By Daniel A. Begun
Those who know me well enough, know that I’m not much of a phone person--which is to say I don’t like to talk on the phone much… I’m more of a talk-to-you-in-person, eye-to-eye, kind of guy. But then again, as my wife likes to point out, I’m not much of a talker to begin with... She says I’m a good listener, and claims that I only speak up when I have something meaningful to say. I’m happy that she sees me this way--even if I don’t quite agree with the assessment--but I’ll still take the compliment, thank you very much. This actually marks a strong contrast to my childhood, when it was near impossible to get me to shut up. My father used to joke that I was vaccinated with a phonograph needle (if you are too young to know what a phonograph needle is, go look it up). But I digress...
As I was saying, I’m not much of phone person, at least as far as talking goes. Yes, I own an iPhone 3GS, but I own it more for all the other things it can do... To be honest, considering how crappy the AT&T Wireless service is in my area, it would have been unwise for me to switch from Verizon to AT&T if I actually wanted to use the phone for voice calls! But as I followed the herd and jumped on the iPhone bandwagon, I had no choice but to switch to AT&T. (As to the crappy service in my area, this assessment comes from just about everyone I know who has AT&T as their mobile carrier in my neck of the woods. And I can now also attest to it as well, with plenty of dropped calls and crappy connections--and remember, I don’t even use the phone that much for voice calls.)
I also refuse to talk on the phone when I am driving--hands free or otherwise--unless it is an emergency. So needless to say, I have never owned a Bluetooth headset--I've used them sporadically, but I never owned one. But I love tech and I love toys, and I especially love tech toys; so when Sound ID offered to send me their latest Bluetooth headset, the Sound ID 400, I had to say yes. I’ve actually had the headset for a couple of months now; so before I go any further, a profuse apology to Liz for taking so long to getting around to writing about the product... But, it has given me more time to play with the device and really get a feel for what it does and how well it works and how well it works when it does what it does and how well--well, you get the picture. So, without further ado (of which there has already been way too much ado), on with my two months with the Sound ID Bluetooth headset...
As far as Bluetooth headsets go, the $129.99 Sound ID 400 is rather unassuming in its basic black plastic shell and it is somewhat on the diminutive side--it lacks the bling of the Jawbone headsets and heft of some of the Plantronics headsets. It has one LED on its outward facing side and only two buttons. The main button is on the back of the device (well, the back of the device when you are wearing it), and a side button--which is not actually on the side (at least not when the headset is in your ear)--but is actually on the top (when it’s in your left ear) or bottom (when in your right ear)... I suppose it could still be considered a side button, as in topside or bottom-side... I’m sure you’ve probably lost track of the Sound ID 400’s sides by this point--I know I have--so, the Micro USB connector is on whatever side you want to call the one that holds the earplug... Let’s just call it the side-that-faces-your-face-side and be done with it.
The Sound ID 400 weighs a mere 0.28 ounces and measures 2.1x0.6x0.3-inches. It comes with three different size earplugs, an over-the-ear loop with ear cushion, a Micro USB charging cable, and an AC charger. Sound ID claims that the device is capable of up to seven hours of talk time and up to eight days standby time. Not being much of a talker and being an obsessive recharger, I never had a chance to put the battery claims to the test. As for compatibility, it supports Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and eSCO.
I had no trouble pairing it with my iPhone 3GS, and it actually worked amazingly well without needing to make a single adjustment to it. Audio quality was crystal clear and callers on the other end of the call frequently claimed that they had no idea I was outdoors... In hindsight, I’m not sure if they were amazed at the call quality or just that I had actually left the house. The occasional bit of background noise slipped in every so often; but for the most part, the Sound ID did a great job of filtering out---or at least significantly reducing--most background noise, including wind (and I live in a very windy area, as many a discarded umbrella can attest to). I also found that I never had to adjust the volume, as the Sound ID did a great job of automatically adjusting the volume based on the background noise level with its Automatic Volume Control.
I could easily stop here and say it worked great--and it did--but I would be remiss as a technology journalist and tech-toy enthusiast to not also talk about some of the Sound ID 400’s additional features--or in more technical terms, the device’s bells and whistles. Actually, in the case of the Sound ID, its advanced features are designed to eliminate bells and whistles--at least the annoying kind of bells ringing in the background and whistles blowing in your ear, while you are trying to talk on the phone. The Sound ID 400 has a feature called Personal Sound; by pressing the side button for a couple of seconds when on a call, you can cycle through four different Personal Sound modes: Normal, Moderate, Strong, and Off. As you cycle through the modes, they use progressively more aggressive noise filters. I found that the more aggressive modes did a good job of filtering out additional noise, but they also impacted voice quality--you'll likely only need these settings in very noisy environments. I found that I never needed to use any mode other than Normal. Pressing the side button for a shorter period advances the Sound ID 400’s volume settings--which, as I already stated, I didn’t need to fuss with either.
The Sound ID 400’s other neat feature is its Environmental Mode, which is capable of lowering your carbon footprint... Okay, so it’s not that kind of environmental... Actually, what the Environmental Mode does it help you hear what’s going on around you when the device is busy plugging up one of your ears. When not on a call, if you press the side button for a couple of seconds, the Sound ID 400 turns on Environmental Mode; with this mode on, audio is picked up from the microphone and amplified for you to hear. I’ve never had any major hearing problems (although, I do suffer from selective hearing), but if I did, I imagine the sensation I felt with the Sound ID 400’s Environmental Mode is similar to what it must be like to wear a hearing aid. Needless to say, I wasn’t a big fan of the Environmental Mode; but I can sort of, kind of, see its usefulness to some users in some situations. Your mileage may vary.
Another thing the Sound ID 400 can do is pair to two Bluetooth phones simultaneously. You can only actively use it with one phone at any given moment, but the device will seamlessly switch over to whichever phone is active at the time. The Sound ID 400 also works with Sound ID’s $79.99 Remote Microphone, which can be used as a remote audio amplifier, hearing aid, or to spy on unsuspecting people--just hide the Bluetooth microphone in a potted plant, leave the room, and gasp as you hear what they really have to say about you!
As much as I liked the Sound ID 400, there are a few things I wish it could do. I would have really liked if it supported voice commands, especially for voice dialing. Also, as far as I can tell, there is no way to reject a call. There is nothing in the documentation about this, and I tried mashing just about every combination of buttons I could thing of, but I never could get the device to send a call straight to voicemail. If the Sound ID 400 supports this feature, I couldn’t find it.
Overall, I was very impressed with the Sound ID 400. If I was more of a phone talker, I might very well choose this as my Bluetooth headset; but as it is, I will likely continue to be Bluetooth headset-less when I am out and about with my iPhone 3GS. When I am gallivanting about town, or whatever it is I do when I’m not at home, I usually have my V-MODA Vibe Duo stereo headphones on, listening to music--I am of the solid opinion that everyone’s life needs a soundtrack. So if I am jamming to my tunes and the phone rings, I just hit the call button on the headphone cable. But for all of you Bluetooth-headset-loving, frequent-mobile-phone-using, looking-like-you-are-talking-to-yourself-while-walking-down-the-street folks, the Sound ID 400 might be just the Bluetooth headset for you.