The Bluetooth headset market has split in recent years, with the budget end of the market being served by low-cost, simple devices for $50 or under, and the high-end packing complex noise-reduction and DSP for $100 upward. Into that fray steps Motorola, whose Endeavor HX1 headset packs military-type bone conduction in order – they claim – to completely vanquish background noise. After the cut, check out the full SlashGear review and why we reckon the HX1 isn’t quite ready for the urban battlefield.
The concept of bone conduction is straightforward: a sensor integrated into the earpiece of the HX1 is used to pick up the vibrations that talking sends through your skull. Nifty software interprets those vibrations as speech; however, since there’s no microphone involved, background noise isn’t picked up. As a system its been used extensively by the military, where quietly communicating between team members is pretty important; now Motorola wants to deliver the same abilities to regular Bluetooth headset users.
To be fair, there’s a similar system in use by Aliph with their popular Jawbone range of headsets, which use a cheek sensor paired with a microphone to do some noise-reduction magic. It’s not true bone conduction, though, which is why we’ve been so interested to try out the Endeavor HX1.
Motorola refers to their bone conduction system as “Stealth Mode”, likely because it sounds cooler to potential customers, and it’s not actually active all of the time. Usually the HX1 relies on a more traditional dual-microphone array along with their CrystalTalk sound processing technology, and we found that worked pretty well in regular circumstances. It’s not as effective as, say, Plantronics has been offering with their recent models, but holding a conversation while there’s music or wind noise in the background is certainly possible.
Unfortunately, Stealth Mode is far less successful. When we tested it back at the HX1 launch event, we were impressed with the demo models Motorola had on hand. Something appears to have gone wrong in the meantime, as the bone conduction on all three-production units has some issues.
It starts with an uncomfortable earpiece the use of which, since the Stealth Mode sensor is embedded into it, can’t be avoided. We had significant trouble trying to get a comfortable fit, and even then didn’t find the HX1 wearable for extended periods. More concerning is the fact that our test callers simply couldn’t hear us when Stealth Mode was activated: it ranged from simply a distant buzzing through to snatches of quiet, garbled speech punctuated by loud pops, with any recognizable words having their intonation sounding muted or mangled in a very robotic way.
It’s possible that we have the “wrong type” of ears for the HX1, given that everybody’s ear canal is differently shaped; however, that doesn’t fill us with confidence that every buyer of the headset will find it to their favor. As it stands, though, the Motorola Endeavor HX1 delivers 50-percent of its promise, working as a reasonable though not standout Bluetooth earpiece in standard, CrystalTalk mode. $129.99 is a whole lot to ask, though, for straightforward functionality, and the HX1 comes nowhere close to knocking our current consumer favorite, the Plantronics Voyager Pro, Plantronics Discovery 975 and Jawbone Prime off of their perch.
Many thanks to everyone for helping me test out the Motorola Endeavor Bluetooth headset!