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April 18, 2008 / Marco

Nokia BH-903 Bluetooth Headset Review: Part 2 Keys, Performance and Conclusions

In my first post about the Nokia BH-903, I talked about what makes this stereo Bluetooth headset unique among its competitors. To recap, it’s a 32-g headset with an in-the-ear style which is compatible with various V2.0 bluetooth profiles, comes with an OLED display and an internal FM radio, and provides more than 9 hours of music and talk time.

Keys

When you’re dealing with an ultra-light stereo Bluetooth headset, you should accustom yourself to its tiny keys and buttons, too. The BH-903’s keys can be found in two different locations. Music-related ones are located near the OLED display (that is at the end of two cables which connect the display unit to the earphones), and call-related ones and the microphone are on the small apparatus near the right earphone.

The OLED display and its surrounding buttons

The unit which is tightly attached to the end of the headset cables houses the display and a few buttons: IMG: Nokia BH-903 display and keys. Here Nokia engineers have tried to build the unit like a standard handset so as not to reinvent the wheel and make the lives of BH-903 users difficult. With this analogy in mind, if you take the main unit in your left hand, you’ll notice the Power button above the display (at the top of the unit). Holding it down for a few seconds switches the headset on, which is confirmed by a short beep heard through the earphones. To switch off the headset, hold the same key down for a couple seconds and you’ll hear a different beep to indicate that the system is no longer active. Also, the Power key can act as the lock/unlock key; that is, if you briefly press and release it, the headset is locked. To unlock the headset, you should do the same. The lock/unlock process is accompanied by two distinct beeps, and the OLED display helps you identify the lock/unlock status. At first, you might want to familiarize yourself with the display indicators, but the more you use the BH-903, the less you refer to the display.

The frequently mentioned OLED display is below the Power key and occupies about one-third of the attached unit. The display mimics the feel and look of a standard handset display as closely as possible. For instance, as you turn on the headset, the famous Nokia logo appears on the screen. By the same token, as you recharge the battery, the charging indicators can be seen there. When the headset is on but not used for about 10 seconds, the display goes to the power saving mode. In this mode, the display turns off for about 5 seconds and turns on for about 1 second at regular intervals. To activate the display when it is in the power saving mode, you should press any key.

Just below the display, a square area can be seen which houses several buttons. Most of these keys aren’t tactilely visible. The Previous/Rewind key is on the upper left side, and the Next/Fast forward key is located on the upper right side. These also act as the Scroll keys when the headset Menu is active. Just below these keys you can easily touch the slightly raised Selection key, useful when working with the menu. More interesting, however, is the touch-sensitive Volume key surrounding the Selection key. You should move your finger around the Selection key on the touch-sensitive area clockwise to increase or anticlockwise to decrease the volume, and the headset uses distinct beeps when the volume can no longer be altered either way. This is quite innovative and appeals to the style-conscious. The volume can easily be altered after spending a couple of minutes with the headset.

The Stop key is placed toward the bottom of the square area on the lower left side, and the Play/pause key is on the right side. The Menu key is situated below the square area toward the bottom of the main unit, and is useful when you want to access different functions of the headset such as the music player, the FM radio, recent calls and settings. By default, the headset turns on with the music player in the foreground and whenever you access music-related functions on your handset, the headset also switches to the music player. Just to clarify, the Settings option allows you to adjust the display brightness, manage Bluetooth devices, set the auto-keylock time, select a desired language and reset the headset. The headset settings can also be reset by holding down the Power key and the Answer/End key at the same time, and pressing the Selection key to confirm the operation while the headset is switched off. Finally, the charging socket is located at the bottom of the unit on the opposite of the Power button.

The call buttons

The small control near the right earphone houses the midget microphone on the back, the Mute key on the side, and the relatively bigger Answer/End call key on the front. When someone calls, you can press the Answer/End call key once to accept it, or twice to reject it. When no call is in progress, press the Answer/End call key twice to call the last dialed number. Pressing this key once ends a call during a conversation. The built-in microphone can also be used for audio-recording in spite of the fact that the microphone quality doesn’t match that of the handset microphone.

The FM radio

One of the benefits of a so-called cabled wireless stereo Bluetooth headset is that its cables act as the antenna for the built-in FM radio. To use this feature, press the Menu key and select FM radio. You’ll immediately hear the familiar sound associated with FM receivers.

To search for radio stations, hold down the Forward or Rewind key for about 2 seconds. To stop the search, you should press the Stop key. When the headset finds a station, the station starts to play and the name, frequency, and signal strength of the station are displayed. According to the BH-903 manual, the station name is displayed only if the station supports the RDS (Radio Data Systems) technology. Anyhow, to save the station in the headset, hold down the Play/ Pause key, press the Forward or Rewind key to move to the desired memory location, and hold down the play/pause key. To move among saved stations, press the Forward or Rewind key repeatedly. To pause listening to the radio, press the Stop key, and to resume listening, press the Play/Pause key. Finally, to stop listening to the radio and exit the radio, press the Stop key twice. I’ve found the voice quality to be pleasantly acceptable.

It’s worth mentioning that using the FM radio requires the memorization of these functions for the visually impaired because the headset doesn’t offer an accessible interface when it comes to using the radio. The same can be said about accessing the Settings or the Recent calls option from the menu.

Concluding remarks

With all the details interspersed, you might be wondering if Nokia BH-903 is my desired headset. To be quite frank, it’s not. It’s true that with the BH-903 you get an FM radio, an OLED display and an ultra-portable unit, but I’ve never been a fan of in-the-ear headphones/headsets because I find this wearing style problematic, to say the least. Due to the fact that the headset uses small earphones, the audio quality it provides noticeably fails to match that of the over-ear Nokia BH-604 and Nokia BH-503. I’m bold enough to claim that the BH-903 isn’t for audiophiles; rather, it’s been designed to meet the needs of frequent commuters who want to carry as light and portable a headset as possible. Neither can it filter out surrounding sounds as efficiently as the aforementioned headsets. Also, as hilarious as it might sound, I’ve noticed that the BH-903 requires a pocketed shirt to house the display unit comfortably. Otherwise, the highly desirable OLED display would shamelessly move leftward and rightward when you take a stroll or you have to hide it under your shirt. Finally, I’ve found out that the BH-903 is quite sensitive to key touches; that is, the sound you hear through its earphones tend to lose or gain extra pitch as you press a key on either the handset or the headset. This also happens when the headset is connected to a compatible Bluetooth-enabled computer: namely my Dell XPS M1210 notebook which has Windows Vista SP1. All in all, Nokia BH-503 still remains my preferred stereo Bluetooth headset.

All said, I should admit that the BH-903 functions quite efficiently compared with other in-the-ear units on the market, and what I’ve mentioned regarding the BH-903 is typical of all in-the-ear headsets. Other than that, Nokia BH-903 has a high-quality microphone which is perfect for both telephonic conversations and audio recording. If your number-one need is a light headset with an OLED display, don’t hesitate to purchase Nokia BH-903.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Comes with an OLED display,
  • Offers decent battery life,
  • Has an FM radio,
  • Locks its keys manually or automatically,
  • Allows accessing the “recent calls” list,
  • Is highly portable,
  • Appeals to fashionmongers,
  • Enjoys innovative touch-sensitive volume keys,
  • Uses distinct audible beeps and visual cues to indicate different actions,
  • Comes with sturdy cables.

Cons:

  • Its cables might get in the way sometimes,
  • The in-the-ear style doesn’t provide a totally secure wearing experience,
  • Offers average audio quality,
  • Doesn’t have an accessible interface for the visually impaired,
  • Would have been more comfortable with tactilely identifiable keys.
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One Comment

Leave a Comment
  1. matan / May 4 2009 7:04 pm

    you didn’t mention the most (for my opinion) feature, which is the connectability and roaming experience between the different devices and functions. i.e, when changing from radio to music, or shifting between different audio devices (computer, cell phone, ipod, etc.) or receiving a call during music listening (does it continue automatically?) and so on..

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