Top positive review
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Five Stars, With One Small Complaint...
on April 23, 2013
I needed a better option for using turn by turn navigation while riding my motorcycle than earbud style headphones. I decided to start looking for Bluetooth headsets that I could mount inside my helmet, and I decided on the SMH5-02 for a couple of reasons.
1. The 02 version comes with a wired mic, instead of a boom style mic, and I felt that this would be a better option for a full faced helmet than the boom.
2. I don't have anyone else that I ride with, so long range of the intercom function wasn't a deciding factor at all.
The item arrived quickly and I set about installing it. I'm using an HJC CL-16 helmet, and the entire unit was installed with all wires hidden in about 15 minutes, most of which was arranging the speakers so that they were in the correct spot and getting the liner in and out of the helmet.
After installing, I paired it to my iPhone 5, which I would be using for GPS, phone (obviously, right?), and music. It paired quickly and without any issues.
I was instantly able to play music through the speakers, and it sounded about how I expected it to sound. That is, the highs were okay, and the bass is nonexistent. This, however, is to be expected with the tiny speakers that are included with the package. I hope this doesn't sound as if I'm saying the speakers are bad...they're not...they work and do what they are supposed to, but don't expect them to be sounding like your nice over the ear headphones or your home surround sound system.
I did notice a couple of times when switching from music, to movies, to the internet, to videos on my iPhone that the sound would cut out in the speakers. I was able to remedy this a couple of ways...first, if I went on the phone to the Bluetooth settings and hit the SMH5 device, it would effectively re-pair the device and the sound would come back. The other was by hitting the "call" button on the SMH5 itself, and waiting for it to time out, then the sound would come back. I want to note that after updating the device to it's most recent firmware, I haven't been able to replicate this problem, so I'm believing it to be a problem that was remedied by the firmware update.
I will also take this moment to explain the "One Small Complaint" that I have mentioned in the title of this review. When using the turn by turn navigation with no music playing, the voice comes over the speakers very faintly at first before adjusting itself to the normal volume. For instance, if it's telling me "In 1/2 mile, turn right on Jones Street," the "In 1/2" will be much quieter than the rest of the direction. I believe that this is done so that when you are riding there is not a sudden and unexpected voice screaming in your ear, which could cause a scare if you aren't really expecting it, but, the problem it presents is that the way my GPS works, it makes it so that at speed I can't hear the distance I need to hear in order to follow the direction. What I mean is that I don't know if it's telling me "In 1/4 mile," or "In 1/2 mile," or "In 3/4 mile." This can present a bit of a problem, especially if you are trying to use the GPS with no other sounds. I've tried to find a turn by turn program that works by first sounding a "Beep" or a "Chime" or something before giving the voice command, but I haven't been able to find one yet, and I've tried three or four of them. This may be a problem more with the phone than the headset, as I have no other GPS device or Bluetooth headset to test to see if it's the phone or the headset.
Now, to counteract this small complaint, this issue is completely gone if you are listening to something else through the headset while also listening to the turn by turn navigation. For instance, if I am listening to music while also having turn by turn going, the turn by turn voice will cut in while the music is playing at it's normal volume, and it will turn the volume of the music down so you can more easily hear the turn by turn voice. The system works flawlessly when using it like this, and no directions are missed because of the volume being too low. So, as long as you have another source of sound coming through the speakers, my "One Small Complaint" becomes a non-issue. I have contacted Sena to see if this is a known issue, and they responded by telling me to do a firmware upgrade and a factory reset. I haven't done this yet (well, I already did the firmware upgrade), and I don't know if I will at this point as I don't have too much of a problem with the system the way it works right now. I will say that I have asked a few other users if they have experienced this, and they have not...but they also said that they are typically listening to music while riding (so they wouldn't notice the problem in the first place) or they are not using an iPhone (so it's possible that this may be a problem with the phone, and not the headset).
I had not planned on listening to music all the time with the system, I got it primarily for the GPS, but after riding with the music on I don't think I'll be going back to no music. I thought it may have been distracting, but it turned out to be extremely pleasant. The nice thing about the SMH5 for music is the device has a rotary dial on it for controlling the music.
The rotary dial is used to control all of the sounds. You use it like a typical volume knob to turn the volume up and down, which is very easy to do and intuitive. I've read that other devices use combinations of buttons that you have to press to turn the volume up and down...which seems much more involved than just turning the dial. If you want to pause the music, you just press the rotary dial in until you hear it beep, then press it in again until it beeps to unpause the music. To move the tracks forward or backwards, you press the rotary dial in and turn it forward or backwards. All of this is very easy to do while riding, and really intuitive. With that said, to skip around the music, I use Siri on my iPhone. To do this, I just press the "call" button on the headset and Siri responds, and I tell her to go to the next track, and she does this. So, with voice control on the phone, it's even more intuitive.
I also used the SMH5 to make and receive a couple of phone calls. Making the calls was easy with the iPhone, as I would hit the call button and tell Siri to "Call Wife" and she would dial my wife for me. Incoming calls were easily answered by pressing the button on the headset. You are supposed to be able to answer the calls by saying any word loudly into the microphone, but I was unable to get the device to work this way routinely. A few times it worked, other times it didn't. It seems that as I was travelling at higher speeds, it would work less and less. I believe this to be a problem with the wind noise inside the helmet. My CL-16 is not the quietest helmet in the world. I was able to get the "answer by voice" function to work better at high speeds by holding my hand under the front of the helmet, thus blocking out some of the wind noise. A chin cover is available for my helmet, which will probably help get the voice answering to work flawlessly...but I don't plan on using the phone a lot, so using the button the few times I do get a call is not a big deal. After all of this, the call quality is amazing.
When I first called my wife, she didn't believe that I was actually riding the motorcycle. She said I sounded just as clear as I normally do on the phone, and if anything I sounded a bit louder. This was more than likely because I was talking louder because I thought that I might have to. On my end, she sounded just as clear as I expected considering the speakers are inside a helmet and there was quite a bit of wind noise. I would rate the quality of the device for making and receiving calls as exceptional.
After all of this, it's time to sum up the SMH5-02. In a word, great. I really like the device. It was easy to install, sounds pretty good, and works exceptionally well. If you are looking for something to listen to music or GPS directions and aren't too concerned with bike to bike communications, then the SMH5 would be a homerun for you. Keep in mind my "One Small Complaint" if you are getting it solely to use as with a GPS, but also keep in mind that I'm not sure if it's the headset or my phone that is causing that complaint. Even so, give riding with some music a try...it wasn't distracting, as I thought it may have been, and actually proved to be quite pleasurable.
Overall, I'm really glad I made the purchase. I look forward to getting a ton of use out of the device!!!!