▪ Sena 20S Preview
▪ First Impressions (Part 1)
▪ Details and Features (Part 2)
▪ On the Road With the Sena 20S and Conclusion (Part 3)
The Sena 20S is a new addition to the Sena intercom lineup.
The 20S slides in to the top spot as the new flagship motorcycle communication system for Sena, bumping the very popular Sena SMH10 (review) down a spot in the product lineup.
The build quality of the 20S is a definite step up from the SMH10 and the new system has a more modern appearance.
The famous Sena jog dial, introduced on the Sena SMH10 (review) is still there, but it now has a lower profile.
The 20S also introduces a number of new features, which means it's a more sophisticated (and somewhat more complex) intercom -- or "motorcycle communication system" rather -- than any of the other Sena systems.
To accommodate those features, there are three buttons (counting the jog dial). The center "button" is part of the jog dial also.
The additional features and button pushing sequences mean that some of the simplicity of the SMH10 and the Sena SMH5 (review) are gone, but that's the tradeoff for a more extensive feature set.
What does this mean for new owners? Some serious owner's manual study time will pay dividends and the "cheat sheet" may come in handy!
But to help you along, there's a new Sena smartphone app for Android and iPhone and that's the easiest way to establish or change most of the common settings.
More help is available in a new voice command system on the 20S, accessed by slowly tapping the intercom module twice. The system is a bit rudimentary and doesn't always recognize a spoken command, but we expect that to change as Sena releases new firmware updates.
The 20S also now has a flip-up antenna, similar to that found on the Cardo G9 (review). Sena claims a 2 kilometer range for the 20S, compared to 900 meters with the SMH10.
Also, the intercom module now firmly attaches to a new helmet mount. A button at the rear of the helmet mount acts as a release to separate the two.
Sound quality of the 20S remains excellent. The speakers look bigger but aren't; they have the same 39 mm by 7 mm dimensions as the SMH10 speakers with an added chrome trim ring. However, Sena told us that they have redesigned the audio system, including the speakers, the audio codec and more. The bottom line is that the 20S speaker sound quality is crisp and clear and even has better bass response.
Sena said they will soon release a new cover for the speakers that will improve sound quality even further.
There are many more features of the Sena 20S to report and this is a first Quick Look first impressions report with some quick photos and video. H.B.C. will follow up in a few weeks with our standard high-quality webBikeWorld comprehensive review covering all the details.
The first question I'm sure everyone has is "What's the difference between the 20S and the SMH10?" We'll answer that by listing both the new or updated features of the 20S.
That, in a nutshell, is pretty much all you need to know about the differences between the SMH10 and the 20S.
The Sena 20S is available in single kits or a dual pack with two complete intercom units. A single kit consists of a 20S intercom module and a helmet mount with boom mic and speakers.
Also included is an additional wired boom mic; a wired mic; a stick-on helmet mount (if the clamp doesn't fit your helmet); an AUX cable; a USB cable (used for charging or a standard Android-type mini-USB phone charger will work, as does the Solar JOOS charger (review) that we use quite frequently to charge all our devices).
You also get a couple of ear pocket pads, some speaker hook-and-loop stickies and an accessory outlet charger.
The very first thing you should do when your 20S arrives is download and install the most recent version of the Sena Device Manager on your computer, then install the most recent firmware for the 20S (currently 1.1.1). Even if your 20S is brand new and has the 1.1.1 firmware, update it with the current version.
Since this is a brand-new product with new features, there are admittedly a few rough spots. You can send an email to Sena support or enter a bug report in their forum and they're very good about addressing the issues.
For example, on our systems, the spoken status announcement voice is barely audible most of the time, but then comes on very loud in some instances, like when the FM radio is engaged.
Also, the FM radio reception on our units is poor; Sena is working on a firmware fix.
Sena has told us that a new firmware version will be coming soon and the company is very good about releasing new firmware to fix issues and even to provide serious upgrades to the intercom systems. So it's best to get used to how the Sena Device Manager works and get on their mailing list to keep updated on new releases.
Let's take a look at some photos and we put together a quick "first look" video below, then we'll summarize our first impressions of the 20S after spending a few intensive days with the systems.
Read the Manual!
After you've downloaded and installed the latest firmware updates, new 20S owners will surely want to spend some time with the printed (thank you!) or .pdf (available here) owner's manual to learn about all of the new 20S the features and how they are implemented.
We actually spent about 5 hours studying the manual and trying everything out to get it embedded in our little gray cells. As an indication of the relatively greater complexity of the 20S, Sena has posted a series of instructional videos on YouTube that explain how to use the different features.
We've only had a couple of days with the new 20S intercoms, so these are some random quick first impressions that will be followed up with our standard detailed review and report after we spend more time with the systems.
The build quality of the 20S intercom module and the helmet mount has been upgraded from the SMH10. Besides the more modern look and feel, the 20S now connects to the helmet mount with flat contacts, rather than the pins used on the SMH10 that caused many owners (including us) headaches as they tended to break over time if the intercom module was removed and replaced from the helmet mount too frequently.
The new microphone is very nice; it's on a firm-but-flexible boom that looks like it will last. It has a sort-of '50's science fiction rocket ship shape, complete with a little fin or rudder on the front that you can feel that indicates which direction the mic should point.
The kit also comes with a wired boom mic; the wire leads from the port on the helmet mount to the beginning of the boom. A stickie at the beginning of the boom can secure to the inside of the chin bar or helmet and then the mic bends towards your mouth. A wire-only mic is also provided.
We tried a couple of methods of pairing the 20S with a couple of Android phones. The NFC system works well; first initiate NFC on your phone and then tap the body of the intercom module on the phone to pair. We found that a tap works but a light touch or contact does not. It also means that the 20S intercom module will have to first be removed from the helmet mount to get the systems close enough to pair. On some smartphones, first enable Bluetooth and you may still have to select "Search for devices".
That's probably the easiest way to pair the 20S with your phone, although the standard method works. Don't forget, there are two types of pairings: pairing with another Sena intercom and pairing with a Bluetooth device each take a different button push on the 20S to engage.
Note also that pairing the 20S with a Sena SR10 Bluetooth adapter (review) involves a slightly different procedure, as described in the 20S owner's manual. You can also selectively pair the 20S for A2DP only or HFP (hands-free protocol) for cell phones only, but most owners probably will not need those pairing types.
The basic voice command system in the 20S is supposed to activate when you say "Hello Sena" with the 20S in standby mode. We couldn't get that to work but the secondary way to start the voice commands is to tap the intercom body (not the jog dial) twice.
You can then navigate through the menu system but the system didn't always recognize our commands; some of the commands have to be spoken slowly and distinctly to be recognized. The best way to set up the 20S is through the smartphone app.
If you don't use the smartphone app to change the setup, some of the menu choices don't let you back out of the sub-menu to the main menu. You can only exit the menu system entirely, then you have to navigate back down.
This is the case with the "Overlay Sensitivity Mode" menu, which allows you to set the background volume for Audio Multitasking (music continues to play in the background when you're on the intercom). You have to jog through 10 choices to get to "exit", but "exit" in this case means exiting completely out of the menu system, rather than up one level to the main menu. Sena said they'll fix this in a firmware update.
The configuration menu can also be accessed by the somewhat confusing procedure of pressing and holding the jog dial for 12 seconds, a long time. The 20S will first announce that it's going into pairing mode, but you have to keep holding, then you get two pairs of beeps, then finally it enters the configuration menu. Sena may have tried to do too much with too few buttons; it would probably be better just to stick with the easy-to-use smartphone app for all settings.
A couple of things are missing from the owner's manual; one is that it doesn't explicitly tell you how to charge the intercom units! It's simple actually; you can connect to a standard mini-USB cell phone charger or charge it via the included USB cable using your computer.
One quirk that we think is smartphone-related is that if you have the smartphone set to resume music when it re-connects with a previously paired device, the last tune that was playing (or the next) will resume. It's a little annoying because you may not always want the music to immediately start and to pause it, you have to press and hold the jog dial for 2 seconds each time the intercom re-connects.
In other words, the music is always either playing or paused in the background. The smartphone settings can be changed to stop it from resuming the last stream, but if we did that, then we couldn't get the music to stream to the 20S again at all. Perhaps there is a setting that Sena can change in the 20S via firmware to choose whether to resume the stream or not after the unit re-connects?
This is where remembering all the correct button pushes will come in very handy. See this Sena YouTube video which explains the procedure to initiate music sharing. We found that music sharing has better performance with the antennas in the up position on both intercoms. By the way, Sena has a series of instructional videos for using the 20S in the YouTube Sena User's Guide.
The 20S allows streamed music, the FM radio and/or GPS commands to be heard over the intercom conversation or vice-versa. Users can set a volume range from 1 to 10 for the background streams by selecting the "intercom audio overlay sensitivity" setting in the configuration menu (with a few quirks; see the "Voice Commands" section above).
From the manual, p. 42: "The overlaid audio is played in the background with reduced volume whenever there is an intercom conversation and will return to normal volume once the conversation is finished. If this feature is disabled, any incoming or outgoing intercom will interrupt your audio channel." The volume of GPS instructions can also be set to take precedence over other streams in the "Navigation App Support" setting.
The new Sena 20S is a significant upgrade to previous Sena motorcycle communications systems. It has a better tactile and visual presence than the SMH10 which, by the way, will continue in the Sena lineup and will be updated at some point in the future.
The 20S is loaded with features and it is a direct response to owner feedback -- webBikeWorld readers who have requested features like a headphone port, music sharing and streaming without interruptions by the intercom conversations, better range, better sound quality and more.
Sena will be releasing the SMH3 soon also (similar to the Sena/Nexx SXCOM (review)), so we're seeing a divergence in the intercom space with very simple and easy-to-use "basic" intercoms like the SMH3 and the "high-end" feature-laden "motorcycle communication systems" like the 20S.
We'll have a full detailed review of the 20S coming in a few weeks after we put it through the paces.
► NEXT: Details and Features
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From "K" (April 2015): "My four friends and I received our Sena 20S units only a few days before our almost 5,000 mile tour of Arizona and Utah National Parks trip. Looking back, many of the issues we experienced were probably due to the steep learning curve of the 20S system.
Sena since acknowledged many issues and addressed some of them with firmware changes and/or replacement of the hardware (units) with newly-designed units. Sena replaced all four of our units due to FM radio reception problems and unit-to-base mounting failures. The quickness and efficiency of Sena’s replacement needs to be commended.
Sena does have some of the best customer service of any company that I’ve ever experienced. But some issues still exist.
1. Top on the list is that the units will intermittently power themselves down without any warning or announcement. When it seems that one’s 20S friends have become silent; it was surprising to find that my unit had powered itself off. When I tried to cycle the power to try to correct the silence with a power-down, I discovered that the unit WAS off! In other words, when I reached up to turn it OFF, it turned it ON; it was already off. This happens quite often; and is very intermittent. There are dozens of users complaining about this issue and hoping it can be corrected with a firmware update.
2. Next on the list is the fact that Sena has decided that phone calls and GPS driving instructions are more important than intercom communications. This is a biggie. Whenever the GPS powers up, beeps, or gives a routing instruction, intercom communications are lost.
What happens on the road is this: When any 20S user’s GPS gives a routing instruction, intercom is disabled. That makes it impossible for riders to communicate very important routing from motorcycle to motorcycle via the intercom. In other words, when we need intercom the most, it is disabled.
The Sena 20S forum is also packed with contributions asking Sena to please give the user the ability to customize the priorities in their units. Now, I must add that this is the case when the GPS is paired and connected as the 'first phone' as described in the manual in order to enjoy stereo sound from the GPS’s other functions (XM radio, MP3, and Audio Books).
3. Speaking of the manual, it does a good job of instructing how to configure the 20S's many capabilities; but it doesn’t mention why one scenario might (or might not) be preferred over others.
For instance, one must learn by experience that when the GPS is paired as 'First Phone' to the Sena, the GPS will block out intercom communications. We had to learn this on our own. 70 MPH on the highway is not a good learning environment. Either the Manual or Sena’s on-line presence should explain all of the ins and outs of the unit.
4. Intercom connections are confusing. If I connect to Mike first (for instance), Mike is my #1. If I connect to Dan next, DAN becomes my #1 and Mike my #2. If I connect to a #3 friend, he/she becomes #1 and previous connections all move up a number. And so on with #4 friend, #5 friend et al. Each new friend becomes #1 and all the rest move up a number.
And somehow, the friend number must be memorized while traveling down the road. This really makes for a lot of confusion when each member of the group connects to each other member. Everyone will have communication with everyone else; but it’s almost impossible to figure it out without keeping written notes.
5. Sena gave me clarification regarding stringing users together. Each 20S can only connect to two others for intercom communication. But each of those two others can connect to one additional user, each; making the string contain four users that can all communicate with each other. Each of the new users (on each end of the string) can connect to one additional user, each; making the string contain six users.
Now here’s the rub: If User number 2 runs out of battery, goes out of range or experiences unit shut-down (as described above), User # loses communication with #2 and everyone else downstream! Everyone else downstream can still communicate with each other, but not with #1. And #1 will wonder where everyone went.
Hopefully, the iPhone app will make this more intuitive and connect in such a way that only the one user is lost. Unfortunately, the app didn’t work while we were on the trip. I understand that they’ve fixed it now but haven’t gotten enough riders together to try it.
6. Using the smartphone app: This means that the smartphone must be connected to the 20S. But the preferred connection is for the smartphone to be connected to the GPS and then the GPS to the 20S. The GPS has a wonderful smartphone interface that allows calling restaurants, hotels, etc. while on the road as well as anyone in the phone’s memory. The GPS graphic user’s interface makes initiating or receiving phone calls quick and efficient.
So the smartphone must be connected to the GPS and the 20S simultaneously? What happens, then, when the phone rings? How do you keep the smartphone MP3 music from playing every time the 20S powers up? (one of our group experienced that and he couldn’t figure out where the unwanted music was coming from.)
7. Finally, the Harley Davidson radio system cannot be made to connect to any Bluetooth helmet system. Sena has stated on their forum that an interface to Harley and Honda radio systems is a work in progress. We’ve been waiting a long time. When they do release such a Bluetooth dongle (for 2-way communication to motorcycle’s factory radio system), they’ll be the preferred Bluetooth helmet system source; hands-down for Harley and Honda owners that have factory radio systems.
In conclusion, despite the issues itemized above, I still think that the Sena 20S is the best Bluetooth helmet intercom communication device available.
I’m confident that Sena will make firmware changes and smartphone apps to make it more and more intuitive to use and more reliable. And eventually, they’ll come out with a new model that is even better, I’m sure. Some day, they’ll have a motorcycle factory radio dongle so I can have my complete system. So I’m sticking with them.
Their 24 month warranty is the best. They have people at their help desk forum that answer questions the same day that they’re asked. The modern Bluetooth units are more complex than ever with features not before contemplated. But in my opinion, the Sena 20S is the most advanced and has more potential than their competitors."
From "B.W." (November 2014): "I just read your review of the 20S, I purchased one recently, prior to this I had Scala G4, G9 and Sena SMH10. I like the 20S so far, however I wonder if you could help me with this issue.
I have an Android smart phone and a Zumo 660 GPS. I have no problem pairing the phone to work through the GPS so I have call display on the screen, however if I also pair 20S to my phone so I can stream music, I lose the call display function, it seems as though I can only have one or the other, is there a way to have the 20S do both functions: provide call display and be connected directly to the phone.
I contacted Sena and their answer to have this work did not work for me. This is basically the same thing as I had with the G9 ."
H.B.C. Replies: In not knowing which Android phone you have, its flavor being run or the firmware versions of either (all can be applicable), the following steps should address your requirements and everything is based on exploiting the Selective Pairing features (Section 6 of the User Guide) of the 20S (running firmware v1.2).
It is a relatively reliable method of getting the configuration I think you want and I have used it on the zumo 660 (software v5.10), zumo 665 and BMW Navigator V.
General Points: In doing a lot of testing with these and related devices, I’ve been able to really mess things up regarding profiles and timings, but the Sena devices, especially the 20S sort things out sequentially.
With the zumo 660 and 665, I do find that occasionally the GPS with Phone or the GPS with 20S connection had to be manually initiated at the GPS. With the newer BMW Navigator V no coaxing was needed.
As always, the processes and sequences detailed may not work exactly or as smoothly as desired, so some time spent in trying different implementations is good. And some of us have found ‘shortcuts’ as well, but they don’t always work...
Short Version: All of the information on how to do this is described in the owner's manual. I went back in some notes and then did some more playing around this afternoon. The following is a more nut-shell or summary of what needs to be done and how.
Objective 1: Phone hosted by GPS for call display/calling purposes, achieved by using Phone menu on GPS to pair, Phone services will be available via main screen of GPS.
Objective 2: GPS to 20S for navigation and phone audio. This can be done in different ways as both the zumo 660 and 20S support more than one HFP connection. But the following two are well defined and always seem to work:
1. By using Selective Profile process described in Section 6.2, for Phone Call Only or 2. using the procedure described in Section 5.4.1 for BT GPS Navigation Pairing.
Both these methods are based on using the 'Audio' Bluetooth connection on the GPS as the ‘Phone’ connection is already being used for the Phone and GPS pairing.
Objective 3: Phone to 20S using the process described in Section 6.1 for Selective Profile A2DP stereo audio streaming from Phone media service to headset.
Note: I’ve found that given the 20S multi-tasking capabilities, an A2DP pairing between the 20S and the Phone can be created and typically a second one done between the 20S and the GPS (using Audio menu). And when the primary A2DP link is not being used (Phone media service to 20S), the second A2DP link can or will be activated allowing stereo music streaming and navigation and phone audio from the GPS.
The key here is to know what profile support features each device has and where multiple or simultaneous connections are allowed; most newer devices allow more configuration and use flexibility and spending time playing around really does pay dividends.
From "L.S." (October 2014): "In Sena 20S Review (Part 2), you talk about firmware v1.2 RC8 and RC11 releases. On their website I can find only one version of the v1.2 . How can I understand which release I've installed? Thank you."
H.B.C.'s Reply: In the Part 2 review, I just mentioned the unofficial pre-release firmware (typically marked as Release Candidate (RC) or Beta) to identify that we had received and worked with all the firmware whether it was a formal release or not.
Unless the manufacturer posts other information or makes other not-yet-released firmware available (which should always be clearly identified as such), always go with the current firmware posted, in this case Version 1.2 which is the current official release.
And with the latest Sena Device Manager installed, with the Bluetooth system connected and recognized, the current firmware will be read and shown in the upper right of the screen -- the App provides the firmware info as well in the centre section of the opening screen. Once any update has been applied successfully the new version will be shown.
As long as you can connect to the PC application or the smartphone App, you should always be able to tell what version is being run."
From "T.G." (October 2014): "What about durability? The Sena 20S forums are full of people complaining that the helmet latch is breaking and not holding the unit to the helmet anymore, some resorting to rubber bands.
Also, there are reports that the body is splitting in half. How many times have you removed the unit from the helmet and replaced it? Have you noticed any difficulty or premature wear on the attachment points? Have you broken the latch yet?
I was going to pull the trigger to buy a dual set until I saw the flood of reports that the latches are breaking easily. Thanks a ton for doing these reviews, I am glad they fixed a lot of problems in the recent updates, and hope they fix all the problems before I buy a set in the spring."
H.B.C.'s Reply: This, so far, isn’t an issue from my perspective, but I do acknowledge that some individuals seem to have had problems, but in sitting on the forums, I can’t say I’ve seen a "flood" of reports.
In using two of the original Sena 20S chassis/bases for four months now and in having moved them between a total of six helmets (two using adhesive mounting and four using the clamp), I have not had any issues related to breakage, premature wear, etc.
The adhesive mounting plate is not as strong as that supplied with other brands, but neither of them has failed, although with the Schuberth C3 fitment I added a small narrow strip of 3M adhesive to fill in the height differential between the shell and the base pieces of the helmet for better surface contact.
I did have initial concerns over the boom microphone unit, but the booms as used on the flip helmets have held up just fine and so far, no wear or tear is evident.
If any issues had been experienced, they would have been identified in the review.
Regarding the concern that "body is splitting in half", I’m not sure where or how the body would split in half unless where the molded pieces join and held with the fastening screws that need to be removed to change microphones or remove the speaker connection.
I do know of one user who had done this and not reassembled the base properly, so the base/clamp pieces did separate (thankfully nothing was lost or damaged), but this was an installation-related issue and from what I saw not attributable to premature wear.
As mentioned above, the clamp (latch?) mounting plate fitments have been working fine. They aren’t of the same weight and bulk of other Sena (and other brand) mounts and admittedly appear lightweight overall.
But, the clamp fittings have been on/off four helmets as mentioned above - numerous times, which the norm for my continuous testing and use activities. I am hard on helmets and installed systems.
I also haven’t had any issues with mounting and locking the module to the base, something that I also originally thought might be or become an issue over time.
From "S.J." (August 2014): "I your review of the Sena 20S and I have a question related to the features of the equipment. You have listed as a feature exclusive to the 20S saying Group intercom function and then below it in the upgrades, it says 8-way multi intercom. What exactly is the exclusive feature of Group Intercom?
Thanks for the great initial report and your help. Looking forward to the detailed review."
Rick's Reply: I thought someone would ask that question but I was hoping they wouldn't! I'm a bit confused over it myself. But I asked Sena and here's their response:
"They are basically same internally. If we look into the topology of the communication, it is based on the daisy-chain. However, it is kind of automatic, so it doesn’t require manual pairing for 8-connections.
Also, it manages a sort of messaging among the device connected to monitor the connections. In short, both are based on the same topology; one is automatic and the other is manual. You know the automatic is not always best, so there is pros and cons there.
Once the Group Intercom is broken or a connection in the middle was disconnected, then you need to restorer the whole connection by automatic Group Intercom. Multi-way intercom? You may manually reconnect the partied disconnected.
A future firmware update will include more versatile Group Intercom as well as adding STAR topology."
From "M.A." (July 2014): "Another great review of a new product..thanks for keeping webBikeWorld relevant to what's up and coming on two wheels.
Has Sena made any changes to the audio (sound) generated when two bike to bike intercoms go out of range? Our first gen SMH10 are still working just fine -- they generate static and hissing when we're at the far end of our range, but the noise is tolerable.
We had tried a newer generation of Sena intercoms, but found the digital noise when approaching max range intolerable (no worries, someone on eBay got a heck of a deal!).
I'd love to try a new Sena long range unit as described in your latest review but would like to know in advance what happens when the range is exceeded. As always a loyal reader..."
Rick's Reply: I asked H.B.C., who is currently working on the Part 2 detailed review follow-up, and here's what he told me:
Still going through some initial tests and use configurations with the 20S (nice design and build by the way) and so far in our one highway excursion, the 20S will drop and then auto-recover any active intercom link, and I didn’t hear much other than the usual atmospherics (the signal weakens initially before dropping out, but as the link is recovered and is completely restored, the noise will be overcome).
Comment: this is (unfortunately) common to ALL Sena intercoms…something seemingly not yet addressed over a few years and releases, whereas other manufacturers -- Cardo, UClear and Midland to name three -- have pretty much beaten this.
But I think some tuning/filtering tweaks have been done as the usual noises present on the Sena intercoms are much lower with the 20S than say the SMH10, SMH10R or SMH5.