As soon as I knew that bluetooth headphones were a thing I had to try them. No matter how awesome regular headphones are, the wires are one of life's reminders that hell comes before you die. Few things fill me with rage like having my earbuds get ripped out, especially if my hands are covered in dishwater or car grease. ARGGHHHHHHHHHHHH!
So there I am in 2010 and the first pair I tried was the Motorola S7HD. They were okay but the way they attached to my ears hurt after about 20 minutes and they weren't comfortable in general. So, they weren't great but I loved the bluetooth aspect. No wires and all the controls were at my fingertips. Sadly, they died less than a year later. This being 2011 there weren't a lot of options but I found the Arctic P311 (since replaced by the nearly identical P235 with better bluetooth). They were about $30 and had good reviews so I figured what the hell. Here's the breakdown.
- Great battery life—It's usually a few days (and sometimes weeks) before I have to charge these even with regular use. If you use them heavily every day leave them charging at night and you'll be good all day.
- Easy to connect—Connecting to devices is simple and reliable. They will sometimes lose a connection and then reconnect if you aren't using them which leads to a 3-second blip. Still, if you have them on you're probably using them and I don't notice this enough for it to be annoying. Once it's paired to a device it will connect to it again in the future. It grabs the nearest thing so you might have to switch to it but that's not unusual for bluetooth devices.
- Intuitive controls—Pretty standard fare. You've got play/pause, volume and skip buttons on the right ear. There's nothing on the left ear. They buttons are easy to remember and use. There are some other features that are harder to remember but more on that in a minute.
- The sound's fine—Headphones are one of those things that are not going to be great for less than $80. Electronics are expensive, especially when they're small. You're not going to experience the subtleties of Paganini's 24th Caprice on these but it'll still sound great.
- They fold up—They don't get much smaller but they do fold into a shape that makes them less likely to break. They're light and fit easily into a bag pocket but not so much a pants pocket.
- There's a mic—If you get a call you can just hit a button to answer, babble away and when they're gone your music starts again. More on the mic in the next section.
- The motherf**king beeping—So when the battery is dying it beeps three times every 20 seconds or so. It's the most annoying thing of the human era. There's no reason for this. I dream of one day meeting the person that decided this was a good feature so that I might verbally eviscerate them. Once every minute would have been fine and one beep would have been enough. I hate this with the fury of a thousand volcanoes. It's a rare occurence but still. ಠ_ಠ
- They can be uncomfortable after a while—They're okay for about an hour but the plastic band can hurt your ears with extended use. I don't think there are any headphones that don't hurt after about an hour and certainly not for <$30.
- The mic isn't stellar—I'm often told that I sound far away. Sometimes I can solve this by turning up the volume but that might make them too loud for me to listen to. It's usually not so bad that I can't have a conversation and I've spent hours on phone calls but it deserves a mention.
- The "leather" padding wears off eventually—I had mine for about three years before this happened so I'm not too bothered about it. I wore these during a lot of sweaty exercising and didn't clean them or care for them much so that's probably on me. Once it started peeling I rubbed off all the "leather" parts and they work and feel fine.
More general info
My first pair of Arctic headphones lasted two years before they stopped holding a charge. I had used them pretty much every day so I wasn't upset. I bought the newer model (which is functionally identical although it has better bluetooth) four years ago and they're still going strong.
The play/pause button is a general function button. You use it to turn the headphones on and off and to pair with a new device. It does other cool things that I never use enough to remember and that can be dangerous. Like, you might redial the last number instead of activating Siri which can lead to an awkward conversation. There's not really any way around this; there isn't a lot of space for buttons and they do a pretty decent job of managing it. Once you've used them for a while I have no doubt they'd be second nature. All the main functions are easy and intuitive and you won't accidentally do anything unless you're trying to do something unusual.
Headphones are a fairly personal piece of tech and different people will often love and hate the same pair with equal fervor. That said, if you've never had a pair of bluetooth headphones these are worth trying. They are great for the gym or exercising since there are no wires getting in the way and they're a good backup/on-the-go pair—especially since you don't have to worry about the battery dying.
Since I'm a sworn bluetooth user I spent $120 on the Jaybird Bluebuds X two years ago for what I'd hoped was a better headphone experience. Sadly, I leave them in my EDC bag and, although I use them from time to time, they haven't replaced the Arctics. The Jaybirds shut out all of the sound around me which I find disorienting and downright dangerous if I'm going outside. That also makes it hard to talk on the phone since I can't hear my own voice. They're also pretty fiddly to fit into your ear and control. Meh. I'll stick with the cheap ones for now.