.

Little is still known about the health effects of mobile phones in general, and even less about the new wireless standards (of which Bluetooth is one). Any health risks using mobiles phones are posed by the RF waves passing through the antenna, a risk Jabra’s website claims Freespeak does away with by taking the antenna away from your head. It makes sense, but there’s still no conclusive research either way — keep that in mind if you’re in the market for a handsfree solution for the potential health benefit.

But if you just want something that’s beautiful, functional and practical, sit back, hook it on, forget it’s there and enjoy mobile communications at its most advanced yet.

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