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Review: ChatterBox XBi

  Posted at 01:21:25 PM
  File under  Bluetooth Gadgets Product Review
  Author: Mike Werner
  Location: Normandy, France

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ChatterBox logo
When I initially wrote about the introduction of the new ChatterBox XBi Bluetooth communications unit for motorcycles, I was eager to try it out. On paper, it looks the business. Bluetooth version 2.0, full stereo, different channels (GPS, intercom, etc) made it look like a good unit.

So when the mailman (actually mail woman) brought the package, I ripped it open like a child on Christmas morning. In the package were two good looking boxes, not big (they don't believe in the BBSB theory - Bigger Boxes Sell Better).

ChatterBox XBi Bluetooth motorcycle communicator

So far, so good.... Opening up the box, this is what was in it:

ChatterBox XBi Bluetooth motorcycle communicator
Figure #1

1 - Boom microphone (part of headset unit)
2 - Helmet clamp  (part of headset unit)
3 - Helmet loudspeakers (part of headset unit)
4 - Audio jack  (part of headset unit)
5 - Base unit (XBi)
6 - Adhesive base mount
7 - Helmet clamp unit
8 - Louspeakers foam padding (2x)
9 - Tieback
10- Popsicle stick (not for ice cream)
11- Clamp
12- Velcro (4x)
13- Dingetje
14- Rubber pad & 2 x screw s
15- Charger

And obviously there was a paper manual... it just didn't fit into the photo.

The first thing that was missing for me was the charger's powerplug. It was US standard which doesn't work for me in Europe. Some shifting through boxes, and I found the right adapter from some other device. The charger itself is auto-volt sensing, so no problem there. It's no fault of ChatterBox, since the unit was shipped directly from the US. Obviously when you buy the unit locally, you'll not get this....

Now, let's have a look at the main control unit, the XBi itself:

ChatterBox XBi Bluetooth motorcycle communicator
Figure #2

There are eight functions/buttons to the unit:

1 - Intercom selector
2 - Power on/off
3 - Volume Up
4 - LED Indicator
5 - Power/Analog music plug
6 - Earphones plug
7 - Volume Down
8 - Mode selector

Installing the ChatterBox XBi

NOTE: Below in the text, when I'm referring to a figure/photo and the word is underscored with green dots, by placing your mouse over those words, the photo itself will popup. This way you don't need to go and find that photo. This function does not seem to work in the Opera Browser!

Installing the XBi onto your helmet is very much like other Bluetooth communicators. Chatterbox have thoughtfully provided 2 different types of fixations. A clamp and a self-adhesive mount. Since I try most wireless communicators, I decided not to use the adhesive one, since I'd run out of helmets....

You need to insert the metal holder (Figure #1 - item 2) into the into helmet clamp unit (Figure #1 - item 7). That's simple, but the next step for two left handed people like me isn't. You need to put the screw (Figure #1 - item 14) in between the assembled unit. Eventually I figured out that if I turned the unit upside down, placed the screw on my screwdriver and pushed it in, that'll work. I'm sure that most of you will not have that problem...

ChatterBox XBi Bluetooth motorcycle communicator

Once the unit is assembled, you slide the metal portion on the left of your helmet (that goes for left handed people too... you can guess why). I've quickly tried sliding between the hard shell and inner portion of different helmets (BMW Evo 4, Schuberth C2, BMW Enduro and AGV) and it worked like a charm. You can place the rubber pad in between the outer helmet shell and the XBi clamp (in case you don't want to possibly scratch your helmet). Push the whole unit upwards. The metal portion of the clamp gives way and you can firmly push the unit into the helmet.

Believe me, it sits firmly, but you can still remove the unit if you want to change helmets. For this review, I've used my trusty BMW Evo 4 flip up helmet.

ChatterBox XBi Bluetooth motorcycle communicator
Once in place, you need to put on your helmet and mark the area where your ears are. You can do this for example with a small bit of Post-it. Once you've located where your ears are in the helmet, you put the big piece of Velcro there (Figure #1 - item 12).

The small bits of Velcro are placed on the back of the loudspeaker. You need to also fit the foam (Figure #1 - item 8) over the front of the loudspeakers.

Once done, you'll need to place the wires under the lining. ChatterBox have thoughtfully supplied a Popsicle (Figure #1 - item 10) for this. Initially I thought it was a bit OTT, but it's helpful to properly place the wires without breaking them.

Once the wires are in place, you can insert the XBi control unit (Figure #2) on to the clamp holder. Just slide it in from the top (there's a release at the top of the clamp that holds it into place, and if you want to remove the XBi, just press it down and slide it upwards).

Plug the audio jack (Figure #1 - item 4) into the XBi control unit (Figure #2 - item 6).

You're ready to go to the next phase.

Pairing the XBi

For those of you who have never used a wireless unit, you'll need to "introduce" the components to each other. It's called pairing. Any wireless Bluetooth device that will be used needs to be paired (other XBi for intercom, music, mobile phone, GPS).

The only thing that does not need to be paired is any unit you plug into the analog input (like a MP3 unit, radar detector, or whatever). That gets plugged into the XBi charger port (Figure #2 - item 5).

Pairing with a GPS

First I paired the XBi with my Garmin Zumo GPS (I don't have a TomTom Rider so unless TomTom finally come through with their promise to send me one, I can't tell you how it works).

ChatterBox XBi Bluetooth motorcycle communicator

First you turn on the XBi. That's done by pressing the Power Button on the unit (Figure #2 - item 2). You need to hold it pressed until the LED (Figure #2 - item 4) turns Red and then after 6 seconds turns flashing Blue (must be a problem if you're color deaf). Let go of the Power button.

NOTE: This power-on sequence is that for pairing, not for simply turning on the unit. So you'll not need to do this every time you turn on the unit.

Turn on your other Bluetooth device (in this case the Zumo). Place it in discovery mode. Once it has found the XBi, it'll tell you it found it and you can connect.

That's all there's to it. Now you can receive instructions, music and even phone via the Zumo.

Pairing with a Mobile Phone

iPhone pairing with Chatterbox XBiiPhone pairing with Chatterbox XBi

I decided to pair the XBi with my brand new iPhone 3G (yes, I did finally decide to join the fad). Turn on the Bluetooth on your phone, and put it in discovery mode (phone specific instructions). Eventually, it will find it (it took a while on my iPhone - not XBi's fault).

Once you pair the phone with the XBi, your phone will ask for a password (that's to ensure other people do intercept your conversations). Enter the default password "0000". Once done, you're in business.

Normally, when you turn your XBi on, either it will automatically find your phone via Bluetooth, or, depending on your phone, you'll need to select the XBi on the phone, or just press the Power Button (Figure #2 - item 2) briefly for one second.

WARNING: When turning on your mobile phone and connecting with your XBi, the XBi has a quirk that it dials automatically the last number you've dialled. I'd say it's a software bug (none other devices tested had this). So when you connect, make sure you're ready to cancel the call.

Pairing the Intercom.

To use the XBi as intercom, you'll need a 2nd XBi. You can not pair it with another Bluetooth device, it needs to be the XBi. That's something all manufacturers have, since they use proprietary communications via Bluetooth.

The instructions in the paper manual were wrong, and it was only after looking at the electronic version I noticed the difference. Here's how you do it:

You'll need to turn on the main XBi unit (the Rider's one) first: press the Power Button (Figure #2 - item 2) until the LED is solid Red. Then press the Power Button (Figure #2 - item 2) together with the Mode Button (Figure #2 - item 8). The LED (Figure #2 - item 4) will start flashing red fast, twice every second, and than slow down its flashing (once every second). Once it's flashing slowly, let go off both buttons.

Now turn on the Pillion's unit as above, and then press Power Button (Figure #2 - item 2) together with the Mode Button (Figure #2 - item 8). Same as above, wait until the red light flashes slowly. Let go of both buttons.

Both units, if the pairing worked properly, will both turn off themselves. If they don't, try again.

There.. ready to go.

NOTE: This process needs only to be done once. Once paired, you're ready to go by just turning on the units.

Sound Level

Changing the sound level requires you to press the Volume Up (Figure #2 - item 3) or Volume Down (Figure #2 - item 7). You do that by pressing once, and the volume goes up or down one step. This is confirmed by a beep. Once you've reached the limit, you'll hear a double beep.

NOTE: Something I didn't like was the fact that after powering on the unit, the sound level goes to default, and if you want it louder, you'll need to crank up the volume every time you power on the unit. Since these units are usually the property of the rider, who in 99.99% of cases will not loan out helmet and XBi, it makes sense to "remember" the last volume value.

The Tests

After all that, time to test the functioning of the ChatterBox XBi. On the program are riding with all devices on, either alone or with SWMBOShe Who Must Be Obeyed.

We'll be riding country roads under normal speed rules (90 kph max), and then autoroute "slightly" over the maximum of 130 kph. Sound levels will obviously differ from helmet to helmet. A open face helmet at 60 mph is going to have a different sound level than a Schuberth high end helmet (though to be honest, much to my displeasure, my Schuberth C2 is not that sound proofed).

Alone with the iPhone

I had quite some retries to get the iPhone to connect to the XBi. After several turn it on, turn it off, I finally managed.

First I did a run alone with just the iPhone turned on. My wife had instructions to call me 15 minutes into the ride. At more or less the right time, I could hear 3 beeps in the helmet loudspeakers, signaling a phone call. The XBi does not auto-answer, you need to press the Power Button (Figure #2 -item 2) briefly, like for a second.

Sound level was very good while riding the country roads. Both my wife and I could hear each other very well. My wife could barely hear any motorcycle noise. While talking I reached the autoroute and started to speed up. Around 120 kph, my BMW helmet was becoming more and more noisy, though I could hear well enough to follow the conversation until about 140 kph. After that the volume level was not enough to compensate the wind noise. On the other side of the phone, my wife was able to hear me as good as when riding on the country roads.

Results will differ obviously depending on the helmet you use. In my opinion, most of the problem is the old helmet...

The fact that the XBi has two loudspeakers makes a lot of difference from the units that have only one. Sound can come at you from the outside from different angels, and have 2 speakers in the helmet helps you in hearing properly.

Alone with the iPhone/Music

As hard as I tried, I was not able to hear music from the iPhone. I think my problem is the iPhone doesn't stream music through Bluetooth.

If there's someone over there that knows the iPhone, will you let me know if the device will stream music through Bluetooth...

Alone with the Zumo GPS

Now, I turned off the phone, and turned on the Zumo. Zumo was pretty quick at recognizing the XBi, and within seconds I was receiving sound from the Zumo. I've also got some MP3 songs on the Zumo, and was able to listen to them while riding.

Sound quality was OK, and sound level was more than adequate at both country road and autoroute speeds.

Changing Setup

I was unhappy with the way I was connecting to the iPhone, and the quality, so I changed to my backup phone, a HP iPaq Windows Mobile phone.

Pairing was done very quickly. After switching off all devices and going through a power up, the XBi and iPaq connected as advertized. So no problems there.

The same "dialing the last number" that was present in the connecting-to-the-iPhone was present with the iPaq. Very disturbing, since if you forget this "bug", you're suddenly speaking to someone in your helmet you were not expecting.

Another strange thing was happening... the phone conversation on the other side was being disconnected, while my XBi thought the line was still alive. What that means is that you're talking away, but there's no-one listening (story of my life).

I haven't figured out where the problem lies; XBi, iPaq, phone network or house phone line. This will take me longer to figure out, and will add it to this review once I find out.

Alone with Phone and GPS

Connecting both mobile phone and a GPS is not possible (and neither is this possible with any of the other stand-alone units from other manufacturers). What is possible is connect your phone to the GPS. In this case I connected my iPhone to the Zumo, and the Zumo to the XBi. That worked like a charm.

I was able to stream music from the GPS, hear voice navigation, and even receive phone calls.

Sound was acceptable, and the volume more than loud enough within the speed limits of country roads and the autoroute.

Using the Intercom

The final portion of the test was riding with pillion, using the intercom. My wife kindly accepted to be the guinea pig. Turning both units on (after having paired them previously) resulted in an immediate connection for intercom. There's nothing you need to do except turn on both units.

When riding, on the country roads, we were able to talk no problems. My wife's BMW Evo 4 helmet was quite and the boom microphone worked well. Once on the autoroute, I had problems hearing her 100%, while she had no problem. My BMW helmet is old and has issues (thanks to the many communication device reviews, all the lining has been ripped open), so it could be that there's a lot of noise coming, or I'm going deaf. It wasn't that I couldn't hear her, it's just that I couldn't hear every word. I blame it on the helmet, or the loudspeaker positioning, since my wife had no problems whatsoever.

Using the Intercom with incoming phone

When you get a call, you need to press the Power Button for a brief moment. This cuts the intercom. Once you're finished with your call, you need to press the Power Button again briefly to re-establish the intercom connection.

This worked fine.

Using the Intercom with GPS

I wasn't going to try the XBi and phone. Instead I connected to the iPhone to the Zumo. Then the Zumo to the XBi and both XBi's were set in intercom mode.

That worked like a charm. According to the manual, XBi doesn't work in intercom when audio is turned on, or the phone. But at this point I got to assume that they mean analog audio (via the wires). The Zumo was playing music via Bluetooth, and both my wife and I could hear it fine.

Then my wife used her mobile phone to call me. The Zumo nicely stopped the music and transferred to call to the XBi, which both my wife and I could hear.

If you're connected directly to a mobile phone (and not via the GPS), your intercom communication will be disconnected during your phone call.

Of course your pillion can connect to their own music or phone devices.

Personally, I preferred the "via-the-GPS" way.


There are good things and there are bad things about the ChatterBox XBi. Let's start with the good things:

The stereo is good, the sound level is more than good and the fact that you can connect an analog music source is great.

The not so good things: Too many buttons to press on the helmet (Power, Mode, Intercom) with buttons that are not "feelable" with gloves, redial of last phone number on Bluetooth connect and the disconnect of the intercom when talking on the phone or listening to the audio source.

According to ChatterBox, they recommend using their iCombi AG12 to connect the GPS to the XBi. I don't believe that it is necessary (unless you have a GPS that does not have Bluetooth).

All-in-all, the unit is not bad, but lacking the longer range intercom that some other models have (so you can use it for bike-to-bike) and it has some bugs.

WARNING: Remember, that like most Bluetooth helmet units, the XBi is not rain proof. A few drops is okay, but if it starts raining, either take it off, or place plastic around it.

Price: US$179

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