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Old 05-02-2007, 04:00 PM
Don Tolson
Thoughts Media Review Team
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 749
Default Talking on the Wind -- the Helium Digital Bluetooth Communicator HDBT-110



Product Category: Hardware – Bluetooth Speaker Headset
Manufacturer: Helium Digital
Where to Buy: Helium Digital
Price: $89.99CAD (approx. $78 USD – Charged in $CAD, your credit card company will perform the conversion at the time of sale.)
System Requirements: Any system supporting Bluetooth 1.2. The Communicator supports A2DP connections for audio as well.
Specifications: 98.6 x 98 x 27mm (3.88 x 3.86 x 1.1in) 77gr.(2.7oz) 900MAh battery provides 10 hours talk time, 500 hours standby.

Pros:
  • Very easy to use and set up;
  • Compact, lightweight unit;
  • Very good noise reduction and sound quality.

    Cons:
  • Buttons are hard to see in the dark;
  • Would like to have a little stronger magnets for surer mounting, but they worked fine.

    Summary:
    Sometimes, you want (or need) to include more people in the conversation, or are just tired of wearing your Bluetooth headset and being referred to as 'Data'. So, the Helium Bluetooth Communicator (HDBT-110) might be just the thing for you. It's a speakerphone which connects to your Bluetooth-enabled phone in the same way as a headset, and provides handsfree operation for you and your friends in the car or at the office.

    Read on for the full review!

    Introduction
    Being a family man and very safety conscious, I've made use of a Bluetooth headset almost exclusively when I'm biking or driving around town. After a while though, it gets tiring and/or uncomfortable, and sometimes I want to include others in the conversation. So, I was quite intrigued with Helium Digital offered Pocket PC Thoughts the chance to review their HDBT-110 unit.

    The unit comes packaged in the usual bubble plastic container, and includes almost everything you need to get started.


    Figure 1: Contents of the Helium Communicator package.

    Included are:
  • The Communicator unit;
  • Car adapter (for what we used to call the cigarette lighter);
  • USB charging cable;
  • Metal mounting brackets for the visor and ventilation grille; and /li>
  • User Manual.

    The Communicator unit itself is just under 4 inches in diameter, but I thought a comparison shot to a couple of PPCs would be helpful.


    Figure 2: The Helium Communicator compared to an ETEN X500 (left) and a Dell Axim X50v (right).

    I tested the Communicator on both my ETEN X500 Phone-enabled PPC, and on a Motorola RAZR v3. I also paired it with my Fujitsu T4210 laptop, just to see how well the audio worked. There was only one little glitch on the ETEN unit. The X500 uses Voice Commander by Cyberon as its voice dialer application, and the Communicator uses a push and hold on the Volume Down (-) key to activate voice dialing from the Communicator. Although there was no problem with initiation of Voice Dialing, I couldn't subsequently turn down the Communicator's volume without losing the connection, since Voice Commander saw any press of this button as a disconnect. On the RAZR though, this problem didn't exist, everything worked exactly as published.

    Installation and Setup
    After getting the package opened, the first order of business is to charge the internal battery. Within the Communicator, the rechargeable battery is already installed, and not user replaceable. Charging is accomplished through the supplied cable, which has a standard USB plug on one end and what looks like a proprietary connector on the other. One neat feature about the Communicator is that the charging socket on the unit comes with a rubber protective insert, which is attached to the Communicator unit.


    Figure 3: Location of the connectors and controls on the Helium Communicator.

    For the initial charging, I used a wall-plug to USB adapter I had available and used it. After about 3.5 hours, the blue and red LEDs went out and it was done. I haven't had to recharge it yet, but according to the manual, subsequent charges should take 2 to 3 hours.

    Connecting the Communicator is just like using a regular Bluetooth headset. There is no software nor drivers to install. You just need to have the phone (or laptop or whatever) recognize the device and establish pairing. It even uses the common '0000' security PIN, if required.


    Figure 4: The Helium Communicator recognized by the ETEN Bluetooth Manager.

    After initial pairing was set up, I found that both phones immediately reconnected whenever the Communicator was turned on.

    Using the Communicator
    The Helium Communicator incorporates two sets of LEDs to display status – one blue and one red, which are co-located in a ring around the central speaker. The blue set is used to show the unit is on (single flash) and paired (multi-flash).


    Figure 5: Blue LEDs surround the Helium speaker

    The red set shows when the unit is being shut down.


    Figure 6: Helium's Red LEDs.

    When the unit is charging, both the blue and red are displayed solidly together, giving a cute pink tinge. When charging is complete, the red LEDs will go out, leaving just the blue. The blue and red flash alternately when the battery needs recharging.

    There are also audio cues provided for power on (ascending tones), paired (single blip), and shut down (descending tones).

    Once everything is paired up, operation is simple and straightforward. The only slight oddity I found was the use of the Volume Down (-) key to initiate Voice Dialing, since my Motorola BT Headset uses the pickup button. Since the Communicator supports advanced functions like Call Waiting and Conferencing (if you've subscribed to these) each of the buttons has multiple functions, based on the current mode and tap vs. press and hold. All of these are explained very clearly in the User Manual which comes with the unit.

    In the Car
    When I first started reading the promotional material on the Communicator (in advance of actually arriving), I was struck by the reference to a “unique magnetic mounting system”. I have to admit, my first thought was “How will this work?" As far I remember, practically everything on the dash of my car is either cloth or plastic! Well, I have to admit, I was very pleasantly surprised. The package comes with two very cool mounting attachments – one for the visor, and another which can be clipped into the ventilation grille.

    The visor one is simply a U-shaped piece of springy metal (see package contents above) which slides onto the visor. There is an indentation built into the straight piece of metal which exactly fits the magnets on the bottom of the Communicator. Although the magnets are not super strong and don't give that satisfying 'clunk' when they've attached, everything seemed to stay in place well. I never got the feeling the Communicator was going to come flying off the mounting on a sudden stop.


    Figure 7: The Communicator mounted on the Visor.

    The ventilator grille mounting is pretty ingenious. It consists of a flat piece of metal with the same indentations to match the magnets, and a slot for a plastic clip. (You can see them on the far right of the package contents photo.) The plastic clip can be slid onto the metal in either of two orientations, depending upon whether your ventilation grilles go up-and-down or side-to-side. Once the clip is on the metal strip, the whole thing is clipped onto one of the louvers of the ventilation grille and voila... you how have a magnetic mount for the Communicator!


    Figure 8: Here's the mounting system clipped into the ventilator grille.


    Figure 9: Mounted on the ventilator grille. With the blinking LEDs, the kids think the van feels like a spaceship. :-)

    The Communicator worked very well in my van. Noise reduction was very good. The people I talked to noted very clear reception, even with the radio on (albeit low), and I was able to hear them with no problem. There is easily sufficient volume in the unit to hear your callers, even with fairly noisy road surfaces. It might be a bit hard to hear though, with the windows open while traveling at high speed. :-) I didn't try responding to call from the 2nd or 3rd row of back seats in the van, but imagine it would work alright if the interior was fairly quiet (i.e. windows rolled up). The only downside was driving at night, when it was difficult to see where the buttons were located and I had to feel my way to the correct one. It would be great if the next version had luminescent or back-lit labels for the buttons.

    In the Office
    In the office the Helium Bluetooth Communicator can be used as an impromptu speaker phone for sharing conversations. It definitely has better quality reproduction than the speakers built into most phone PPCs or cell phones and it seemed to have better pickup at the microphone as well. It seems to work as well as, or slightly better than the units built into desk phone units and would be good in a smaller boardroom / meeting room with 4 or 5 other people. It certainly wouldn't work as well as a dedicated speakerphone in a larger boardroom.

    Pairing with my Fujitsu laptop was also very easy, with the Communicator showing up as a headset unit. To be honest, I was quite impressed with the quality of the sound reproduction on music. It certainly wasn't as good as a home stereo or a decent pair of headphones, but it had much better frequency range than the speakers in the laptop and most of the smaller external speaker sets available. It would be quite usable for sharing a presentation, including music, with a small to medium group. On the laptop, there were even settings for audio quality – standard and high. Switching to the High setting did produce a noticeably (albeit) slightly better sound.

    Documentation
    As mentioned above, the Communicator comes with an illustrated User Manual which describes all the functions and features of the unit. It's also available on the website. I have to admit, it was a real treat to read documentation which had been written by someone who speaks English natively. It was crisp, to the point, and covered all the salient points of using the Helium Communicator. I was very surprised to find it was in English only. Maybe other language translations will be coming in the future.

    Conclusions
    This unit is so easy to use, it's become a permanent addition to my traveling package. It's great to use in the car, when you want to include others in the conversation (we find it particularly good when we're using our cell phones to keep track of others in our vacation 'convoy'). And it was quite a hit at the office when we were strapped for a room with a conference phone – we just had the conference right at my cubicle! About the only things I wish they would add are slightly stronger magnets, just so I get more of a 'clunk' when I attach and I know it's there to stay and illuminated buttons for night driving would be wonderful.

    Don is an Associate Director with Fujitsu Consulting and a member of its Enterprise Mobility Community. Talking on the wind just seems to come naturally... :roll:
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