Cheap Bluetooth Headsets
Published on By Michael Sweet
Samsung HM3300 Review
From $30 Best
The Samsung HM3300 combines appealing features, such as voice prompts and NFC for tap-and-pair, with excellent audio quality while managing to land with an entry-level price.
The Samsung HM3300 may lack spiffy features, but reviews say this entry-level Bluetooth headset delivers where it counts: quality audio. According to an expert at TechHive, voices sound natural and crisp, free of the robot-like tones that sometimes mar the Bluetooth experience, and wind whooshing by is nicely dampened. Users mostly agree but with a tad less enthusiasm. Whereas many Samsung HM3300 reviews posted at Amazon describe clear and "true-to-life" audio at both ends of a call, some report mediocre sound quality, occasional skips, and insufficient volume.
Still, the Samsung HM3300 (starting at $30, Amazon) claims other points in its favor. Reviews generally praise the budget price, small size, and attractive styling. And support for NFC (Near Field Communication), which lets users tap the device to another Bluetooth-enabled device for pairing, is a user-friendly boon. The expert reviewer applauds the inclusion of three different-size soft eargels, a feature that maximizes the chance that one will fit comfortably. A good number of users, however, complain that none of the earpieces suit their anatomy and several add that the ear hook is too big.
The Samsung HM3300 features several basic voice prompts that indicate, for example, when you're connected to a device, when it's time to recharge the headset, and how to use it. The headset streams music using A2DP technology and sports multipoint technology for connecting to two devices at once. Although rated for four hours of talk time -- on the low side compared to others in its class -- a number of Samsung HM3300 reviews grumble that actual battery life is far less. This model uses a microUSB port for recharging and weighs 11 grams.
This is an inexpensive headset with a basic assortment of practical features. The relatively short battery life is a drawback but minor when stacked against the price and commendable sound quality.
Plantronics M55 Review
From $30 Good
The Plantronics M55 is tiny compared with other headsets, so doesn't draw attention. Audio is good but noise cancellation could be better.
The most notable characteristic of the Plantronics M55 is its compact size, even by Bluetooth headset standards. Reviews at expert sites such as CNET tout its discreet and stylish body, which weighs just 8 grams (about one-quarter ounce). It's designed to sit in either ear but only comes with one size earbud, a drawback that some users with self-described small ears point out.
For the most part, Plantronics M55 reviews are upbeat. Both experts and users say voices are rich and clear in both directions but face strong competition from ambient noise outdoors. Indeed, noise cancellation is this entry-level model's Achilles' heel. The CNET expert reports that listeners could hear a minor hissing during testing outside. PC Mag generally concurs and adds that poor noise suppression also interferes with streamed music.
An unusually long 11 hours of rated talk time is another hallmark of the Plantronics M55. Users' reviews at Amazon mention this as a welcome performance attribute, although the PC Mag expert found that the battery actually lasted only about 8.5 hours in testing. Users also appreciate what seems to them like high-end quality for a budget price -- good sound fidelity, good looks, and good features, including voice activation for answering or ignoring calls. Still, some grumble about audio quality outside, low volume, and a short range in the real world (as opposed to the rated 33 feet) that means dropped audio when wandering more than a few feet from the base device.
The Plantronics M55 (starting at $30, Amazon) supports multipoint technology and A2DP, which, respectively, enables connection to two devices simultaneously and streaming for multimedia audio. This model announces alerts for talk time, battery level, and incoming calls. It uses a microUSB port for recharging.
Users who want a headset that doesn't make them look like a cyborg will take to the Plantronics M55. Weak noise cancellation is a shortcoming, but reviewers still consider call clarity more than acceptable.
Jabra Style Review
From $45 Good
The Jabra Style delivers six hours of talk time before needing a recharge and solid audio quality. The eartip may be uncomfortable for some users.
The Jabra Style is a simple Bluetooth headset that appeals for that reason. An expert review in Pocketables notes that the Style doesn't sport lots of features but is just fine for basic use, in part due to the rated six hours of talk time and 168 hours of standby time. Indeed, comments about the long battery life show up with some regularity in Jabra Style reviews at Amazon; one user reports it lasts through two days of near-constant operation and many assert it recharges quickly. It also wins kudos for its light (10 grams) weight and professional look.
Where this model wobbles, though, is on audio quality. Like some other budget Bluetooth headsets, the Jabra Style's performance outdoors is marred by ambient noise. Inbound and outbound voices, music and podcasts come through without a hitch, a review in PC Mag asserts, but only in quiet conditions. Weak noise cancellation means it falters when confronted by traffic, wind, loud bystanders, and the like. Some users also grumble about an uncomfortable fit with the single earbud or ear hook, and say switching to the left ear makes for awkward operation because the control button is now in a different position.
In terms of features, the Jabra Style supports NFC (Near Field Communication), which enables pairing with another device through a quick tap, and multipoint technology to pair with more than one device. This model has a multifunction button and boasts A2DP technology for multimedia streaming. A voice alert indicates connection and battery status.
Under the right circumstances -- the fit is comfortable, the room is quiet -- the Jabra Style (starting at $45, Amazon) doesn't disappoint. It offers good basic features and gets a bump up from NFC, and for some users that frill may be worth a few extra dollars.
Plantronics Marque 2 M165 Review
From $30 Think Twice
Experts assert this model from Plantronics trails the competition in audio quality. It provides good talk time and is comfortable to wear.
The Plantronics Marque 2 M165 impresses expert reviewers with its battery life but not with its audio quality. For its Plantronics Marque 2 M165 review, Phone Arena clocked talk time at slightly more than six hours, which is better than average for budget Bluetooth headsets. But that fact alone isn't sufficient reason to embrace the Plantronics Marque 2 M165. This expert review asserts that listeners can hear callers clearly but incoming voices sound strained, and noise cancellation is slow to kick in. Some users share similar grievances, but with a twist: In Plantronics Marque 2 M165 reviews at the company site, critics contend that outgoing voices sound muddy while participants at the other end hear just fine. Top Ten Reviews asserts that audio sounds tinny and noise cancellation is mediocre despite the presence of dual microphones.
On the up side, experts note the comfort on the ear and ease of use; that is, the convenience of a device that responds to basic voice commands (e.g., answering calls) and recharges through a microUSB port rather than a proprietary port. Many users, meanwhile, express satisfaction with the audio, the fit, and the battery life.
The Marque 2 M165 (starting at $30, Amazon) is rated for seven hours of talk time and up to 180 days in deep sleep mode. It supports A2DP (for pairing with devices that stream multimedia audio, including GPS) and can be paired with two devices at the same time. It comes with three sizes of flexible gel eartips, which is a big plus for users.
Expert skepticism about call clarity and noise cancellation weigh on this fairly basic headset, although everyday users seem to think it works well enough. The Plantronics Marque 2 M165 sits within the budget zone but there are better sounding headsets for about the same price.
With more and more state laws requiring drivers to use hands-free devices when speaking on cell phones, cheap Bluetooth headsets are in demand. They use low-frequency radio waves to let users talk or listen to multimedia audio remotely. Some high-end Bluetooth headsets also convert text messages, emails, and tweets to audio. However, most frugal consumers aren't concerned with such features and just want a cheap headset that delivers good sound quality and fits comfortably.
Bluetooth Headsets Buying Guide
If you're in the market for a cheap Bluetooth headset, companies offering entry-level devices include Samsung, Jabra, Plantronics, Motorola, and BlueAnt. The Samsung HM3300 (starting at $30) is our top pick on the strength of its excellent audio quality, above-average noise cancellation, and the inclusion of three soft gel eartips. In the runner-up bucket for best cheap Bluetooth headsets we placed the tiny Plantronics M55 (starting at $30), which is a good choice for consumers who want to use a headset without looking like they're using one and who spend more time talking indoors than out. The Jabra Style (starting $45), another second-place pick, boasts excellent battery life and decent call quality but includes just one eartip and earhook, neither of which may prove comfortable for some users. By contrast, subpar audio performance relegates the Plantronics Marque 2 M165 (starting at $30) to the bottom of the pile despite good battery life and attractive features, including multiple eartips. We also identified several other Bluetooth headsets, mentioned throughout this buying guide, that didn't make our list but may suit your needs regardless.
Note: When choosing a cheap Bluetooth headset, make sure it's compatible with your phone. Most headsets are backward-compatible with older versions of Bluetooth software -- that is, they support older technology in your phone. But if the Bluetooth software on your phone is a newer version than what your headset uses, you won't be able to do some of the cool stuff the phone could do with a newer model.
Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Samsung HM3300 Review
Talk/Standby Time Up to 4 hours/up to 6 days
NFC Support Yes
Noise Cancellation Yes
|30||Up to 4 hours/up to 6 days||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Plantronics M55 Review
Talk/Standby Time Up to 11 hours/up to 16 days
NFC Support No
Noise Cancellation Yes
|30||Up to 11 hours/up to 16 days||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
Jabra Style Review
Talk/Standby Time Up to 6 hours/up to 7 days
NFC Support Yes
Noise Cancellation Yes
|45||Up to 6 hours/up to 7 days||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
What We Looked For in the Specs
Noise-Canceling Technology.Any Bluetooth headset worth buying should include some kind of noise cancellation feature to filter out sounds from the surrounding environment. Brands have their own proprietary technology for doing this, but those in the entry-level segment of the market seem to manage this feat less well than upmarket models like the Jawbone Era (starting at $100). Still, experts say relatively kind things about the noise cancellation performance of the Samsung HM3300.
Headsets with two or more microphones also tend to provide better audio quality and noise cancellation than single-mic headsets. Among the models we researched, the Plantronics Marque 2 M165, Jabra Extreme2 (starting at $45), and Jawbone Era are dual-mic headsets.
Multiple Eartips.You'll need an eartip (also called an earbud) that rests in your ear and/or a hook that wraps around the back of the ear to hear anything. Many headsets come with a selection of eartips so you can choose one that fits snugly and comfortably. A good fit in the ear is also essential to maximizing the sound. It's easier to find just the right fit if the headset package includes a variety of eartips. Some of the best entry-level Bluetooth headsets, including the Plantronics M55 and Jabra Style, come with only one or two sizes and if one or both don't fit, you're out of luck. We prefer models that come with at least three, as do the Samsung HM3300, Samsung HM1900 (starting at $20), and Plantronics Marque 2 M165, but relaxed this criteria when making our picks because other factors, such as call quality, size, and battery life, matter at least as much.
Useful Connection Options.There are various ways that cheap Bluetooth headsets can connect to other devices, and most support a handful of the popular technologies. Bluetooth headsets with A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) technology can be paired with devices other than phones to stream music or other audio from a music player, navigation system, or computer to your headset. All the models we researched feature A2DP technology. Multipoint support, a feature found on all our picks, lets you connect your headset to two devices at the same time -- a work phone and a personal phone, say -- so you can take calls from either one. NFC (Near Field Communication) is another useful technology. If both your smartphone and your headset support NFC, you can just tap the two devices together to pair them; the Samsung HM3300 and Jabra Style both provide NFC support. AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile) lets you control the streamed audio through the headset (assuming the host device also supports AVRCP); none of the best cheap Bluetooth headsets we researched support AVRCP, although the pricey Jawbone Era does.
Convenient Controls.Bluetooth headsets perform a variety of functions controlled with recessed or raised buttons. Some Bluetooth headsets have cut back on the buttons in favor of a multifunction button that typically covers some combination of call answering and redialing, call mute, call hold, and call transfer from the headset to the phone or vice versa. Among the models we researched, only the Jabra Style and Jawbone Era sport multifunction buttons. These days, most Bluetooth headsets, including the cheap models on our list, convey voice prompts that tell you when the battery is running low, when you're connected to a device, and/or who is calling. In the budget segment, only a handful, including the Plantronics M55 and Plantronics Marque 2 M165, also respond to basic voice commands -- take a call simply by saying "answer," for example -- which eliminates the need to tap a button. Some low-cost headsets, such as the Samsung HM3300 and Jabra Extreme2, come with audible "help" guides.
Bluetooth headsets commonly feature an LED that shows connection status, battery life, and call connection status. A power switch to turn the device on and off is useful for preserving battery life, and is present on the models we researched.
Bluetooth Headset Reviews
Even a budget Bluetooth headset shouldn't fall short on sound quality or comfort. Bluetooth headset reviews by consumers and experts make very clear that no user wants to sound as though they're in a bathroom or tunnel, either to themselves or the party at the other end. Reviewers also snub earpieces that fall out or are too uncomfortable to wear for extended periods, but there was little consensus on the comfort of the models we researched.
Ease of use is also a priority, according to Bluetooth headset reviews. That means syncing a headset with a phone or other device should not be an all-day affair, and the battery should last long enough that the device doesn't need daily charging unless it's constantly in use.
We relied on a combination of reviews from experts and consumers to assess the performance of Bluetooth headsets. The expert reviewers used hands-on testing, while posts from shoppers provide a variety of perspectives and indicate how well a headset works in the real world. The two cohorts don't always agree.
Effective Noise Cancellation.The chief downfall of cheap Bluetooth headsets is their mediocre ability to cancel out background noise, according to reviews. All the models on our list are noise-canceling Bluetooth headsets, but some perform better in this dimension than others. The Jabra Extreme2 (starting at $45) is particularly good at filtering out background noise, according to an expert from Top Ten Reviews, but doesn't appear on our list because it's hard to find at a cheap price. CNET also commends the Jawbone Era (starting at $100), a much more expensive headset, for delivering excellent noise cancellation, and says the Plantronics M55 (starting at $30) quells background noise indoors but struggles to block out wind and traffic noises when outside.
High-Quality Audio.It's pretty simple to determine the audio quality of a headset: The sound is loud and clear on both ends of the call, without distortion or tinny or muffled sound. Voices seem natural, and background noise doesn't interfere with the headset user's voice.
For the most part, users who posted Bluetooth headset reviews are satisfied with the sound clarity of these devices, especially given their budget prices. An expert at Tech Hive writes of being particularly impressed with the audio quality on the Samsung HM3300 (starting at $30) for adequately meeting these standards. The outlier among the models discussed here is the Plantronics Marque 2 M165 (starting at $30). Expert reviews assert voice quality is thin and strained, especially for the headset wearer, although many users serve up more positive appraisals.
Comfortable Fit.Eartip comfort is middling with the Bluetooth headsets on our list, but everyone's ears are different so assessments of fit for any given model vary. The small, medium, and large soft gel eartips that accompany the Samsung HM3300 and HM1900 (starting at $20) increase the probability that one will be a match. And yet, we read Bluetooth headset reviews decrying the discomfort and lack of fit (especially for small ears) with the Samsung models; others extol the fit, with one user who normally refrains from ear-in devices reporting pleasant surprise at the gel tip's functionality. The Jabra Style (starting at $45) and Plantronics M55 also take some heat for ill-fitting earpieces (each comes with just one eartip), and in the case of the former, for an alternative ear hook, as well.
Battery Life.For anyone who really likes communicating through a Bluetooth headset, long battery life is essential. The Plantronics M55 rings in with an unusually high manufacturer rating of 11 talk hours before needing a recharge, and it wins kudos in Bluetooth headset reviews for that feat. The Plantronics Marque 2 M165 beats the average with an official maximum seven hours of talk time whereas most headsets, including the Jabra Style and Jabra Extreme2, deliver a rated talk time of five to six hours.
Some, like the Samsung HM3300 and Samsung HM1900, underperform here, with rated talk times of four and four-and-a-half hours, respectively. Although we read a few muted grumbles about this limitation, users generally seem indifferent to the matter and assign greater weight to assets such as good audio, good price, and ease of use.
Painless Pairing.Pairing is the process of establishing the wireless connection between a Bluetooth headset and a cell phone or some other electronic audio device. Generally speaking, when pairing a cell phone and a Bluetooth headset, the phone is the "host" and the headset is the "guest." To pair the devices, turn on the pairing option for both and then use the phone to identify the headset and confirm the connection.
If both devices use Bluetooth 2.1 or higher, pairing is usually automatic. All the headsets we looked at are Bluetooth 2.1 or newer. If you have an NFC-enabled headset (e.g., Samsung HM3300, Jabra Style) and smartphone, pair them with just a tap. We found no complaints in Bluetooth reviews by experts or consumers about pairing. This is one task that headsets seem to manage very well across the board.
Additional Products We Considered
Jawbone Era Review
Priced outside the Cheapism zone, the Jawbone Era is an example of what to expect with a more upmarket Bluetooth headset. A Jawbone Era review by SlashGear praises the comfortable fit of this small model and features that are almost entirely controlled by a single multifunction button, but adds that adjusting the volume is a bit awkward. That assessment is shared by an expert writing in The New York Times who cautions that taps on the button may not always register properly and the headset is relatively easy to knock out of position.
Experts are satisfied with the quality of the audio, saying voices sound clear and natural in both directions and noise cancellation is superior to that found on budget models. Many users agree even as some Jawbone Era reviews gripe about noise amplification, weak transmittal of audio in one direction or the other, limited battery life, and a short range despite the rated 33 feet.
The Jawbone Era (starting at $100, Amazon) wins votes for its featherlight weight of six grams, diminutive size, and thumb-drive styling. It boasts a rich feature set, including spoken prompts delivered in a choice of voices and languages, and support for multiple profiles, such as A2DP for multimedia streaming, AVRCP for controlling audio streaming, and multipoint connectivity for pairing with more than one device. It responds to basic voice commands, provides access to Siri and Google Now, and contains two microphones and a locator. It comes with four ear gels (three sizes for the right ear, medium for the left ear) that are designed to follow the ear's contours. The battery life is rated at four hours, a duration that users contend is overstated by at least 25 percent, and it recharges via a microUSB port.
Users willing to shell out big bucks for a headset might want to add the Jawbone Era to their short list. The combination of features and performance, notwithstanding the limited battery life, makes it an attractive buy.
Where to buy
Jabra Extreme2 Review
A relatively rich array of features on the Jabra Extreme2 prompts positive reviews for this budget Bluetooth headset. Experts at Top Ten Reviews cite support for A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) as well as HFP (Hands-free Profile) and PBAP (Phone Book Access Profile), which, respectively, let users steam music and spoken text (including GPS), speak commands to answer and initiate calls, and hear the caller's name. This Jabra Extreme2 review also commends the extreme (hence the model's name) noise cancellation but cautions that the function works so well that the user's voice may be cancelled when up against a sudden and loud burst of background noise.
Users are less taken with the Jabra Extreme2, however. Reviews at sites such as Staples report that call clarity is only fair, voices sometimes sound muffled to the caller, and the automatic volume control doesn't reach high enough levels. Some users also grouse about an uncomfortable fit and a limited range from the base device. Still, they like the small size and long battery life, effective blocking of wind when outdoors, and the voice prompts and commands. A good number also are fine with the fit and call quality.
The Jabra Extreme2 (starting at $45, Amazon) boasts more than five hours of rated talk time and more than 10 hours of standby time. It sports dual microphones, which improve sound quality and aid in reducing background noise, and it can be paired with two devices simultaneously. The Jabra Extreme2 responds to simple voice commands and delivers prompts for recharging and caller ID; it also provides spoken guides for user-friendly setup. Two gel earbuds and two ear hooks are included.
This model is a good choice for users who covet truly hands-free bells and whistles. Users' overall assessment of audio quality is slightly above average even as it delivers excellent noise cancellation, which in this case may be too much of a good thing.
Samsung HM1900 Review
A mere $20 is all it takes to acquire the Samsung HM1900, a true entry-level Bluetooth headset. And according to Samsung HM1900 reviews, users consider this model a value buy. Comments posted at Walmart mention decent sound (though not necessarily in a noisy gym, one user cautions), ease of setup and operation, a pleasingly low profile, and a battery with a respectable life. These views are generally echoed in Samsung HM1900 reviews at Amazon even as some report slight discomfort in the ear, choppy audio, and occasional malfunctions and other build-quality problems (e.g., randomly muted calls, fragile ear piece).
The Samsung HM1900 (starting at $20, Amazon) supports A2DP music streaming and multipoint technology for pairing with two devices. It can deliver voice prompts in Spanish in addition to English; prompts include connection status and battery-recharge alerts. The headset recharges through a microUSB port and the battery is rated for 4.5 hours of talk time. It includes three interchangeable soft gel eartips and two ear hooks, which improve the chances of finding a combination that fits. This budget model weighs 9 grams.
It's hard to refute the value proposition presented by the Samsung HM1900. Sound quality and noise cancellation are decent, though not outstanding. The features are basic but include the must-haves. The HM1900 is practical and cheap -- a good combination for budget shoppers who occasionally need a hands-free way to communicate.