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Product Review: SENA SMH10 Bluetooth Communicator

  Posted at 02:00:00 PM
  File under  Bluetooth Gadgets Product Review
  Author: Jonas Granberg
  Location: Normandy, France

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Guest Article
This is a guest post by Jonas Granberg, a Swedish national who rides more than he drives. An engineer by training and profession, Jonas rides BMW, KTM and Husaberg motorcycles.
The SENA SMH10 is the flagship of the SENA Open SENA in a new window family. Compared to the previously tested model, the SMH5 (click here to read the review Open link in a new window), it adds a few bells and whistles, albeit at the price of a bit of bulk compared to its smaller sibling. The overall handling and basic features are the same, so please see the previous review for a closer description of the capabilities of the unit.

Here we will look into the differences, and some overall impressions from using the unit on the road.

Sena SMH10

To summarize, the main differences are:
  • More battery capacity, leading to longer talk and stand-by times (12 hours and 10 days respectively, manufacturer's numbers, 8 hours and 7 days for the SMH5.)
  • An AUX-port, allowing to plug in an external audio source.
  • 3- and 4-way conferencing, with or without one participant on the phone.
  • 12-volt cigarette lighter charging cables, one per unit. (but still no 120/230 V USB-chargers.)

Click for bigger version of Sena SMH10
Open image in a new window

The package contains the following:

1 - The two SMH10 units
2 - Two helmet clamps, and boom microphones
3 - Manual
4 - 12-V USB Chargers
5 - USB cable (charging and firmware updates)
6-9 - Microphone foam, Velcro pads, and glued unit holder
10 - Allen key
11 - AUX cable for external audio source
12-13 - Velcro pads to bring loudspeakers to the ears
15-18 - Wired microphone to replace the boom version, with velcro fasteners.

Sena SMH10

The main unit has the following controls:

1 - Jog Dial
2 - Phone Button
3 - USB socket

Unlike the SMH5, there is no plug connection for the speakers and the microphone, this is all handled by connector pins behind the unit.

Click for bigger version of Sena SMH10
Open image in a new window

This is the complete unit with loudspeakers (1), this one has the fixed boom microphone (2). The tested model instead has a cable with a small connector that can accommodate either the boom or the wired microphone, allowing for a greater flexibility of installation.

The installation is very similar to the SMH5 model, with a holder that clips to the helmet shell with a sturdy metal plate, secured by two Allen bolts. The procedure is done within 5 minutes on a "standard" helmet, and if for any reason there should be an issue with a particular helmet model, there is a self-adhesive holder supplied as well. This comes with the usual disclaimers that whenever it falls off at 160 mph at Laguna Seca you're on your own as far as warranty claims are concerned, etc. Still, even then the cabling to the headset should hold it some time, even if the strong glue should give up. The microphone (boom and wired are supplied) is the same unit as for the SMH5, and as for that unit, you'll need to ensure that the "fin" is in the right direction.

User Interface
The installed unit is quite bulky compared to similar units, but on the upside this leaves plenty of real estate for the buttons that are easy to use even with winter gloves, unlike some of the more slimmed competitors. In addition there are extensive voice information about the commands that you just tried while overtaking that truck in pouring rain on the interstate, compared to the cryptic beeps that some units use. If you're a trained Morse code operator this might be fine, but I'm quite happy having the kit telling me in plain English what is going on, even to the point that I get the battery status at start-up.

From a geek point of view, the kit sports Bluetooth 3.0 Open Bluetooth 3.0 link in a new window with four profiles, Headset Profile, Hands-free Profile, Advanced Audio Distribution Profile, and Audio Video Remote Control Profile. All fine and dandy, but what does this men in real life?

The claimed reach for intercom is 900 meters. As most of these numbers, this seems fairly optimistic, and corresponds to some very ideal conditions. In real life the range seems to be a couple of hundred meters, which is fair enough under real riding conditions. The sound is loud and clear, and has less "telephone sound" than some comparable systems. However, at the point where contact between the units was lost, I noted some strange sound artefacts just as the contact was about to be lost, with whistling sounds - I'd assume that the unit is trying to interpret a too weak signal, and this is what it comes out as. This is different from other units I've tried, and could potentially be distracting. Still, I'd assume that a firmware update could take care of this.

The unit allows for the connection of external sound sources, either via the supplied 3.5 mm plugged audio cable, or wireless via the Bluetooth interface. I was able to stream the music directly from my iPhone to the headset directly from the moment when they were paired - no hassle, no additional hoops to jump. I did however, note some choppiness in the playback at the start of the streaming. After a while it settled down, and the music played smoothly. As for the intercom, the sound quality is quite acceptable, even though a helmet is not the best place to be for a good hi-fi experience. The maximum volume is plenty loud, which is good for high-speed travel, while wearing ear plugs, at least since I installed the provided Velcro pads in order to bring the loudspeakers closer to the ears.

The third, and perhaps most important feature of the unit is the cell phone headset function, allowing you to make calls while riding along. I first tried a triangular set-up between the iPhone, my Garmin Zumo 500, and the Sena unit, but as I suspected this didn't work out as planned - I could receive and make calls via the GPS unit, but there was no sound on either side of the line. However, I'd put the blame squarely on Garmin for this, as I've had issues with just about any combo of cell phone and Bluetooth unit I've hooked up on it, and there is no shortage of similar stories on the Internet, so Garmin, if you read this, don't hesitate to give us a new firmware release...

Once the GPS is out of the equation things pick up, The unit pairs with the phone directly at start-up, and will let you know about it with a sensual voice. Taking a call is done just by hitting the jog dial, or by speaking (actually more like soft screaming) a word that the Voice Activation can pick up. As for the trickier part, initiating a call while you ride, the best way is probably via the GPS touchscreen, from where you can access your full address book on the phone. (This of course assumes that you're luckier than me in hooking the units up...) If you're riding without GPS, you might need to dial the number directly from the phone - please pull over for this exercise!

SENA SMH10 and iPhone Siri
Still, the last dialled number could be called by a double tap on the jog dial, and a press on the Phone Button will activate the Voice Dial function of your mobile phone, if so equipped. In the case of the iPhone, it's Siri that is activated by this action, which opens up a wider perspective than just voice dialling - you could look for restaurants and get a weather forecast read to you as well, for instance - at least if you're more talented than me in making Siri understand what you want...

One thing that I miss, compared to similar units, is the inclusion of a simple FM-radio in the unit. I agree that it's not practical for longer trips, since you travel out of a particular transmitter's range frequently, and then have to scan again for a strong signal. Still, while cruising around in town, or when you want some quick traffic information about any situations head, it's a good thing to have built in. You could of course hook one up via the external cable connection, but that means additional cables and units to handle, charge, and store.

However, where this unit shines is for people riding in larger groups, as you can have three- and four way intercom conferencing, or patch in your riding buddy to the telephone call that you're just having. This is a feature that I would have appreciated on the group rides that I've done, and if this is something that you do on a regular basis you might want to look into the extra expense for an SMH10, rather than the SMH5.  

To conclude, this is a highly capable unit, with some nice additional features compared to the SMH5. Whether it is worth the extra investment really depends on your usage, and how much you want to be able to hook up to the unit. It has got a good User Interface through the big buttons and voice feedback, and an excellent sound quality compared to similar units.

Click here to read more about the SENA SMH10 at the SENA site Open Click here to read more about the SENA SMH10 at the SENA site link in a new window

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