Bluetooth has been very slow to achieve its promised potential. The concept was for a low-cost standard to be a wireless equivalent to a serial cable as a way to connect devices together.
A Bluetooth “Special Interest Group” with representatives from a large number of companies was convened in 1988, and the first official Bluetooth standard was released, through Ericsson, in May 1994. The first consumer devices started to appear in 1998 and 1999, and in 2000 the first Bluetooth equipped cell phones arrived.
The first Bluetooth standard – unsurprisingly referred to as 1.0 – has evolved steadily, and the Bluetooth capabilities have grown over time. The current standard is 5.3, released in July 2021, although many devices are still equipped with 5.2 (released in Jan 2020) or 5.0 (released in 2016), and sometimes you’ll see products still being sold with even earlier versions. There is nothing essential in the newer versions of Bluetooth – when seeking a simple connection between a phone and a headset, even earlier 4.x versions of Bluetooth are perfectly adequate.
It is now easier to connect Bluetooth devices together, although some of the added capabilities also inevitably bring additional complexities too. Battery life has improved, range has sometimes increased, and sound quality has also improved (some of the time). Best of all, costs have dropped. The original plan was to have Bluetooth at a cost of about $5 or so; but by the time markups and marketing had added their costs, early Bluetooth devices were selling for way over $100 and sometimes reaching $200 (and that was in turn of the century dollars, not current dollars). Now it is possible to get simple Bluetooth headsets costing under $20.
I’ve tested literally dozens of headsets over the two decades they’ve been available, with lots of earlier reviews littered over the website and now of course of no relevance except as a historical record of what used to be available in terms of features, design, sound quality and cost. All four considerations have always been problematic – it has been very difficult to find an easy to use, comfortable/convenient headset with good sound quality and a fair price, and indeed, after years of trying, I gave up.
My main Bluetooth headset that I currently use dates back to 2010, and still performs adequately. It is true that the early years of Bluetooth product releases saw a crazy range of different shapes and sizes of headsets, and some extraordinary disappointments and almost impossible-to-use bad sound quality, but by 2010 there were a few reasonably decent headsets.
The Present Day
So what has happened in the last 12 years? The Australian company that made my current ear-piece no longer makes such products, perhaps reflecting how they have become generic and almost exclusively made in China. There has been a general design shift to sell sets of two ear buds (most obviously by Apple) to allow for stereo music listening as well as having phone conversations. Meanwhile, many phones have lost their traditional wired headphone jack, and while you can get converters to allow a regular headset to connect to the USB port on a phone, we are clearly being “encouraged” to go to a Bluetooth headset. That is unfortunate – a $5 wired headset was perfect in terms of functionality, sound quality, and – of course – price, too.
I decided it was time to see what current Bluetooth headsets are capable of, and so ordered two from Amazon. The first is a “New Bee” model for $18 (and a 5% coupon savings offer currently available), and at present is stated as being Amazon’s best selling single ear Bluetooth headset.
It is perhaps best selling as much because it is one of the least expensive units Amazon sells, so I also got a slightly more expensive unit to compare alongside and see if there was any reason to spend more – a Lekoye (also occasionally referred to as a Leyoke!) headset for $27 and also with a 5% coupon offer currently.
In some respects, both units are less sophisticated than some of the older units. But they’re also generally less costly, and sometimes, fewer features can mean simpler operation, particularly when the features (such as voice commands which I can never remember!) are not really useful.
Here’s what I found. I used a Google Pixel 4a 5G phone to test with.
|Warranty||Probably 12 months||12 months|
|Easy to put on/take off||Yes||Moderate|
|Easy control buttons||Volume, power slider, one other||Volume plus two others|
|Comfortable to wear||Reasonable||Reasonable|
|Use with glasses||Yes||Yes, even better if no ear hook|
|Use with either ear||Yes||Yes|
|Securely mounted on ear||Moderate, better with ear hook added||Excellent without ear hook|
|How to carry||Comes with a zip-up small carry case||Nothing provided – stuffing it in your pocket might mess up the alignment of the ear-loop if fitted|
|Ease of Use|
|Time to turn on||Slower||Faster|
|Pairing password needed||No||No|
|Claimed battery life||60 day standby or 24 hours talk or 20 hour music||10 day standby or 16 hours talk or 16 hours music|
|Low battery indicator/signal||Shows battery status on phone||Shows battery status on phone|
|Battery charging method/time||Micro USB|
2 – 3 hours
Indicator red when charging, blue when charged
|Charger supplied?||No, just a short USB cable||No, just a very short USB cable|
|Profiles||Earphone, A2DP, AVRCP||HSP HFP A2DP AVRCP|
|Range||50 ft||33 ft|
|Effective range||Not as good as the other one||More than 33 ft|
|Sound quality||Muffled but otherwise good||Also muffled, similar to the other headset|
|Noise cancelling||Only a little||Only a little, similar to the other headset|
|Turning on/off||Love the slide switch. No doubt if it is on or off.||Two second push of the main control button to turn on/off|
A voice says “power on” and “power off”
|Auto connect||Unreliable, slow, and sometimes slow or fails entirely|
(Worked better with an older Moto G6)
|Reasonably fast and reliable|
|Other||Can connect to two devices at once||Can connect to two devices at once|
|Flashing indicators on standby||No||No|
|Size||Slightly larger than the other||Slightly smaller than the other|
|Other||Has a second “slave” ear-piece to give stereo sound in both ears||Available in three colors|
|Also comes with||Four ear pieces and three optional ear hooks|
Carabiner clip to perhaps clip the carrying case to your belt.
|Two ear pieces and optional ear hook.|
I used to rate headsets on a number of other parameters too, such as ease of using the controls. But that was always scored very negatively, and would again be scored very negatively here too.
I had an epiphany a few years ago – ignore everything except the on/off and answer/hang-up commands, and use the controls on your phone for everything else. That makes the user-unfriendliness of the typically single “multi-function” control and possibly the bewildering combinations of different colors and flashes of indicator lights happily irrelevant.
Neither headset had aggressive digital noise-processing capabilities, although both made brave claims about that. Both worked reasonably well, even without the feature.
It was amusing but not astonishing to note how the New Bee headset, while claiming 50 ft (15m) of range, actually had less range than the Lekoye unit which more modestly claimed 33 ft of range.
The New Bee unit has better and more inclusions, but the Lekoye unit works better.
I didn’t have time to test the claim that the New Bee unit can last 60 days on standby. I’d be surprised if that was completely correct.
Rather to my surprise, the more expensive device did work better than the less expensive one. Both nay be satisfactory as plain simple headsets, but for me, the unreliable difficulty and long time it takes to connect the New Bee unit to my Pixel 4a 5G phone was a deal breaker. I’d probably still choose the Lekoye unit, even without that issue, because, especially if not using the optional ear hook, it is easier to put into your ear (and sits there securely), plus the audio is very slightly better.
But if you’re budget-focused, by all means get the New Bee unit ($18 instead of $27) and if you too have the same problem, simply return it to Amazon and then get the other unit.
1 thought on “Budget Bluetooth Headsets – An Update”
I think the on/off function on the earpiece is important as well as a Volume up / down control.
I often listen to Bluetooth at night in bed and like the ability to turn off the earpiece and adjust volume without going to the phone app. Actually I wear Costco hearing aids and the included Bluetooth works pretty well for both Phone connections and TV (I use a small transmitter from the TV). Incoming phone calls connect automatically, although I am unsure the microphone on the hearing aids is very good.