Noise cancellation has become such an important feature in headphones to me that if I find myself in an airport without them, I’ll probably shell out the cash to buy a new set.
I’ve learned that noise cancellation can have that almost magical effect of turning what would otherwise be a nightmare flight full of screaming babies into a pleasant few hours of listening to music or podcasts. So I thought that noise cancellation would be a key feature in all my future headsets, but the Jabra Halo Smart wireless stereo earbuds now have me thinking otherwise, after a few weeks of use.
Top-line specs and features
- Bluetooth 4.0
- Battery life: 17 hours talk time, 15 hours music time
- Wind noise protection
- Google Now / Siri quick access button
- Dust and water resistant
- Price: $99
Sound quality – calls and music
Jabra is a brand that’s well-reputed for manufacturing good quality Bluetooth headsets meant to be paired with smartphones for making phone calls. More recently it’s expanded its product line to offer various Bluetooth-connected audio products better suited for use while exercising, while driving, or for listening to music. With the Halo Smart, music lovers are the intended target audience, so let’s start there.
I didn’t really hear Radiohead’s new album, A Moon Shaped Pool, until I listened to it on the Halo Smart headset. Not to say this headset is the best audio experience you can possibly have, but I’d previously played the new album a couple of times on my wired headphones. But listening to it on the Halo Smart, the quality was noticeably better. The headset just has great fidelity and I was able to hear more of the nuances of the music, and appreciate Thom Yorke’s falsetto more properly with the range provided by the headset. I think you’d be hard priced to find much better quality than this in a headset, especially within the same price range. Even the bass has a satisfying thump that’s hard to get out of earbuds.
As I mentioned, the lack of noise cancellation technology is a real downside here. Once you’re spending around $100 on a premium headset, noise cancellation is an attainable feature and for many, the killer feature that you’re paying for. As a result, I find myself cranking the volume up to maximum when I’m riding the subway, which probably means I’ll be deaf in about six months.
For calls, I can always hear the other person on the line very clearly. No one has complained they can’t hear me when I’m using the headset, indicating the onboard microphone is very adequate. Incoming calls are signalled with beeps and you can switch from listening to Radiohead to talking on the phone (if you want to) by clicking one button on the headset.
Build quality and battery life
After I dipped one of my earbuds in my coffee mug on one groggy morning, I discovered what Jabra means when it says the Halo Smart is “built for life.” I was pleased that the headset continued to function well. These earbuds aren’t delicate pearls that need to be sealed in a case when you transport them either – I just throw them in my backpack alongside my laptop and lunch, confident they’ll survive and be ready to play music when I need it.
The battery life is also great. I haven’t tested Jabra’s claims of 17 hours of straight talk time or 15 hours of music playback because I’m not sure I can even stay awake that long. What I do know is that I can be confident about picking up this headset, turning it on, and the battery not dying. So long as you turn it off when you’re done using it, the Halo Smart seems to keep a charge very well. I don’t stress about charging this up every day, and when I need to it connects to any micro USB cord available to power up.
The little things
While it’s a very simple headset to operate and doesn’t have many frills, I have to give the Halo Smart a few points for some elegant features. First of all, it can connect to multiple devices at the same time. That means I can listen to the audio from my MacBook, and still answer an incoming call on my iPhone with the headset seamlessly. Plus, you don’t have to fiddle with your Bluetooth settings on your devices to connect and disconnect the Halo Smart – it just connects and starts working.
The headset has the buttons you’d expect – play/pause and volume controls, plus a button that provides quick access to Siri on iPhone, or Google Now on Android. This is a nice convenience, since it lets you make a call or send a text hands-free. Though I didn’t find that this button worked seamlessly every time – sometimes it failed to activate Siri, or Siri would turn on and not take my commands. I learned that waiting a couple more seconds than I normally would before speaking to Siri resolved some of the problems.
There’s magnets on the headphones and at two locations on the band that sits on your neck. So instead of just dangling, the headphones can either stick together, or to the band. The band itself is adjustable so it will comfortably fit around your neck. But I found it to be a bit too back heavy, and a couple of times it slid off my neck and I found the headset clinging on to my skull by the earbuds alone. Flexing the band inwards to be a tighter fit can help avoid this, but there’s no guarantee.
Jabra offers an app that you can use alongside this headset. Jabra Assist will read out your calendar notifications and email on Android, locate your device if you lose track of it, and display your battery life with a visual. I didn’t bother with this.
- Good quality sound
- Connects to multiple devices simultaneously
- Long battery life
- Convenient to slip in and out of ears
- Good phone call experience
- More expensive headset
- No noise cancelling
- No wired option
- Can slip off your neck
Overall, I’m happy to use this headset in many different situations – sitting at my desk and working on my computer, or connected to my smartphone while I’m on the go. I wish it had noise cancellation for noisy subway rides and flights, but it’s loud enough to hear without. The long battery life, reliable connection to my devices, and durable build quality put it over the top as a premium headset for me.