When I saw the original Samsung Galaxy Note a few years ago, I couldn’t believe it was actually a smartphone.
It sported a 5.3-inch screen and at the time, it looked more like a small tablet. But I was told that it was indeed a full-fledged smartphone, designed to be used as a phone as well as a small tablet.
When I picked it up and put it to my ear, I thought I looked ridiculous. In fact, in one of my columns at the time, I pointed out that something this large did not make sense for use as a phone given its form factor and what I considered its unruly size.
Yet the Galaxy Note struck a nerve in many regions of Asia and became quite a hit. In these markets, people generally only carry one device with them and with the Galaxy Note, they got a small tablet and a smartphone in one.
Now Apple has jumped in with a phablet of its own, which has immediately become a hit in all of the markets that it’s sold, including the U.S. and Europe. To be clear, the iPhone 6 with its smaller 4.7-inch screen is outselling the 6 Plus at least five to one, but there are still many people buying the 6 Plus who like its actual size. I am one of them. I struggled with which new iPhone to get but decided on the 6 Plus because of its large screen and the fact that I could read its screen without my glasses. Now I love it and feel like a hypocrite for dissing phablets in the past.
However, I will not put it up to my ear and use it as a phone, as I still think I look ridiculous putting something this size to my ear and talking on it. I might be the only one who feels this way, but I find that for me, a Bluetooth headset is the best solution. I use one religiously when making or receiving calls with the iPhone 6 Plus.
The Bluetooth headset I like the most has been the one from Bose. It fits in my ear well and delivers great sound, and the people who hear me on the other end say I come in clear.
I have tested over 15 headsets and while I especially like a couple of models from Plantronics and Jabra, so far I keep coming back to my Bose Bluetooth headset for use with the iPhone 6 Plus. However, I recently got to test a new Bluetooth headset that has the potential to become my primary headset. While it works like a Bluetooth headset with any smartphone, it’s unique in that this feature is secondary to its purpose.
The folks from Soundhawk, who make this new headset, call it the worlds first smart listening system:
Soundhawk was founded by one of the world’s leading hearing experts, Dr. Rodney Perkins. He started his career as an ear surgeon but quickly became one of the world’s most successful life sciences entrepreneurs. He has started twelve companies, four of which were in the hearing sciences and three of which went public. As a physician, he realized that there were limits to the number of patients he could help. As a result, he began to apply his knowledge and creativity to building products and companies that could have a much broader impact.
What makes the Soundhawk headset so different is that its main purpose is to help enhance and amplify the conversations around you, especially in noisy restaurants, sporting events, or any gathering when you want to hear people but it’s too loud to hear them clearly. This is not a hearing aid in the traditional sense, although its use to help people hear better has its roots in Dr. Perkins’ medical practice. He would often have people come to him thinking they might need a hearing aid but when they were tested, they didn’t have the aural problems that qualified them for such a device. Yet he understood that these folks had real issues with hearing, so he started Soundhawk with the idea of creating a headset that would help people hear better in noisy situations.
The Soundhawk smart listening system consists of four components. The first is a smartphone app that gives the headset precise controls for four distinct situations. It can be fine-tuned for use indoors, when dining, when driving and for outdoor activities. Then there is the headset itself, called the Scoop. It’s smaller than my Bose headset and fits well in any ear. It uses adaptive audio processing to enhance key sound frequencies in order to elevate what you want to hear while reducing unwanted background noise.
Its third component is a wireless mic that gets you closer to what you want to hear in even the noisiest environments. You simply place the wireless mic near what you want to hear and it will pick up that sound and deliver it in great clarity to the Scoop. The wireless mic is perfect for noisy places like restaurants, coffee shops or even at home.
I spent last week in Honolulu working on a project, taking many meetings in restaurants. I took the Soundhawk mic and placed it on the table front of the person speaking, and even in these very loud environments, I could hear them clearly. The mic even has a clip on it, so if the environment you’re in is really loud, you could ask the person you’re talking with to clip it on their lapel instead.
One interesting thing about using the Scoop and the mic together is that when someone was talking to me in a noisy area, it was like the person was speaking only to me. Their voice came in loud and clear, making the conversation seem even more personal.
The fourth component is the case that houses the Scoop and the mic. The case has a rechargeable battery inside and protects, organizes and recharges them so they are always ready to go. This is a really cool feature. All other Bluetooth headsets need to be plugged into a wall outlet directly to charge them. This charges in the case and the case itself can be recharged over night. This is a very handy feature.
According to Michael Kisch, CEO of Soundhawk, “As our world gets noisier, many people are hearing less of what matters most. At Soundhawk, our mission is to transform the listening experience simply and affordably, and empower people to hear the world the way that they want to.”
The Soundhawk’s Smart Listening System launched recently, and at the moment is only available on the company’s website for $299. I realize that most high-end Bluetooth headsets are priced much lower than this, but keep in mind that this product has a lot of added value to it. It works on iOS and Android devices.
It’s an interesting product, and one I think will meet a need for a lot of people who would like to be able to hear better in noisy environments and also want a great Bluetooth headset for use with any of the larger smartphones on the market. Of course you could use this with any size smartphone, but at least in my case, it’s a perfect companion to my iPhone 6 Plus. Even though I have only been testing it for a week, it has the potential to become my primary headset.
Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.