Review: Sena SMH5 Bluetooth Communicator
File under Bluetooth Product Review
Author: Mike Werner
Location: Normandy, France
California headquartered SENA , makes Bluetooth (wireless) communication gear for motorcycle riders. SENA makes different models, but for this review, we are going to test their "basic" SMH5 . I put "basic" in between quotes, because it's anything but basic as you'll see. At a later date we'll test their more "advanced" SMH10 unit, but I'll need to scrounge two helmets since I have run out.
The SMH5 uses the advance Bluetooth 3 specifications (most others still use version 2.x). With that you get less battery consumption and you get a wireless communication range of up to 400 meters, or 430 yards. The real range will depend on weather and terrain. The unit can pair with 3 other equivalent units (SMH5 or SMH10), will prompt you with a voice, play stereo music (AD2P ), allow you to remotely control your music player (AVRCP ), and allow you to use the gear when it rains.
Of course, like other units, you can connect up your GPS, smartphone, music player, XM Radio, etc... as long as it communicates using Bluetooth. If you need to connect more devices than what the unit will allow, SENA also have a Bluetooth streaming device on its way, the SM10. You can connect multiple audio sources, wireless and wired to the SM10, which in turn will send the audio via Bluetooth 2.1 to TWO headsets (meaning you can both listen to the same music or GPS).
The SMH5 unit gives you 8 hours talk/music time, and when in standby, you'll need to recharge the battery after 7 days.
Here's the review.
|NOTE: Whenever you see a small magnifying glass at the bottom of a photo, you can click on the photo to get a bigger version. But you'll need to load the whole page first before you do it, if not it will not work.|
|NOTE: Below each photo you will find a number. I will often reference these photos in the review. The first reference digit will begin with "#" followed by another number. This means photo #x and the 2nd number is the number you can see in the photo itself, usually a button.|
SENA were kind enough to send a dual SMH5 unit for this test. The box looks nice:
Once you open the box and take all the bits out, this is what you'll find:
Since this is a dual set (meant for two helmets), everything is double (except the manual). This is what is contained in the set:
1 - Manual
2 - USB cable (charging and firmware updates)
3 - Helmet clamp
4 - Microphone (for full face helmet)
5 - The SMH5 unit itself
6 - Boom microphone
7 - Microphone sponges
8 - Loudspeakers (left & right ear)
9 - A plastic bag containing:
10 - Glued Surface Mounting Plate
11 - Attachable Boom Microphone Holder
12 - Allen key
13 - Plastic bag containing three Velcro adhesive pads, used for the speakers and microphone.
Charging the phone is done via your computer USB port, or with an optional 12V charger or optional 110/220 V charging unit.
The main unit, the SMH5, looks very small compared to its competitors.
1 - Jog Dial (to select functions on the unit)
2 - LED and power charging and firmware upgrades port
3 - Phone button
4 - Mini USB connector for sound (microphone & loudspeakers).
The whole unit plugged-in looks like this. The loudspeakers (1) and microphone (2) (either boom or wired) get plugged in together in #3-4 (arrow). If you have both wired or boom microphone, you can decide which one to use by plugging it into the connector incorporated in the loudspeakers wire.
I have run out of helmets, so I borrowed an integral helmet from a friend, in this case a Shark helmet. The helmet clamp (#2-3) fits really easy, sliding into the side of the helmet.
Tighten it with the supplied Allen key, and the unit is strongly fixed. If your helmet is too thick, you can use the adhesive pad (#2-10). NOTE: Make sure your helmet is clean of dirt and grime. Use some rubbing alcohol to properly clean the side of your helmet that will receive the adhesive pad, if not you stand the chance of having it unglue when riding.
The SMH5 unit simply slide onto the helmet clamp. Removing it is a question of disconnecting the sound plug (#4 - Arrow) and sliding the SMH5 off the clamp.
Now you need to install the loudspeakers and microphone. It's very difficult to show you this, since an integral helmet is closed, so I couldn't really take any photos (too dark). Basically it means opening up the helmet by "unhooking" the lining and pads.
The microphone, in our case we used the boom microphone, gets glued (#2-11) to the bottom part of the helmet. You need to find the right spot, since each helmet will differ. If your helmet is a different shape which does not allow you to use the boom microphone, you can use a wired microphone, using the self-adhesive Velcro pads to hold the microphone in the right position.
The boom microphone has a small "fin". When you place the boom microphone inside your helmet, you have to make sure the "fin" is placed opposite of your mouth.
If you don't do this, your microphone will NOT work properly, something we found out the wrong way.
|NOTE: Make sure the microphone is placed in front of your mouth. If it's on the side, the other people will have difficulties hearing you.|
The loudspeakers should be placed "exactly" where you ears are. (The volume can be set quite loud, but it's a good idea to place them exactly where your ears are).
|HINT: To find the right spot for the loudspeakers, cut 2 small bits of Post-It, make sure it has the Post-It glue, and put on your helmet. Put the cut Post-It on your finger, glue to the outside, and slide your finger towards your ear and stick the Post-It. When you remove your helmet, you will have the exact placement for your speakers.|
Stick the self-adhesive Velcro pads (#2-13) where your loudspeakers will sit.
Once that is done, you can wire in the sound. Put the loudspeaker onto the Velcro pads and place the wire behind the helmet lining. Many modern helmets have a place for loudspeakers. Check and see if yours has them.
You're done. This way, your helmet will not show any wires, and once it's in, you'll not need to mess around. Put the lining back (IMHO, that is usually the hardest part).
Configuring the SMH5 is easy, since most of the data is ready to go. You'll need to "pair" the SMH5 with other SMH5 (or SMH10) units if you want to talk to others (pillion or other bikers), and to whatever other devices you'll be wanting (phones, music, GPS).
You can pair up to 3 other intercoms. To do that is easy.
1. Turn on BOTH SMH5 (make sure it's fully charged). Press the Jog Dial (#3-1) and the Phone button (#3-3) together for 1 second. The LED (#3-2) will flash BLUE (if you have your helmet on, you'll hear increasingly loud beeps). Your unit is now working.
2. Press on BOTH units the Jog Dial (#3-1) for 5 seconds. The LED (#3-2) will flash RED rapidly (and inside the helmet you'll hear a voice say "Intercom Pairing").
3. On ONE of the units (it doesn't matter which one but typically it will be the main rider's), press the Jog Dial (#3-1) until the LED (#3-2) turns BLUE. Done, you are now paired.
If you want to pair with extra units (a maximum of 3 others), repeat the above instructions for each. If you pair with a 4th extra unit (giving you a total of 5 helmets), the first paired unit is replaced with the 5th, so you'll have lost the first intercom.
|NOTE: Assume that one SMH5 is the "master". Each SMH5 paired to that one is a sequence number. The first one is helmet 1, the second is helmet 2, etc. This number will be used later one when communicating.|
If you plan to use your smartphone (not only for phone, but also for music and/or GPS) you will need to pair it with the SMH5.
1. Turn on the SMH5.
2. Press the Phone button (#3-3) for 5 seconds until the LED (#3-2) flashes BLUE and RED alternatively. You will hear a voice say "Phone Pairing" inside the helmet.
3. On your smartphone, look for "Sena SMH5" in the device list.
4. Select the "Sena SMH5" in the list
5. If asked for a pass code, enter "0000".
6. You're paired. You should hear inside your helmet "Your headset is paired".
That's it. Depending on your smartphone, not only will you be able to use the phone, but also streaming music, and if you have a navigator app loaded, you should be able to hear instructions. In my case I successfully used an iPhone4 with the Navigon GPS software.
|NOTE: It is possible to ONLY pair your smartphone for music and/or GPS instructions, ignoring the phone. For that you will need to consult the manual to pair on A2DP. You can also only pair the phone, ignoring music.|
You need to follow the above instructions to pair a Bluetooth enabled GPS (like Garmin Zumo or TomTom Rider).
|NOTE: If you want to use both smartphone with music AND a dedicated GPS, you will need to pair your SMH5 with the GPS, and your GPS needs to be paired with your smartphone (or wireless music player)|
The first part of the test will be without motorcycle, the second one while riding, first solo, then with a 2nd rider.
I turned on the SMH5 (Jog Dial and Phone button pressed at the same time for one second), and in my borrowed Shark helmet I could hear beep, beeep, beeeeep.
|NOTE: You can actually do a battery check when turning on the SMH5. Turn on the unit as above, but keep the two buttons pressed for 3 second, you'll hear 3 beeps, and if you continue to press the two buttons, a voice will tell you the status of your battery.|
I called myself from my landline. I heard several beeps inside my helmet, and you have two choices to answer: a) press either the Dial Jog button (#3-1) or Phone button (#3-3), or just say any word LOUDLY.
Sound Level: Crystal clear and loud enough. Here's the interesting thing about the SMH5. Instead of having Volume UP and Volume DOWN buttons, you use the Dial Jog (#3-1) as you would with an old fashion radio volume knob; you turn it clock or counter-clock wise. In fact, it's the simplest way we've tested so far... much easier, no hassle.
|NOTE: Volume levels are set this way for each type of sound INDEPENDENTLY and memorized! You can have a higher sound volume for your phone, and a lower one for your intercom for example. |
I fired up the music player on my connected iPhone, and the sound came through, very clear, good stereo and very good.
You can skip music tracks, or go back by using the Dial Jog. To PAUSE the player, simply press the Dial Jog for 1 second until you hear a double beep. Repeat the instructions to start playing music again. To skip a track, or go back a track, just press down the Dial Jog and rotate clock or counter-clock wise. Simple.
Riding Test - Solo
I went on the Ducati, and rode off into the countryside. The day was reasonable, cloudy but no rain with some 85% humidity.
I turned on the music, listening to Popa Chubby play his guitar. Sound was excellent, and changing the volume to the right level is really easy.
At high speeds, and therefore more noise, the sound level was more than good to hear the music.
|NOTE: Music and Phone audio is personal, the other units will NOT hear it.|
After 30 minutes, my SWMBO was instructed to call my mobile phone. Since my iPhone was being used to play music, it was already connected, and the phone will manage the interrupts, not the SMH5. I could hear the ringing in my head (although it was really in my helmet).
I prefer to not move my hands from the handlebar, so I opted for the Voice Command. I said "ANSWER", but nothing happened. Then I said it really loud, and the phone answered. SO you really need to say it loud, not screaming, but loud enough.
The sound level on my side was very good, and at the other end, the sound of my microphone came through loud & clear. In fact, she could barely hear that I was on a motorcycle. Granted, the Shark helmet is pretty good in keeping out noise, but the microphone is good as well.
Riding Test - Duo
Next, a female friend showed up on her Suzuki. We installed the SMH5 on her Shoei full-face helmet and set of for a joint ride. The test was going to be for the intercom portion.
I had turned on the iPhone and was talking on the phone when I got an intercom call. The way you make an intercom call is you just tap the Dial Jog (#3-1). That's it, it will establish a connection.
|NOTE: If you have multiple units riding with you, and all have been paired, you can select the person you want to talk to by pressing the unit's number on the Dial Jog. I.e. if you want to speak to the 2nd person you paired you SMH5 with, you tap the Dial Jog TWICE. If it's the 3rd unit, tap 3 times.|
I heard 4 beeps and a voice saying "Intercom requested" (spooky). Unfortunately, you can not put the phone on hold, and the intercom can not break in to the conversation. So you need to hang up the phone.
So we tried again. She called me on the intercom, and before I knew it,I was talking to her. She was riding a few meters from me, and despite a reasonable high speed, sound was very good. In fact, the sound was excellent.
So while talking we started moving away from each other. In a hill & forest countryside, we managed 300 to 350 meters before the connection dropped. Believe it or not, that is a very good distance, considering the countryside. I'm sure if you're riding on a flat countryside, the range will be better.
Once the connection was dropped, and the motorcycles got closer again, you had to re-establish the connection yourself. It doesn't do it automatically.
The SENA SMH5 unit is funky and with good features. The Dial Jog is very handy, since you do not need to fumble for buttons with your motorcycle gloves. It's big enough to operate with winter gloves.
Sound levels are very good, and being able to independently set the level for different functions is excellent.
The unit is much smaller than its competitors, making it non-obtrusive.
- Small and compact unit
- Easy to operate
- Good sound, good volume
- Great range
- Limited functionality
- No power charger, need you computer
A good unit for those that do not need much functionality, except talk to your pillion and/or riding buddies.
Price: US$129 for a single unit, US$249 for a dual
Click here to read more about the SENA SMH5