Samsung unveiled a Bluetooth wireless headset a few days ago called the Gear Circle that can attach together to form a necklace of sorts. Which the press promptly made fun of.
Fast Company: Would you wear this dorky headphone necklace by Samsung?
Business Insider: Samsung’s new necklace is the strangest tech product we’ve seen all year.
I actually think it’s a neat idea, and will explain why in a bit. The subject of today’s post is not the Gear Circle per se but two of its predecessors: the Jaybird Bluebuds X and Valore VL-BTi25.
I was set on something wireless and was tempted to get a pair of Bluetooth cans. However, they aren’t portable and awful outdoors on a hot day.
So I decided on in-ear instead and opted for the Jaybird Bluebuds X. They connect wirelessly to your device – set-up was simple and it works with smartphones, tablets and PCs via Bluetooth. You can do all the usual stuff like phone calls, music navigation and volume control.
The Bluebuds X were designed with exercising in mind, but I found myself reaching for them instead of my normal headphones for pretty much everything. The fact they’re wireless was a revelation. The Bluebuds X were carried a lot more; when not in use, they simply hung around my neck. When I needed them, they were available in a snap – no more untangling headphone cables and awkwardly fitting it into the phone’s port.
Unexpected benefits accrue when you always have headphones with you. Calls are more pleasurable when you don’t have a slimy screen next to your face. It’s easier to take and make calls while driving. Games that rely heavily on audio, like Sword & Sworcery, can actually be played in a pinch. The phone itself is more usable when not physically tethered to cables.
There are only two downsides to the device category, and both are significant.
First, Bluetooth headsets are battery powered. Jaybird claims 8 hours of talk time, but reality felt significantly less than that. It’s also not easy to tell when they’re low on battery; there were many occasions they died on me early in the day.
The second drawback is audio quality. The Bluebuds X are supposed to be great despite being based on Bluetooth; however, I found its sound mid-range at most, and not at all best-in-class considering the $140 price. Fortunately, they are good enough. I found the trade-off in lower sound quality for convenience worth it.
You might have noticed I’ve been using the past tense to talk about my experience with the Bluebuds X. That’s because I lost them a couple weeks ago – I was on the plane and fell asleep. When I woke up after landing, I forgot to check whether I still had them; they had apparently fallen to the ground while tossing and turning in my sleep.
And that’s why I find the Samsung Circle so intriguing. I would have loved to keep the wireless headphones around my neck in a stable manner. My friend, who also owns a pair of Bluebuds X, went so far as to stick Velcro on its earpieces to keep them attached.
That brings us to the Valore VL-BTi25. I was browsing Challenger, an electronics chain in Singapore, and they had a promotion for it. Instead of the normal $160 price, they were on sale for $40 (apparently only for for a limited time).
Valore is a house brand for Challenger; that means its products were made by OEMs. Because distribution is guaranteed, they don’t have to invest as much in marketing and can thus theoretically undercut the competition. This is fine for simple products like USB hubs and power banks; but you wonder whether a generic brand can pull off audio.
Note: Valore may only be available in Singapore – apologies in advance to readers outside the island state.
While in the store, I searched the web for a review of the VL-BTi25 and couldn’t find any. I had trouble even finding product images for this post.
I definitely would not have purchased headphones from an unknown brand without a credible review for $160; but for $40, it was worth a chance.
So how do they compare to the Bluebuds X?
Sound quality is worse; they might even be considered below average. Mids and highs are hollow while bass is passable. Bluetooth connectivity isn’t as great; the connection drops off more rapidly with some distance. This isn’t a big deal though as your phone won’t be far away, but it’s something I noticed.
Battery life seems roughly on par, as are all the basic functionality. I haven’t had the chance to thoroughly test the quality of the mic yet, and will update this post if it’s exceptionally good or bad.
The production quality is surprisingly good – they might even be more comfortable than the Bluebuds X and fit better in the ear. I like how Valore moved the buttons from a remote like in the Bluebuds X to the right earpiece itself; it’s sleeker that way.
Whether they look better is debatable. The Bluebuds X does its best to look like normal headphones but stick out nevertheless. The Valore doesn’t even bother to pretend; the earpieces are enormous and look a little strange when worn; but on paper they look good. Sexy even.
Between the two choices, at the normal prices of $140 and $160 for the Jaybird and Valore respectively, I would definitely go with the former due to better sound quality and a more established brand. But at $40, the Valore VL-BTi25 is fantastic value. A steal actually.