Mobility

Major improvements to mobility-centric headphones

Jack Wallen takes a look at two Bluetooth headphone devices that have seen major improvements. Check out his recommendations for two products you might want to own.

Image: Jack Wallen

Over the course of the last year, I've worked with a number of different types of headphones geared toward the mobility-minded crowd. Many of these work well; they do their jobs and do it with a nod to anyone semi-permanently tethered to a mobile device.

Yes, that means you, IT crowd. Always rushing about, from client to client; driving, walking, riding public transportation, or your bike. While you dash about, there are two things you might want to do:

  • Listen to music
  • Make calls

You could stick with the provided headphone/mic combination (those cheap-sounding bits of plastic that

came with your device), or you could upgrade to something with richer (or safer) sound and more features. I have covered two such devices in the past (the AfterShox Bluez 2S and the Jaybird Bluebud X). You may remember, I was very keen on the AfterShox, but the Jaybird suffered from a massive failure rate. Both companies, have made significant strides in improving their products and I wanted to bring you up to speed on each and why you might want to finally make the upgrade.

Aftershox Trekz Titanium

AfterShox is best known for their open ear, bone-conduction technology. These headphones are quite different than anything you've ever tried before, because they use the bones in your skull to conduct sound. It works...and works very well. When you first try them, it is a bit disconcerting...until you get used to it (at which point you might not ever want to go back to regular headphones again).

The improvements made on the Titanium (vs the Bluez 2S) are pretty stellar. First and foremost, they've lightened the device by using a titanium wrap-around headband. This also has the benefit of making the Titanium headset incredibly durable as well as comfortable. The Bluez 2S were fine, but after an hour or so, they could start to become slightly uncomfortable (with a larger head, this could become a serious discomfort). With the new design, the Aftershox headphones are incredibly comfortable...even after a nearly two-hour run.

Aftershox has also somehow managed to reduce sound leakage. The previous incarnation (Bluez 2S) suffered from an issue of leaking sound...so those around you could hear what you heard. This could be a serious issue if you're talking company secrets over the phone. Thankfully, Aftershox has reduced the sound leakage on the Titanium to nearly nothing. And yes, you can use the device for calls. When a call comes in, tap the multifunction button (Figure A) and start speaking.

Figure A

Figure A
Image: Jack Wallen

The Aftershox Titanium multifunction button.

The multifunction button can also do the following:

  • Click once: Play/pause music
  • Double click: Skip to next song
  • Click during incoming call: Answer call
  • Click once when second call comes in: Put first call on hold
  • Long-press for 2 seconds during incoming call: Reject incoming call
  • Long-press for 2 seconds: Voice dial
  • Double-click: Redial last number

If you already have the AfterShox Bluez 2S, the Titanium is a very worthwhile upgrade. Every aspect of an already outstanding device has been improved.

Jaybird X2

In all of my time working with such devices, I've never been so happy to see a company resolve an issue. In my review of the Jaybird Bluebud X, I concluded that the product was brilliant...while it lasted. Unfortunately, I wound up going through seven pairs of the the X's and, in the end, discarding them. What was the issue? Sweat. The device would work for a day or (up to) a week and then simply die. I believed the sweat was entering the mic and shorting out the buds.

I'm happy to report that Jaybird completely resolved the issue with the X2. I've been using the X2 headset for nearly three months now (Figure B) without a single problem. The sound is amazing (for an earbud) and the convenience of going wire-free is something you've got to experience. Why this makes me do my happy dance is simple: The Jaybird headphones produce the best sound of any exercise-centric, device I've ever used. And because they are mobility-centric, it's a no-brainer.

Figure B

Figure B
Image: Jack Wallen

The Jaybird X2s are a must-have for mobility-centric, exercise enthusiasts.

Like the Aftershox Titaniums, the X2s also allow you to take calls. With the built-in mic you can accept a call with the press of the center button (on the mic control panel). You can also switch calls by answering the second call with a single press of the center button. To reject a call, switch between calls, or voice dial, long press the center button. To redial a call, double-click the center button.

I should also mention that Jaybird has just released a new device, the Freedoms. These offer the same features and sound quality as the X2s, but are much smaller. The Freedoms also include a small battery pack which, when attached, will get you extended battery life from the device. That's important, as the Freedom battery life is only about four hours (without the pack).

Which is right for you?

The answer to this is simple: If you prefer high-quality sound over ease of use, take the X2s (or the Freedoms). If you prefer an incredibly easy experience (with the added safety brought about by being able to hear your surroundings), go with the Aftershox Titaniums. Either way, you'll come out a winner.

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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