Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: Long-Term Product Review: Sena SMH10 Bluetooth Headset


Long-Term Product Review: Sena SMH10 Bluetooth Headset

Disclaimer: This is an unpaid, independent review on gear that I use on a daily basis. However, if you'd like me to real-world test other pieces of motorcycle apparel or equipment and write about it, e-mail me a private message!

When it comes to answering phone calls while on the motorcycle, riders have various preferences. Some want to be left alone to enjoy the ride, while others feel the phone buzzing in their jacket pocket or on the phone's screen as it's mounted on their bikes, finding themselves wishing they could hit "answer" and take the call without pulling over to the side of the road. For those riders whose phone is vital to work or for those who need to be connected to the world while on two wheels, the in-the-helmet Bluetooth headset is the practical answer to those needs.

For many years, I've taken the corded route when it came to receiving audio into my helmet, whether it be GPS turn-by-turn instructions or music for the commute and the long-distance trip. After a while, being tethered by a wire to my bike and having to remember to disconnect myself every time I'd walk away from my ride became a bit cumbersome, especially with the frequent mounting and dismounting that comes with motorcycle courier deliveries.

With the unique position of using my motorcycle for actual paid work, I've learned that having access to my phone without having to remove my full-face helmet* or stopping saves me time and energy. As a result, my on-the-bike nights become a lot more efficient and profitable.  *I do not wear a modular "flip-face" helmet out of personal preference.

So I went shopping for an easy-to-use, glove-friendly in-the-helmet Bluetooth unit, and weighing in my personal preferences and needs as a rider, I chose the Sena SMH10 Motorcycle Bluetooth® Headset & Intercom. This is my feedback after over a year of daily use while on the job and on recreational rides.

Basic Operation of the Sena SMH10
Initial installation was straightforward on my Shoei QWEST full-face helmet and took less than 20 minutes. I also proceded to install Sena's PC interface software to download the latest firmware update to ensure maximum compatibility with my products (that is available for free when you register your product on the Sena company website).

Note: The in-helmet speakers have to be as close as possible to the ears or they lose their effectiveness. The installation kit includes velcro elevation pads for that purpose. It is highly recommended to use them. I made the mistake of not doing so and not being able to hear audio output when travelling at speeds above 30MPH. When installed properly, audio sounds great at highway speeds (65-70 MPH) with my faceshield down and electric windshield raised up. In fact, bringing volume level to maximum is quite unnecessary in most normal riding conditions.

Bluetooth connectivity of the headset is straightforward with a simple push of a button to pair it to a phone or GPS. You can connect several devices simultaneously - at one point I had an Android phone and iPhone 4S connected at the same time to accept phone calls. The only caveat to that is overall audio quality lessens when more devices spread out over the Bluetooth signal. However, the function still works for the few riders who need a two phones on standby at any given time.

Another huge selling point for the SMH10 is the simplicity of the controls; most commands are combination of two buttons or the turning of the knob. In comparison to similar headsets in the same price range, this is one of the easiest units to operate, even with bulky winter gloves.

The SMH10 also supports voice command dialing, hands-free pickup, and can store several auto-dial numbers for quick access. Those settings can be adjusted when the unit is connected via microUSB to a PC.

Sena SMH10 Compatibility with Samsung Galaxy S5 Smartphone
The headset connected seamlessly with my Samsung Galaxy S5. I chose to use S Voice as my primary hands-free, voice activated assistant. Microphone interaction with this app is good; I have been able to make calls, use dialing voice command, and even send a short text with its easy-to-follow voice prompts. The only glitch I have found is that if you're listening to music at the time S Voice is accessed, your songs will be somewhat garbled/distorted for several seconds while the phone is trying to switch back to the music. S Voice isn't perfect as an app, but it does the dirty work when I need it. (Since this writing of this review, S Voice has been updated to have resolved the issue.)

Music Apps While Using the Samsung Galaxy S5
Sometimes, the SMH10 does have the tendency to lose the ability advancing (skipping) songs when listening from the phone. It has to be "restarted" by closing and reopening the chosen music app. Actual results may vary and problems may have been addressed with updates to the apps mentioned here.

- Samsung Music Player: can pause, advance songs
- Google Play Music: can pause, advance songs
- Pandora Pro: can pause, advance songs
- Spotify Premium: can pause, advance songs
- iHeartRadio: not tested

UPDATED! Intercom Features (speaking to other riders)
Connecting to another SMH10 takes a simple push of a button for pairing. Once connected, the clarity of the conversation is extremely clear and in some cases, far superior than a cell phone call! Motorcycles can extend to nearly half a mile away from each other in open space before the intercom goes out of range. Extra bonus: Sena has updated the firmware (lifetime upgrades are free from Sena) on this unit so it is cross-compatible with any brand of Bluetooth helmet headset.

Durability and Battery Life of the Sena SMH10 in Normal Riding Conditions
The headset is weatherproof and operates normally in a downpour rain. If you're on a long-distance trip, worrying about equipment failure is the last thing on your mind. According to Sena, the SMH10's battery is rated at 10 hrs. talk time. I have yet to completely run the battery down, even after several days of constant use. In a pinch, I have found that the headset will still function even when plugged in through its microUSB charging/data port. So, if you are really concerned about it going out on a long trip, it can be charged while it's being used.

The SMH10 delivers a comprehensive, easy-to-use, dependable and rugged motorcycle helmet headset that can take on the challenges of the everyday commuter. Its pricetag at approximately $160 for a single unit and $285 for a dual set is well worth the cost for a quality product that meets the demands of urban motorcycle riding. For most riders, this is pretty much the only unit you need for your phone and for rider intercom. Anything higher-end than this and you might as well pick up a Sena 10C, and I'd just do that for the helmet camera feature.