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Smartphone Experts Hybrid Headphones

Mon Aug 4, 2008 - 9:10 AM EDT - By Andre Kibbe

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Would you recommend Smartphone Experts Hybrid Headphones for Centro, Treo?
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Product Info


"A wired headset?", you ask. "But this is the twenty-first century!"

Sure, but if you grew up a generation ago, back when the twenty-first century was considered The Future, I'm sure you were lead to believe that many things you took for granted would disappear. Paper in offices, Macs, and wired devices would all be passe.

Paper and Macs are more prevalent than ever, but wired headsets have remained on the endangered species list for years. It would be a pity to see them go. They require no instructions and no pairing. They don't require batteries and chargers. They're usually cheaper than their wireless counterparts. They're still easier to find in stereo and hybrid versions. And if you're hip enough to buy a white pair, they're still even fashionable.

Unfortunely for wired headsets, the Treo and Centro line continue their carrier-impelled tradition of sporting 2.5mm audio jacks, not the 3.5mm jacks that are standard in iPods and virtually every other digital audio player. Now there's something that needs to be brought into the twenty-first century.

But until Palm gets either the sense or the leverage to change their jacks, we have to either use a cumbersome adapter, or one of a limited selection of 2.5mm-jack stereo headphones, like the Smartphone Experts Hybrid Headphones.


The product photo of this headset is all I had to go on when I ordered my review unit, and I was honestly unimpressed. One guy's "cool industrial" design is another guy's "utilitarian and boring" design.

Then it came in the mail. As soon as I pulled it out of the envelope, I realized my original hasty assessment was . . . right on the money.

Well, almost. The anodized aluminum coating is a nice detail that doesn't come across well in photos. The aluminum housing for the microphone controller and earphones give the product more heft than typical headsets molded from plastic. It's a small detail, but it does affect how you feel about them in your ears. Most plastic earbuds feel like they're always about to fall out of my ears, but that's largely because they lack weight, not traction. These earbuds feel like they're going to stay put, because the additional weight increases my ongoing awareness of them in my ears.

I haven't used the headset long enough to get a reasonable sense of how durable it is over a few months. In cheap headsets, problems related to mediocre build quality usually surface around the third or fourth month. The wires' insulation is a little on the thin side, and the connection is somewhat loose inside the aluminum housing that terminates the wire below the earbud. It seems like it wouldn't take much wear to break the connection, but as mentioned, that's not based on actual long-term experience.

The microphone contoller has one talk/end button in the center. There's no volume control, which in unfortunate. It's much easier to operate a microphone controller's simple knob blindly than to have to look at the Treo's screen when adjusting the volume. Even wired headsets at twice the price suffer from this problem.

The alligator clip is an interesting design�not for the clip itself, but for the swivel assembly at the bottom. The swivel clip keeps the wire at the same height on your chest, but allows the wire to move around without twisting your shirt. By default, Smartphone Experts placed the clip a few inches below the microphone controller. I prefer to wear the clip above the controller to minimize the weight distribution (which keeps the conroller from tugging the headphones out of your ears). Fortunately, it's easy to change the clip's position on the wire.

The jack requires a disconcerting amount of pressure to ensure adequate contact. Several times I heard no music coming from pTunes � or worse, a muted sibilance. I had to push in the jack deeper than I'm accustomed to in order to correct the output. I've had a Treo 650 rendered useless. The speaker would no longer pass sound through it, since the jack contact was permanently engaged, regardless of whether or not anything was plugged into it. The pressure required to correctly insert the SPE Hybrid's jack makes me leery about using it much longer.

Sound Quality

When the jack is properly seated, the sound quality is surprisingly good for a $15 headset. I only notice some minor distortion in the upper midrange when electric guitars were playing. The biggest problem is keeping the jack properly seated. Even though the jack tends to look and feel securely inserted, silence or sibilance (a hissing on high frequencies) usually indicates that the jack needs some adjustment. Once I would push the jack deeper into the Centro than seemed warranted, the sound problems would vanish. Typically it was the rotation of the jack that would bring the problem on. If I had the Centro laid on the desk, there were no issues, but if I started walking around with the phone in my pocket, the movement would induce jack rotation, and the sound would cut out or distort from time to time.

The call quality, inbound and outbound, was pretty much in line with what I expect from wired headsets: muted highs, but clear enough in the bass and midrange to be practical. Virtually all wired headsets have this characteristic, so it's pretty easy to identify callers using them.


Unless you have smaller than average ears, this pair of headphones provide a secure fit without being cumbersome. There's nothing exceptional about this headset: its sound is reasonably good, and it's dead simple to operate. It's comparable to a few hybrid headsets in the $20-25 range from Palm or Plantronics, so on that score, it's a good value.



Design 3
Usability/Durability 3
Features 3
Cost/Benefit 4
(not an average)
  • Attractive aluminum plating
  • Fits securely in ears of normal size
  • Clip swivels to adjust for wire movement
  • Good sound quality for the price
  • Cons
  • Jack must be inserted with pressure to ensure contact
  • Wire insulation is thin
  • No volume knob
  • Earbud diameter may be uncomfortably large for some ears

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