Plantronics Voyager 510: A pretty darn good Bluetooth headset

As a follow up to my review of the Motorola E815, I wanted to share the good experience I’ve had with the Plantronics Voyager 510 Bluetooth Headset. Not only does the Voyager 510 work well with my bluetooth phone, but it also works great with the bluetooth on my Mac when using skype.

Before I tried the Voyager 510 , I was skeptical that the sound quality of a bluetooth headset would ever be good enough to replace a wired headset. I had a little evidence to support this fact. For starters, I borrowed a friend’s headset, which I believe was the HS-850. I wrongly assumed that this top-of-the-line headset produced by Motorola would be the perfect match for my Motorola phone. Unfortunately, I found the audio quality was poor, with that tin-can sort of sound. People on the other end could hear me as long as there wasn’t any other noise around, but it all seemed very fishy. How the heck do those little mics work when they are so far away from your mouth anyways?

Overview

Enter the Plantronics Voyager 510 The earpiece is kinda like an ear bud, and gets pretty far into the ear canal. This configuration gets the sound a lot closer to the eardrum, and increases the sound quality quite a bit. Next, notice the long rubberized cushion that doubles as the battery back and the hanger-on-the-ear piece. I believe the large surface area of this part enables the headset to stay comfortable even after long periods of use. I’ve been on a few 3 hour conference calls with this headset, and never had the urge to rip the headset off my ear because it was painful. Finally, the mic is on the end of a small boom which seems to help a lot with sound quality for folks on the receiving end. Lyla has even told me that she thinks I sound better when using the Voyager 510 than when I use my cell phone alone. In fact, Lyla is getting a Voyager 510 for herself since she likes mine so much.

Skype

The Voyager 510 features “Multipoint Technology”, which is supposed to mean that you can pair two different connected bluetooth devices at the same time without too much trouble. I’ve been connecting the Voyager 510 to my Mac via bluetooth as my skype headset, and it’s been working pretty good recently. When I first started using the headset with my Mac, I did run into a few odd problems where skype wasn’t able to pair with the headset, but I suspect that was a problem that’s been resolved in a recent OS X update as it’s been working flawlessly recently. Remember those 3 hour conference calls I referred to previously? Those were all over skype. Not bad I say, not bad.

Minor gripes

As glowing as my review here is, there are a few minor issues. I miss the way the HS-850 instantly connects to your phone when you open the headset. It’s also a little annoying that I have to use a separate charger for the headset. Some of the newer Motorola headsets allow you to plug into any USB port for charging, cutting down on the amount of stuff you have to carry with you when you travel.

wrap up

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. The Plantronics Voyager 510 does the trick.

Product Review: Motorola E815

I meant to write about this a long time ago, but fortunately I think this is still relevant. Back in August 2005, after much research and a failed attempt at using T-Mobile, I switched to Verizon and the Motorola E815. My basic requirements were as follows:

* Bluetooth that I could sync up with my Mac (phone numbers and calendar items)
* Good text messaging capabilities
* Good reception in my apartment here in San Francisco
* Decent battery life
* Clamshell form factor

I’m happy to report that the Motorola E815 has accomplished all this and then some.

Reception
After much research I discovered that the reception of the Motorola E815 was seemingly unparalleled. In practice this has proven to be quite true. I almost always have a full set of bars, and I can’t remember the last time I had a problem with reception. I believe this is for two reasons:

* The E815 just gets really good reception
* The CDMA network Verizon is built on is technically superior to other networks.

Bluetooth Sync

Syncing calendar and phone book items with a Mac is a snap using bluetooth. It works exactly as expected.

Bluetooth file transfer

This is a sore point with Verizon. Verizon seems to want to make a few extra bucks off of us by forcing you into using their ‘service’ to get pictures off the phone or use custom ring tones. The way they force you into using their service is by disabling the bluetooth file transfer feature. Lame! Fortunately, some smart people figured out how to hack the phone to re-enable the file transfer feature. It’s pretty risky, so you’re taking your chances if you implement this hack, but I’m glad I did it. Now I’m able to put any mp3 I want on the phone as a ring tone. (Got me some chill Toots & the Maytals as my alarm instead of some annoying ringer)

Also after the hack, I can easily transfer photos off of the phone via bluetooth. Pretty sweet, but it sucks that you have to jump through hoops to make this work.

Use your phone as a modem

Another nifty feature is the ability to use the Motorola E815 as a modem. Today I was taking CalTrain to San Mateo to meet up with my partner Clint , and on the way down I was able to use the E815 as a connection to the internet. The really cool thing was that I was able to connect from my PowerBook to the phone wirelessly over bluetooth. While the train was moving, I was able to surf the web, check my email, IM with Clint, and even ssh into our production server to check on some server logs. I’m not sure what the speed is, but I think it’s a bit slower than DSL, yet certainly fast enough to make the experience acceptable. Don’t forget to turn on DUN (Dial up Networking) to enable this feature. (It’s easy to do) I found some decent instructions on how to do all this here.

Bluetooth headset

I’m going to have to write another whole post on pairing the most excellent Plantronics Voyager 510 Bluetooth Headset with the E815. Suffice to say, I know of at least 3 friends of mine that have gotten this headset after trying mine out. I was very skeptical that a bluetooth headset would perform very well, but this one does the trick, and when paired with the E815, a handsfree experience with no wires is very much a reality.

Is there anything wrong with this phone?

Yes, I’m a big fan of this phone, but I do have a few minor gripes. The form factor of this phone is a little less sturdy than some comparable models…. nothing to shake your confidence too much, but it does lack the really tight hinge feel that some phones have. Another thing that bugged me when I first got the phone was the size. The Motorola E815 is a bit on the big side compared to other clamshell phones. The size thing probably bugged me the most about this phone when I first got it, but after using it a while I’m ok with the size… it actually is easier for me to hold since I have big hands.

In summary, I’m a big fan of the Motorola E815 and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this phone to anyone. Most importantly, the reception of the phone is fantastic. It’s got great features, and the price isn’t bad now that it’s been out for a while…. Amazon has some pretty good deals on the phone, too, with an excellent rebate.

Replaced my car with ZipCar

I’ve been trying out ZipCar for a few months, and have been happy enough with the service that I went ahead and sold my car. After much careful thought, I came to the conclusion that ZipCar was going to save me time and money, and allow me to drive newer cars on a regular basis. Perhaps most importantly, I wont be tempted to hop in the car for those short optional trips, reducing carbon emissions into the environment.

  • I was paying $65/month for car insurance. Now I pay about the same amount for ZipCar each month.
  • I was paying about $1000/year maintaining my nearly 9 year old car. With ZipCar, that expense goes away, and I get to drive nifty new cars like the fun Mini Cooper and the environmentally friendly Prius.
  • With ZipCar, gas is included in the price of the rental.
  • I used to have to look for parking on the street for my car, but ZipCar vehicles have reserved spaces 5-10 minutes from my apartment

Admittedly, ZipCar probably doesn’t work for everyone, but if you think it might work for you, it’s worth checking out.

New event syntax in OpenLaszlo

If you follow OpenLaszlo news closely, you may have noticed that a new event syntax is available in OpenLaszlo 3.2 which makes specifying and handing your own events more straightforward. I think the folks at Laszlo Systems made a smart move in adopting the new syntax as it is more intuitive, and will reduce confusion for new developers.

Curiously, the only documentation I found describing the new syntax was in this feature proposal, and in the nightly builds of the reference guide and the developers guide. Somehow the new syntax is missing from the shipping 3.2 docs.

In a nutshell the syntax is:

  • <event name="onMyEvent"/> – Declare an event
  • <handler name="onMyEvent">
    //some code here to handle event
    </handler>
  • onMyEvent.sendEvent() – notify event listeners that the event fired

Kudos to the OpenLaszlo folks for continuing to evolve the language.