Sunday, July 15, 2012

SONY Smart Wireless Headset Pro Review


SONY smart wireless headset 02

So I finally got around to test the Smart Wireless Headset Pro. The device was announced earlier this year, but wasn’t released until the end of June for US market. It has been available in other regions such as Taiwan, Hongkong and some European countries since April. From the sparse reviews and forum posts I could find online, it supposed to be pretty promising. So I shell out $130 to try it out and only found it to be very disappointing.

The Smart Wireless Headset Pro comes with quite a few accessories:

  • Smart Wireless Headset pro™ (MW1)
  • Micro USB Charger
  • Earbuds: 4 sizes
  • LiveSound Hi-Fi headset (MH1BL, MH1WO)
  • Music transfer USB cable
  • Micro SD Card Reader
  • 2GB Micro SD card (upgradeable to 32GB)
  • User guide and Warranty leaflet

SONY smart wireless headset 01

The device is ONLY slightly bigger than other stereo Bluetooth adapters. In above picture from top to bottom are: Samsung HM3700, Samsung HS3000, and SONY MW1 (aka smart wireless headset pro). To be honest, it’s much smaller than I had imagined. The biggest sales point to me is the LED screen. None of the Samsung Bluetooth adapters have the screen, although the voice command system isn’t bad, still the LED really makes the operation much easier, especially no annoying single light to show the battery status. Now since the device is pretty small, the screen size is pretty small, so there’s only very limited space to show the texts. I with the screen could be larger. But that’s probably gonna affect the battery performance. The good thing is that once you install the font pack onto the device (just extra attached file and place the font.bin into the ROOT directory of your microSD card), the device can show Chinese and Japanese characters perfectly fine as shown. AFAIK, all the smart wireless headset pro, sold at different regions, came with exactly the same firmware. So even the US version I got here can display the CJK language without any problem.

SONY smart wireless headset 03

To access the microSD card, however, you must insert the microSD card into the smart wireless headset pro itself. Using the included microSD card reader will not initialize the microSD card! The device will show an error message “The SD card is full”. First, you must install SONY’s Media Go software on your PC! Then you MUST connect the device with the microSD card FULLY inserted (I have some trouble to fully insert the microSD card into the card slot at first; once the microSD card is fully inserted, it should be stay almost flush with the device, and you’ll be able to close the cap) with the included USB cable connected to PC. This will enable the device’s MTP mode, which is essential for the smart wireless headset pro to read the microSD card contents. The manual fails to mention this very vital part!

SONY smart wireless headset 04

Without installing the Media Go software (MTP USB driver), the device will only charge itself. After the proper driver is installed, the file transfer option will be engaged:

SONY smart wireless headset 06SONY smart wireless headset 05

SONY smart wireless headset 08

The Media Go software is used for managing the files. You can also just copy and paste the songs onto the microSD card, but the song tags are likely to be screwed. Also for playlist, since the smart wireless headset pro does play local mp3, but the functions are really basic which it lacks on-the-fly playlist management, so you are very likely to use the Media Go’s playlist management function. Actually I was pretty disappointed with the sheer screen size and the monochrome display. I would prefer a square shaped screen at least 1.5-2.0 in with colors that’s capable of displaying album art (the screen can be dimmed most of the time to save the battery, but can be activated when desired), much like ipod nano. Maybe merging the SONY SmartWatch (without the wrist, just the pendant style) with this would be a more ideal product, at least for me…

Now onto the Bluetooth function: the basic Bluetooth function works flawlessly. I was able to pair with my Android phone, BlackBerry PlayBook, and a Samsung laptop. The device also supports multi-point connection upto 2 devices at the same time. But unfortunately, I was never able to get the “smart” function to work with my Android phone – Samsung Exhibit II 4G. In order to make the “smart” function to work, you need to download the “LiveWare Manager” (maybe preloaded on some SONY Xperia phones) and Smart Wireless Headset pro apps from Google Play. But after I got the apps on my phone, nothing happened to the wireless headset pro. Therefore I cannot test the “Smart” function in this review.

So the major function this device suppose to have are:
1. Stereo Bluetooth adapter for any headset
2. Smart apps
3. Local music playback (mp3/wav player)
4. FM radio

For the stereo Bluetooth, this is a Bluetooth 3.0 device, it comes with the transport keys (previous track, next track, play/pause), supports A2DP and AVRCP profiles. But unfortunately it doesn’t come with the new ATP-X codec (still using the old lossless SBC codec).

SONY smart wireless headset 07

As far as the Bluetooth audio quality is concerned, I’ve demo’ed it with a SONY MDR-V6 and a Audio-Technica ATH-M50 paired with the Samsung Exhibit II 4G Android phone. I think this Smart Wireless Headset Pro adapter performs just OK. The audio sounds a bit constrained. There’s a pretty big difference between the Samsung HS3000 which equips with ATP-X technology between this, the HS3000 beats it by far. The audio quality for the included earbud is on par with the one came with HS3000, but both fall behind the USB earbud from HM3700. The multimedia control, as you can see in the above picture, is about the same size as HS3000. SONY’s actually is even a bit smaller, makes a little hard to press. Otherwise all the functions do work.

Local music playback: the device is a standalone mp3/wav player. But the playback function is pretty limited. You only get play songs by file name, by folder, or by playlist (if imported by Media Go). There is no way to create on-the-fly playlist. You can also loop or shuffle the songs. But that’s about it. The audio quality is only slight better than the Bluetooth connection. I’m really not so impressed by the audio performance of this device.

FM raido: you can’t store radio stations! But it does show music station name. Useless feature for me.

So I only kept the device for about three days, then packed it and sent it back to the retailer, and have already got my full refund back. (So I can’t test the battery performance, I’ve actually only charged it twice. First time I think after about three hours of listening, and then left it there for five hours, the device was dead and turned itself off automatically.) BTW, for the Samsung HS3000, I actually purchased it AFTER I got this SONY Smart Wireless Headset Pro, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely. I only spent $25 after tax for the HS3000 vs. the SONY which costs $130! I would not recommend this device to anyone. For this price tag, I would expect far more than the designs and features it delivered for now.