Product review: iSkin Cerulean F1 + TX Bluetooth headphones

December 20, 2009 1 Comment »

TX + F1A couple of months after I wrote the review on the Logitech Freepulse headphones, the power button stopped working, so I had to find a new pair of headphones.

For a while, I made do with a pair of wired headphones, but they’re clearly not geeky enough, so I was looking for a new pair of wireless ‘phones.  While I was looking around FutureShop, I found these.

The iSkin Cerulean series fit an A2DP and an HSP/HFP device into an ear-mounted design.  That means it can be paired not only with its own receiver (or newer versions of the iPod Touch), but also with any Bluetooth-equipped cellphone (or both simultaneously).  The right earpiece has all the electronics, including the microphone for phone conversations.

With the controls on the headset, you can start and pause the music, skip forward or backwards in your playlist, or raise or lower the volume.  Confusingly, the volume controls work differently depending on what’s connected.  When paired with an iPod, the volume control is only for the headphones’ internal volume, and the iPod’s volume must be controlled separately.  During a phone call, the volume control changes the phone’s volume.

F1diagramThe earpieces themselves are lightweight, with an earhook to distribute the weight evenly over the curve of the ear.  The earhook interferes only slightly with the arm of my glasses, but that’s a minor consideration.  More worryingly, the piece that connects the earhook to the earpiece is plastic and moderately fragile.  I broke the left earhook within about a month of buying the headphones, and the supplied replacement is a different shape which is not nearly as comfortable as the standard earhook.

The buttons are well-placed, if small, and it only takes a little practice to know which one to press for each action.  I’ve occasionally mixed up the volume up button with the skip forward button, but that says more about my absentmindedness than the phones’ design.  There is an integrated Li battery, which is charged via a tiny proprietary port that connects to a standard USB port.

txThe other component is the TX transmitter (kudos for the clever-ish name… there’s also an RX module that, you guessed it, receives and plugs into iPod compatible stereo systems).  Surprisingly, this was actually more trouble than the headphones.  Because of it’s shape and layout, it was pretty difficult to find an iPod case that would allow it to connect with the iPod still protected.  I finally found one that did what I wanted, then Apple sidestepped the whole problem by activating the Bluetooth module hidden in my iPod with the release of iPod OS 3.

It’s important to note that while the iPod does now transmit music directly to the F1 headset, the button functions don’t work – all the controls are stuck on the iPod, so while you wouldn’t necessarily have to purchase the TX in order to enjoy wireless music, it does still enhance the experience, at least until Apple implements all of the AVRCP standard.

For their price, the F1 + TX combination does a pretty good of making sure you can hear your music and phone calls, without having to worry about wires or head/neck bands.  They’re not perfect – still a little bulky, and that earhook issue, but they come pretty close for something in their price range.

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