BlueAnt InterphoneReview Date: January 12, 2009 (revised January 31, 2010)
Purchase Date: August 4, 2007
Purchase Price: $144.95 each
Purchased From: BlueAnt - InterPhone Motorcycle Helmet Kit
I've been using a pair of BlueAnt Interphones for almost a year now and have had great success with them, so I thought I'd write a review.
I instruct at track events, mostly for newbies getting their first taste of performance driving on a road course. We have a lead instructor who handles classroom instruction, but for on-track instruction we actually have a lesson plan for the 20 or more people like myself who go out on the track with the students.
As an instructor I had always had a difficult time hearing what my student was saying, and with him/her hearing me. Hand signals helped a bit, but since the are seeing my hand from the side while I point to the braking markers up ahead, that usually confuses things. A number of other instructors are using the ChatterBoxes to communicate with their students, but I always thought hey were pretty pricey for a wired audio link. Besides, we are usually in the student's car for one, maybe two sessions. After that, it's lead-follows for the rest of the day. I needed something that would let me talk to my student whether they were sitting next to me or in another car.
I looked into radios and such and I ended up buying a pair of BlueAnt Interphones for helmet-to-helmet and car-to-car communications. These units were designed for motorcyclists who want to be able to talk to each other while on a ride. They communicate via BlueTooth and they can be used to talk to another (one other) unit, or to your cell phone. The range is about 150 meters, which is usually plenty for lead-follows.
The Interphone includes the receiver/transmitter, headset,
charger, and mounting bracket.
Each unit (I bought two, one for me and one my students could use.) comes with the main unit, a microphone and speaker, charger, and mounting hardware. The mounting hardware included an adhesive bracket that you can clip the main unit to. It also included a clamp-style bracket that could be slid, or shoved, over the shell of the helmet and under the padding. I'm using the adhesive mount on my helmet and my students use the clamp-style bracket.
BlueAnt Interphone mounted on a helmet.
Before you can use them you charge the batteries, then you get them to recognize each other. This involves pushing a button, waiting for beeps and such. It's in the manual and it was easy to do.
To use them, you press and hold the main button and wait for a beep to indicate the unit is on. Once both units are on you press the button on one unit until you hear two beeps. This switches it from phone to intercom mode. At that point you can yak away. To turn them off again you press and hold the button until you hear the beep. You can do all this with the unit on your helmet. There is a red/blue LED on the main unit that indicates what mode each unit is working in.
There are volume controls, too. These buttons are located on the end of the units and are easy to find and press, even while wearing driving gloves.
On the track, communications are very clear. These things are voice-activated plus they filter out the ambient noise so you don't hear the wind noise in the other car even while my student is speaking, although you can hear their tires squealing.
My hang gliding friends warned me against using voice-activated intercoms or radios. Apparently hang glider pilots do a lot of grunting and swearing as they manhandle their gliders. Imagine 8-10 pilots in the air at the same time, all using voice-activated radios, and everyone of them being able to hear each other from 5-10 miles away, all day. Anyway, this turned out to not be a problem. I'm pretty relaxed, well, focused, while I suspect some of my students aren't even breathing sometimes, but we hear each other when we speak. Besides, these units only communicate with each other, in pairs.
The batteries last 4-5 hours on a single charge, plenty long for a typical track day that usually includes 2 hours or so of driving. The batteries are not removable so you can't simply slip in a fresh set of batteries. Oh, well, I guess that's the cost of them being weather-proof.
Two little things to think about when using these, and neither are about these intercoms themselves, but rather to issues related to their use. First, now that you can talk to your student, you have to learn not to. It's tempting to hold a conversation with them, but you have to resist. In the beginning, keep it to a minimum. Their brains are already working at capacity. Later, you can add commentary, like "That looked like fun.", "Nice line.", "I saw that!", and so on. Second, practice turning on these things before you attach them to your helmets and get in the car. It's easy to start them up and put them in intercom mode, but if you mess up, its a pita and you're missing out on valuable track time.
I'm very happy with these things, and my students are too. They can't imagine what it would have been like not using them. Actually, I can, because I have instructed for years without using them. My first time instructing is a good example. This was our first lead-follow session, and I was rolling along at what I thought was a leisurely pace, barely even having to use my brakes. I'd still faux-brake to let my student know that where he should start braking, and I'd follow the school line very closely even though my modest speed gave me many more options. I kept checking the mirrors and he was still back there, keeping up, and seemed to be doing well. Afterwards I heard quite a different story. He thought we were nail-bitingly fast and it was all he could do to keep up with me. It had been a, well, very emotional session for him. He had even flashed his headlights to get my attention, but he had taped them up so I never saw them. Oops. But then again it cured him of his well-known bad habits in only one session. He was known in autox circles for jerking his car left and right and being hard on the pedals, and erratic. There was no way he could do that and keep up. Later he said he that on that day he really learned what smooth was. Now that I think of it, maybe an intercom would have extended his learning curve.
On the other hand, more recently I had a student who had only 20 and 40% hearing left and the intercoms were just what we needed.