Ears-on with the Motorola Hint Bluetooth Headset

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Motorola Hint

If you’ve seen any modern-day movie or TV show involving spies, you know they’re always tapping their ear to communicate with fellow agents or home base. Of course, you don’t actually see an earpiece, because spies always get issued invisible ones, those lucky dogs.

The Motorola Moto Hint isn’t quite invisible, but it comes pretty close to disappearing inside your ear. It’s not only among the smallest Bluetooth headsets ever made, but also one of the first to fully leverage modern voice-activation technology. The real question is whether it’s worth the $150 price tag.

First things first: The Hint was designed with Motorola’s Moto X smartphone in mind, and although it can pair with other phones (include iPhones), at least one extra-sexy feature works only with the X. If you own that model, the Hint must be on your short-list of Bluetooth headsets. If you own something else, well, there’s still a pretty compelling case to be made.

Moto Hint walnutThe beauty of the Hint lies in its design. It tucks away inside your ear, leaving little more than a thumbnail-size plastic block showing to the world. That’s in stark contrast to the chunky, dorky headsets of old. This is, dare I say, just a hint of a headset.

And it comes in a variety of decidedly non-traditional colors, including bamboo, brown leather and black fabric. (The Moto is available in these styles as well, so you can get all matchy if that’s your thing.)

One thing I immediately love about the Hint: a built-in sensor detects when it’s in your ear and when it’s not, so you don’t have to turn it on or off. And if you receive a call when it’s not “loaded,” just pop it in your ear and it quickly (though not instantly) transfers the audio to the headset.

Ironically, the Hint is so small, it’s fairly easy to lose when you’re not wearing it — but Motorola supplies a two-birds-one-stone solution in the form of a lipstick-style carrying case. Slide out its little drawer, drop in the Hint, then slide the drawer shut. While it’s in there, it also recharges (wirelessly!) via the case’s own rechargeable battery, which can fully top off the Hint twice.

That’s a big plus, because if you do use the Hint with a Moto X, you won’t get much better than five hours of standby time. Ouch, right? Remember, though, the Hint is really small. And the reason standby time is so low is that the Hint is constantly listening for voice commands, same as the Moto X itself. Thus you can say, “Ok, Google,” then issue your command, all while keeping your phone tucked away and your hands doing something else (like, say, driving a car).

If you don’t want that battery-sucking feature, or you’re using the Hint with another phone, you simply touch your finger to the out-facing pad. By adding that one action to your otherwise hands-free experience, you can get roughly six times the standby time (a good 30 hours).

In my tests, the Hint worked very well. I could hear callers loud and clear, and they reported the same at their end. A graceful touch of the, er, action pad was enough to answer a call or engage voice controls. And the range is excellent; for me it maintained a clear connection to my phone even when I was a good 50 feet away (Motorola promises 150).

However, it can a little tricky to get it positioned properly in your ear, and if you ever need to readjust, it’s all too easy to graze action pad and activate voice commands. Also, I found that it started getting a bit uncomfortable after about 30 minutes. That’s true for me of earbud headphones, too; your mileage may vary.

You’re mileage may also vary for your overall appreciation of the Moto Hint. Motorola probably won’t like hearing this, but the active-listening feature just isn’t worth the huge hit on battery life. Unless your hands are otherwise occupied, it’s just not a big deal to tap your ear. Thus, even Moto X owners may end up disabling the always-on option.

In theory, then, the Hint should hold equal appeal to Android and iOS users. Motorola has crafted a Bluetooth headset that doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, and therefore doesn’t feel dorky to wear. Plus, I love its ear-detection and wireless-charging features, to say nothing of its color options.

Is it worth $150, though? Ask yourself: How often have you wished for a hands-free way to have a conversation? Or run a Google search? Or add a reminder to your calendar? A good Bluetooth headset makes all that possible, and the Motorola Hint is definitely a good Bluetooth headset. In fact, it’s just shy of being a great one.

Photo credits: Rick Broida, Motorola

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