- Allows non-Bluetooth audio devices to deliver wireless stereo sound
- doubles as a wireless headset for Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones
- headset and audio dongle can be charged simultaneously
- Switching between paired Bluetooth devices is manual
- can't use the audio dongle for voice calls on a non-Bluetooth mobile phone
- idiosyncratic headphone styling
- hardware quality could be better
Bluetooth add-ons are nothing new -- for example, notebooks and desktop computers have been able to use USB Bluetooth adapters for some time. But owners of portable audio devices -- such as non-Bluetooth mobile phones and digital music players -- have not had similar opportunities. Bluetake’s i-Phono BT420EX, which is available from EuroSimm, changes this, allowing you get wireless stereo sound from any audio device via its 3.5mm jack.
Design & features
The hardware comprises two key elements: a set of headphones, and what Bluetake calls an ‘audio dongle’. The latter is a small iPod-white box, measuring about 50mm square and 15mm deep, with a 3.5mm audio jack on a 70mm stretch of cable and a power switch on its side. You plug this into any non-Bluetooth device, and it becomes Bluetooth-enabled, delivering wireless stereo sound to the headphones. The only other feature on the dongle is a pause button that's surrounded by a blue flashing light when transmitting. The headphones are powered, like the audio dongle, by a cell that's charged directly from the mains. Their physical design is somewhat unappealing -- to our tastes at any rate: they lodge on your head using the ‘nape of the neck’ style of grip, assisted by two ear-hooks that played havoc with our glasses until we eventually found a comfortable fit. The right-hand earpiece houses buttons for volume, pairing with and connecting to Bluetooth devices, a status light and a fold-down microphone. The entire headset collapses into a fairly portable package, although it feels nowhere near as sturdy as high-quality folding headsets from manufacturers such as Sennheiser. To get the headphones to function, you need to pair them with a Bluetooth transmitter -- either the audio dongle, or a Bluetooth-capable device such as a mobile phone. We paired the headphones with the audio dongle and then plugged this into the headphone jacks of various devices, including a hard-drive-based music player, a notebook PC and a mobile phone. The phone was a Sendo X, and we needed a 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapter, which made for a rather bulky protrusion on the left side of the device (anyone wanting to try this kit with a phone or handheld should check the size and location of the headphone jack). We also paired the headset directly with the Sendo X, which has Bluetooth built in. In addition to the headset and audio dongle, you get some useful extras. Like the audio dongle the earpiece sections of the headphones are mostly white: if this does not appeal, snap-on covers turn these red, blue, lime green or orange. More usefully, you get a splitter, making it possible to charge both the audio dongle and the headset at the same time. There's also a mains power adapter (ours needed a converter to UK power) and a USB charging cable -- without splitter -- for emergency charging on the move. And to keep the audio dongle under control when in use, you get a velcro band for attaching it to a portable music player.
The process of pairing was straightforward, and the fact that you simply plug the audio dongle into whatever device you want use as an audio source should appeal to anyone with an aversion to fiddly setup procedures. Audio quality was impressive: the headset performed generally better than earbuds, and although quality varied from device to device, this seemed to be a fair reflection of the capabilities of the original hardware rather than the i-Phono kit. We weren’t very impressed with the headset design, though, and its pairing and volume buttons seemed a little flimsy to the touch. There are two key things this kit can’t do. One is that the audio dongle can’t manage voice calls when attached to a non-Bluetooth mobile phone -- you can only use your phone to play music under these circumstances. The other is that the headset can’t automatically switch between Bluetooth sources. So if it's paired with an iPod, for example, via the audio dongle and a voice call comes in on your Bluetooth-enabled phone, you have to press a button on the headset to disconnect from the dongle, take the call, and then switch back to the music. Often, you may find that your caller has been diverted to voicemail before you've reacted. You can pair the headset with up to five Bluetooth devices.