In the past year, we've seen a bunch of Bluetooth headsets for mobile phones, along with a handful of wireless headphones that use the A2DP Bluetooth protocol to stream music from an MP3 player. Gear4's BluPhones combine these two products in a surprisingly small package that's compatible with phones, laptops and portable music devices.
The main thing that impressed us about the BluPhones was the ultra-flexible design. Unlike previous behind-the-head models, the 26-gram BluPhones can be squished into pocket-friendly proportions without the risk of any parts snapping in half. The wire connecting the earpieces is springy and flexible, which also adds to the comfort factor. The headphones also come with two sets of silicone earbuds -- one set burrows right into your ear canal, and the other (for those not fond of close encounters with their own earwax) doesn't delve quite so deeply.
Two tiny silver buttons on one earpiece control volume, while matching keys on the other side allow track skipping and reversal. There is also a microphone built into one side for hands-free phone calls.
The recent proliferation of music-focused, A2DP-enabled mobile phones (such as Nokia's N-series and Sony Ericsson's Walkman line) means it's an optimum time for lightweight Bluetooth headphones to be hitting the market. Until now, there has been little point in investing in wireless stereo headphones for your mobile, due to their high cost, often bulky design, and brief battery life. The flexible, squishable BluPhones, however, are very different from the chunky models that landed on our review desks in 2006, and the price is right at $129.95.
Another recent development that should contribute to the BluPhones' success is the increase in the amount of on-board memory in phones. The updated, music-focused version of Nokia's N91, for example, boasts an 8GB storage capacity -- equivalent to the highest priced iPod Nano. While we are yet to see a battalion of users ditching their MP3 players in favour of music-focused phones, the increased space for tune storage does make defection a more enticing prospect. The main issues are battery drain and interface issues, but these factors have also improved of late.
If you want to use the BluPhones with your iPod or other non-Bluetooth MP3 player, you'll need to invest in a dongle or transmitter. Depending on the model, this could double your cash outlay, meaning the cost of wireless headphones may approach the cost of the MP3 player you'll be using them with.
Battery life isn't too shabby at around five hours of music or talk time, but there are Bluetooth headphones from Sony that will last 11 hours (according to Sony's own specs, that is).
Gear4 is having a bet each way by pitching the BluPhones to both the portable audio and mobile phone markets, and it will be interesting to see whether it pays off. The headphones are certainly good-looking, and the price is much more acceptable than the AU$250 RRPs of previous wireless models.