Blutek Bluetooth Integrated Motorcycle Helmet
Part II: Blutek Bluetooth Helmet
Summary: In my mind, a "well done" and big "thumbs up" to Blutek for Generation II of the Blutek Helmet and Bluetooth System.
But, don’t rest your laurels Blutek – a little more attention to graphics work and finishing is warranted.
And allowing both users to initiate an intercom session (and Class 1 power to really beef up the intercom capabilities) would be icing on the cake.
An extremely viable and reasonably priced option to the other ‘integrated’ helmet systems on the market and who should now be checking their sixes.
Part II: The Bluetek
Integrated Bluetooth System - Overview
It was not meant to be used for long conversations, i.e. – conducting business, or host a multitude of devices that so many of us now accept as the norm.
Safety first was the driving force in providing a system that could be operated virtually hands-free and safety first was also the determiner in providing a single speaker in the helmet. The single speaker approach also largely mitigates conflict with local, and state or provincial laws that prohibit the use of a dual-speaker headset.
The helmet boxes contained the new Generation II systems. The Blutek representative had let both the Editor and I know that while the boxes would contain Gen II helmets, the updated system had not made it into those boxes. But within two days of receiving the helmets, the new instructions were received via email – good support.
Note: As of 2010, Bluetek is apparently no longer in business.
More basic than many other offerings on the market the Blutek system still provides the protocols and functions needed, allowing the system to interface with a wide range of mobile phones and portable music devices.
Other features include voice activated dialing (very useful if supported by the mobile phone); self-leveling volume; a noise cancelling microphone; a multi-function control button; and, battery life for up to eight hours of talk or music time or 180 hours of stand-by time.
The Control Knob mounted on the left side of the helmet is the only external indication of the Bluetooth system found within - everything else resides in the helmet. The single earphone is actually located in the left chin strap so it sits close to the ear but not directly in line. This by itself addresses another important safety issue.
The battery is packed separately with the AC charger and Bluetooth Instruction Kit manual. To install the battery, push up on the neck roll to access the housing and remove the cover. The battery compartment slot is visible at the back of the housing. Orient the battery with the label forward and the pull tab to the rear, then push it down firmly until it seats.
Replace the top cover, lift the soft charging port cover and insert the charging plug of the AC charger. The Red indicator inside the Control Knob panel will come on indicating that the system is charging. This light will go out when the unit is fully charged. The initial charge for both units took 4.5 hours.
With the heart of the system tucked away, the large silver button on the left side of the helmet is the single control for headset functions. As such, the subtle nuances in manipulating the Control Knob must be appreciated. It takes a bit of practice to perform the desired function with medium and heavy weight gloves on, but it can be done.
To turn the system on, push the Control Knob in for two to three seconds – a short low tone followed by a short high tone is heard and the Blue indicator will flash slowly. To turn the device off, press the Control Knob for five to seven seconds – a short high tone followed by a short low tone will be heard as the unit powers off.
Adjusting speaker volume, given the multi-function sensitivity of the Control Knob takes a light touch, especially with medium to heavy-weight gloves on. Flicking or rocking the Control Knob quickly clockwise will Increase (+) volume. Moving it counter-clockwise will Decrease (-) volume.
An alarm tone will let you know when the maximum and minimum volume levels are reached. Just be careful that you don’t actually rotate or hold the Control Knob in any one position while adjusting the volume. Doing so can result in the system entering one of two configuration modes. As I said before, a bit of time playing with the system works wonders.
Put the mobile phone or other device into its "Pairing or Discovery" mode. Depending on the peripheral device, once the basic link is made, the device, in this case the HTC PDA offers up a connection to the ‘bluehelmet’ device for authentication.
As requested, the default pass-key code of "0000" was entered via the Bluetooth pairing menu. With this code accepted, the two devices connected via a secured link, indicated by the Blue indicator reverting to its slow flashing mode. An audio tone is usually also generated in the helmet speaker.
With the Sliver helmet, it took three attempts before the phone would accept the default pass-key, but once it did, everything worked fine. The Fire Dancer system and its HTC partner worked seamlessly the first time. This was a theme repeated throughout the evaluation period.
Depending on the external device, the user may have the option of selecting "hand free" and/or "stereo headset" modes. This is because the Blutek system supports both profiles even though it only has a single mono speaker.
Remember that some phones do not require a pass-key. Nor is any other action typically required if a Bluetooth Adapter (BTA) or dongle is being paired.
So, the process is - turn the first or Lead system on until the Blue indicator is flashing. Then turn and hold the Control Knob either clockwise or counter-clockwise for about five seconds until the Red and Blue indicators both flash, which indicates "Inquire" mode.
With the second system turned off, press its Control Knob for five to seven seconds, initiating the "Pairing" mode. If both systems are within range, pairing takes place in ten to fifteen seconds.
If a connection is made the Blue indicators on both systems revert to their slow flashing mode. This will be followed by a series of tones in both headsets as the Lead system automatically initiates an intercom session to the second unit to test the link.
This validation activity is a simple but appreciated
feature and one that should be implemented by other
Bluetooth systems. While I don’t expect a full built-in
test environment (BITE) some simple initialization
checks or tests, like the one used in this system, would
help, particularly as Bluetooth systems evolve and/or
become more complex.
What I perceive to be the only real limitation of the Intercom feature, other than its limited range, is that only the Lead system can initiate a session, although either system can terminate a session. I had hoped that maybe this was an error in the instructions, but it is not.
To initiate an Intercom session, the Lead system Control Knob is given a quick push, which results in a pair of tones being generated, followed by a third higher tone, and after a couple of seconds, a series of call tones or rings will be heard by both headsets.
If the two systems are within their operating range, the second system typically accepts the session and answers (opens the link) after the third ring. The second system user can manually answer the call request by pressing the Control Knob briefly.
Appreciating the one to one limitation, when a session is initiated by the Lead system devices connected to the Lead system are automatically disconnected so that the Intercom session can proceed. Once the initiation request has been received by the second system, any of its connected peripherals will be disconnected as well so that the Intercom link can be made.
Although not a given for all systems with all peripheral devices, the Blutek systems worked almost flawlessly in restoring a peripheral audio session once the intercom session was terminated by either system. As noted earlier, the Sliver unit was sometimes reluctant to resume a previous audio session while the Fire Dancer always reconnected.
Audio through the single headset speaker is pretty good, not hi-fi of course, but it is very clear and there is a fair bit of volume control available from the Control Knob, plenty for most riding conditions, although I haven’t had a chance to test the audio at sustained highway speeds - yet.
Again, remember to rock or gently twist the dial for best results in adjusting volume. I did find that when the systems were turned off and then back on that the volume settings reverted back to a rather loud default setting…something to remember.
If the mobile phone supports auto-answering and if the pairing menu has been set up for the hands-free mode, any current music session is disconnected or muted and the incoming call automatically transferred to the headset after the set number of rings or within a specified time period.
Terminating a call can be done in two ways. The safest way of course is to have the caller hang up so that the call is terminated automatically by the system without intervention by the user. Alternatively, giving the Control Knob a quick press usually results in the call being disconnected.
Two observations here…first, it is best to let the other party hang up, preserving the hands-free environment for the rider/user. Secondly, sometimes the quick press of the Control Knob resulted in all connections being lost or if the Control Knob was given an overly long push, the system powered down.
This issue did not arise all the time, but it did happen on occasion, usually with the Sliver helmet of course.
The reject a call and last number re-dial (useful when you realize you just rejected a call from your significant other) features work as advertised.
The re-dial feature was tested early on during this evaluation when I was trying to see if the second user could actually initiate an Intercom session. They can’t - pushing the Control Knob only activates the last number re-dial feature.
The Bottom Line(s)
Lightweight and comfortable, the helmet is pretty darn quiet. The Bluetooth system is well designed, skillfully executed and integrated with the helmet and the necessary user interface is easy to use with some practice.
Even though the Sliver unit is prone to dropping connections or slow to initiate pairings, and arrived without its housing lid (a replacement is on its way) both systems have otherwise worked as advertised.
Appreciating the simplicity of the Bluetooth system, including its single mono speaker, I think Blutek is really on to something.
Also: Part 1 of this review (Includes the Product Summary table and Owner Comments)
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