Research In Motion (RIM) makes a whole lot more than just BlackBerry smartphones; the Canadian-company sells BlackBerry Enterprise Servers (BES) and secure smart-card readers to organizations to name a couple examples, along with a bevy of smartphone- and gadget-related accessories like skins, cases, and Bluetooth peripherals for everyday BlackBerry owners.
In fact, the mobile-market has seen a notable increase in RIM-branded BlackBerry accessories released in the past year or so, and that growth has largely coincided with the company's success moving from the enterprise-smartphone-ranks, which RIM dominated for years, to the vast consumer market. In other words, as RIM builds and expands its customer base, it's also growing its product portfolio accordingly.
The company's latest smartphone accessory? The RIM BlackBerry HS-500 Wireless Headset. Many of RIM's new products are meant to not only bring in additional dollars but also drive up loyalty to the BlackBerry brand. RIM's latest accessory, the BlackBerry Wireless Headset HS-500, falls into this category, with its BlackBerry-smartphone-like design and large, can't-miss "seven-dot" BlackBerry logo.
As such, the BlackBerry Bluetooth HS-500 Headset's target audience is the die-hard BlackBerry purist, the person with everything BlackBerry. But it works with just about any other Bluetooth-enabled devices, as well, so even iPhone-enthusiasts can embrace headset-diversity and employ the HS-500, should they so choose.
The HS-500 isn't RIM's first Bluetooth headset, but it's certainly the company's best wireless headset to date.
Keep moving through the rest of my review to see whether or not the BlackBerry HS-500 Bluetooth Headset can and/or should replace your existing ear-piece or speakerphone. First up, what RIM did right...
BlackBerry HS-500 Bluetooth Hands-Free Headset: Hands in the Air
The BlackBerry HS-500 Bluetooth Headset is a follow-up to the company's discontinued HS-655 headset, and as far as looks go, the HS-500 has its elder sibling beat by a long shot. Where the HS-655 was long skinny and a bit awkward, the HS-500 is minimalistic, at less than two inches long and less than three-quarters of an inch wide.
The headset is also very "conservative-looking." In fact, I received a number of comments from friends and family while using the HS-500 who said the gadget looked too "boring" or "plain," but personally, I think that's a good thing. I want my Bluetooth headset to blend in, not stand out, and RIM has done a nice job producing an aesthetically-pleasing headset that doesn't scream "Look at Me!"
The HS-500 is currently only available in one color: black/gray. It certainly wouldn't have been a bad thing for RIM to release the headset in a few different color options, and if you're looking for fashion over function, the BlackBerry HS-500 might not be for you. But like I said, I'm really not looking for a fluorescent-yellow headset that resembles a short-circuiting UFO, so I don't mind the lack of color options.
Speaking of flashing lights, the BlackBerry HS-500 has just one LED on its bottom-panel, which blinks only when you first turn it on or off, or when you're pairing with or connecting to a device. I appreciate how there's no constantly-blinking annoying light on the HS-500's face, like so many other popular Bluetooth headsets.
And the bottom-facing LED glows in the same red, green and blue tones as your BlackBerry smartphone's LED to signify different connection states--a nice touch that BlackBerry-enthusiasts will surely appreciate.
I was able to employ my BlackBerry's voice-command features via the HS-500 without any issue.
The device's $79.99 ShopBlackBerry.com price tag is reasonable for this mid-level headset--the cheapest price I found for the HS-500 was $69.99 on CrackBerry.com.
Finally, the two of the most important features in a Bluetooth headset: audio/voice quality and ease of use. The BlackBerry HS-500 unfortunately gets only mediocre marks in these categories, since it provides average sound quality for an $80 headset and is very simple to operate, but lacks some key controls. (Check out the next section of this review for specific on those missing features.)
Recipients on the other end of calls I placed using the HS-500 reported some levels of static and that "far-away, other-end-of-a-tunnel" sounding audio-quality common to middle-of-the-road Bluetooth headsets. Overall, I was satisfied with the audio quality, but not really impressed.
The HS-500 lets you stream music stored on your device or via the Internet, assuming your handset supports stereo Bluetooth, and though it's a cool feature, I can't really see myself using it particularly often. I employ RIM's VM-605 Bluetooth Speakerphone while driving, which routes my BlackBerry music collection to my car's stereo system, and I'd really rather use a decent set of headphones than deal with the less-than-exceptional, single-ear speaker afforded by the HS-500.
The gadget also routes GPS driving directions from compatible navigation apps, like TeleNav Navigator, through the in-ear speaker.
I used the headset to place a number of calls, and I also listened to Pink Floyd's "The Wall" via my BlackBerry Bold 9000 and HS-500 headset, as well as Mos Def's "The Ecstatic" album using an iPhone 3G and the HS-500. Audio on my end was decent, but not great, in all instances. (Note: I use BlueAnt's V1 headset most frequently, so my call-quality comparisons are largely based on experience with this specific headset.)
As for ease of use, the HS-500 literally has only two buttons: one on/off switch that does nothing more than turn the gadget on or off; and a "main control" button that does everything else. The design is a decent one, and I appreciate the lack of extraneous keys, but I've got a number of complaints on that front, as well.
Jump over to the next section for details...
BlackBerry HS-500 Wireless Headset: Just Don't Care
My most significant complaint regarding RIM's BlackBerry HS-500 headset is the device's lack of volume controls. The missing volume keys--even a volume function as part of the main control key--is not an oversight on RIM's part; in fact, the company purposely left volume controls out, because of a feature that's supposed to automatically modify your sound levels based on surroundings.
The idea sounds like a great one, but in reality, I found myself constantly reaching for my BlackBerry to manually turn up call-volume, because there's no way to do it via the HS-500. In other words, the auto-volume control doesn't work very well, at least in my experience. The whole purpose of using a Bluetooth headset like the HS-500, particularly while driving, is to reduce or eliminate the need to look at your device, so the lack of volume controls on the headset largely defeats the gadget's purpose; What good is the headset if f you need to grab your smartphone every time you want to modify the volume?
Also, I had issues listening to music on my iPhone 3G via the HS-500, due to the lack of volume buttons and the fact that the headset would not respond to manual iPhone volume tweaks.
As mentioned in the previous section, the HS-500 is operated by a single "main control" button, which is located on the gadget's outward-facing side. Again, the idea is a good one--to minimize confusion by minimizing the amount of buttons--but I found myself accidentally clicking the main control key every time I touched the headset, whether I was securing or removing it, repositioning it for comfort, or simply making sure it hadn't fallen out.
This isn't a major fault, as the control button must be depressed a number of times, in varying orders or for multiple seconds, to execute commands. But it was still annoying, since the headset beeps whenever the main control button is clicked--purposefully or accidentally.
The HS-500 Bluetooth Headset comes with four different-sized in-ear "gels" meant to help users find the best fit for their individual ears, as well as two over-the-ear hooks. However, the gels are all exactly the same shape, though each one is slightly larger than the last.
Anyone who employs lots of Bluetooth headsets knows that fit is one of the most important considerations for prospective buyers. In fact, most high-end headsets come with a bunch of gels in different sizes and shapes, because, well, human ears come in all different sizes and shapes. There is no one size--or shape--fits all approach to Bluetooth headsets, and I would've liked to see RIM offer not only different size gels, but shapes, as well.
Like a number of RIM's recent smartphone accessories--including the BlackBerry VM-605 Speakerphone--the HS-500 headset comes with only a micro-USB vehicle charger. The problem: People use Bluetooth headsets in more locations than just in the car. As such, the HS-500 should really come with a regular micro USB to USB cord, like the ones that come with RIM's new BlackBerry devices, and a vehicle-charging adapter so the cord could be used to charge inside via PC or in the car via vehicle charge. In fact, RIM could even throw in an AC power adapter for the cord so users could charge via wall, PC and car using the same cord.
Finally, RIM's once again continuing to confuse its customers via awkward product names and model numbers. In this case, RIM picked the exact same name for its new Bluetooth headset as a well-known--and not exactly adored--Bluetooth headset from Motorola: the HS-500. RIM tells me this is purely coincidence, and that Motorola, is in no way involved with this headset. But if that's really the case, you have to wonder about the marketing team that decided on the name without first researching it.
And to sum that all up...
BlackBerry HS-500 Wireless Headset Review Conclusion
RIM's brand new HS-500 Bluetooth Headset is a worthy addition to the company's smartphone-accessories line-up, and it's RIM's best headset to date. BlackBerry purists will be pleased with the form factor, which matches the design and styling of most of RIM's latest handhelds.
The HS-500 is also easy to use and functional, with decent audio quality and a cool feature that lets you stream music from stereo-Bluetooth-equipped gadgets--even though that music only comes through the HS-500's single, somewhat weak speaker.
Gadget geeks who seek the latest and greatest Bluetooth headset will want to keep looking--Jabra Stone, anyone? But folks who don't value the glitz and glamour of such high-end, attention grabbing headsets will find a friend in the BlackBerry HS-500. And at $80 or cheaper, it shouldn't put too much of a dent in the ol' wallet.
RIM BlackBerry Wireless Headset HS-500
$79.99 at ShopBlackBerry.com
Handsome, simple design; reasonable price; no annoying, constantly flashing LED; streams music from compatible devices with stereo Bluetooth; easy, single-button-based controls.
No dedicated volume keys or volume-specific controls; in-ear gels are all the same shape; ships with only a vehicle charger; difficult to handle the HS-500 without accidentally depressing "main control" key.
BlackBerry enthusiasts will appreciate the HS-500, RIM's best Bluetooth headset to date. It offers decent audio quality, stereo Bluetooth for streaming music and looks great alongside RIM handhelds. But gadget enthusiasts who want the best wireless headset on the market will probably want to pass for a more feature-packed option.
This story, "RIM BlackBerry HS-500 Wireless Headset" was originally published by CIO.