Sunday, September 07, 2014

Review: Sony SBH52

I've had several bluetooth headsets, including the MW600 and the Knivio over the years, but my wife has never showed interest in any of them. They're dorky, hard to pair, and most of the time simply mean one more item to charge instead of saving you any hassle. My wife also dislikes wearing headphones.

The Xperia Z1 Ultra, however, is so big that it's awkward to hold to your head in order to make a phone call, though my wife claims she'll get used to it in time as well. The SBH52, however, looked promising, so I ordered it thinking that I'll send it back if she ends up not using it.

On the website and promotional photos, the SBH52 looks like an unusually big headset, but in reality it's not much bigger than my MW600. What's nice about it is NFC pairing. Until we saw this feature, my wife had never seen NFC as being something useful other than a novelty item for me to play with by using my phone to pay at Whole Foods. You touch the back of the phone to the clip on the SBH52, and pairing and connecting happens automatically, though sometimes (not all the time) the phone pops up an annoying dialog asking you to approve the pairing. (I have no idea why that happens: touching the two items isn't something that would happen by accident, so the engineer/product manager who thought that dialog box was a good idea should be shot!)

The speaker on the SBH52 is loud enough to use as a speaker phone, and my wife seems to prefer using it that way rather than as a handset. The UI to switch between handset and speakerphone is unintuitive, forcing you to actually read the manual, but all in all isn't too bad. You can pair up to two phones with the device. In reality, this feature is less useful than it appears, since you end up being confused about which phone/headset is triggering the phone to ring, and the handset is small enough that it's really a personal device, but if you're the kind of person to carry two phones or a phone and a tablet at the same time I can see how this might be useful.

Standby/Talk time seems about normal for a device of this type. What's interesting is that the phone is water-resistant, though not completely waterproof. That does eliminate the fear of water on the phone, but it also means the charging port is behind a rubber grommet. No big deal, but I wonder when that's going to break off.

There are still minor bugs with the software. At one point NFC pairing got the devices confused and I had to reboot both the phone and the device. That problem went away relatively quickly, but I was still annoyed that such expensive equipment could fail on such a common task.

My wife doesn't like to use headphones, so I have no way to gauge headphone effectiveness. It does sport an FM radio using headphone wires as antenna, which I thought was pretty clever until I discovered that both the Xperia and Xperia Z1 do it as well, so it must be a fairly well-known trick.

In any case, so far my wife has been willing to carry around the headset in addition to her phone, which means that it passes the wife test. Translated into man-speak: "Recommended."
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