Motorola reinvents Bluetooth earbuds
The Moto Hint is Motorola's latest accessory. It's a Bluetooth earbud that breaks out of the mold, takes the awkward and very geeky Bluetooth headset and tries to turn it into something you'll want to use, because it looks as good as it works.
Not that Motorola has made a breakthrough with the way a Bluetooth headset (to clarify — we're talking about a single-ear device used for calls and voice actions, not a stereo set) works, or the way it interacts with your phone. What they have done is take the existing technology, and deliver it in a package that's as friendly as it is functional, is stylish yet not obtrusive, and made it into something you'll use because you want to, not because you have to.
You'll see what I mean. Read on.
What is the Moto Hint?
We'll start here, because there has been a lot of speculation about just what the Moto Hint can and cannot do. Simply put, the Moto Hint works the same way, and does the same things, as any modern Bluetooth earpiece does. The genius is mostly in the design and delivery, and not necessarily the software or any tricks.
The Moto Hint listens and can wake up to do your bidding
On your Moto X, you can use the Moto Hint to trigger all the voice actions you're used to using just by speaking. You can query Google, play music, send a message to someone or do any of the really cool things Moto Voice lets you do, without pushing any buttons — in fact there are no visible buttons on the Moto Hint — or fiddling with any controls. If you're using a Moto X, grab it and tell it to do something, using your keyword to wake Moto Voice up. Whatever you just did, you can do the same thing with the Moto Hint while your phone is in your bag, or even in the other room (up to 150 feet away). These two products were meant for each other, and the seamless experience while using both is something Motorola should be proud of.
There are some limitations, however. While the Hint can read everything back to you the same way your phone can, some things — posting to Facebook for example — require you to trust that the voice-to-text feature got your message correct. Most times, it does. Other times, you'll wish you had looked at the screen before you let anything send off into cyberspace. This isn't an issue with the Moto Hint itself, and is more of a quirk of the Moto X, but it still is gonna happen. The good news is that things are pretty accurate, and you're not likely to send off anything too far away from what you intended.
Of course, any modern Bluetooth device that can accept media and call audio connections works the exact same way with the Moto X. Again, this is a feature and function of Moto Voice on your phone and not the Bluetooth device attached to it. The big difference here is the way the Moto Hint listens and can "wake up" to do your bidding through the trigger phrase and not by pushing a button or fumbling with a control. And that is where Motorola gets it right. When used with a "good" (see the Moto app on your phone for the definition of good) trigger phrase, the Moto Hint is extremely reliable.
My completely unscientific testing, in a quiet room with fully charged batteries on both the Hint and the Moto X (2104), had the Hint respond and answer my Google Knowledge Base query — "How tall was Abraham Lincoln?" an amazing 94 times out of 100. Now my car Bluetooth speakerphone — the Motorola Roadster Pro — will also get everything right over 90 percent of the time, but I have to press a button first to get things started. Whatever magic on the phone and in the Hint that uses the "always listening" tech is done right. Even in a noisy environment, things work as expected far more often than not.
Using the Hint with other phones
The Moto Hint isn't just for phones like the Moto X. It's a clear-sounding Bluetooth earpiece that you can use for calls like any other bigger, bulkier and far less cool looking Bluetooth earpiece. If your phone has voice actions — for example the Nexus 5 — tapping the center of the Hint will allow you to use them. Of course, there is no always listening mode for phones that don't have Motorola's Voice system on-board, but tapping the unit itself isn't difficult, and a nicer solution than finding a tiny button somewhere while trying to not be distracted.
The Moto Hint isn't just for phones like the Moto X
We've had success using the Hint with the Nexus 5, LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 3. It's worth noting that triggering S-Voice is a bit hit or miss on the Note 3, but I've found that with every Bluetooth speaker I've used. The good news for folks with a Samsung phone is that as long as you're running Jelly Bean or later, and have the latest version of Google Search installed from Google Play, you can disable S Voice and the button will trigger Google's own voice actions (think Google Now). While I would still like to see better support for the native Samsung software, I'd rather use Google's own so this works for me.
In any case, using the Hint after getting a handle on this is exactly the same regardless of which phone you're using. It pairs like any other Bluetooth device, the automatic off/on feature works fine, and it's still just as small and unobtrusive as ever even when you're not using a Motorola phone. Thanks for that, Motorola.
The cool factor
OK, so the Moto Hint is basically just another mono Bluetooth headset when it comes to what it does and how it does it. The always listening feature is really great, but you only get that with a Moto X. You're probably asking, "What makes this thing special?"
First is the design. The Hint is a tiny little earbud (it's about the size of a US quarter) that sounds like a great big earbud. Rumors of Motorola working on a stereo pair (please) aside, the Hint works as well or better than the bigger and possibly uglier earpiece you're using now. There is a stigma attached to Bluetooth headsets. When we see someone using one — especially if they are loudly talking into thin air and actually using it — we all pretty much think the same things:
- That dude (or dudette) looks like a dork.
- I'm glad I don't need to use one of those horrible little things in my ear all day long.
It's OK. I used to have to wear a big Bluetooth headset every day, and I thought exactly the same when I saw my co workers wearing one. Undoubtedly, they thought the same thing when they saw me wearing one. It's mentally uncomfortable for a lot of people, because you look weird as hell using one.
There is a stigma attached to traditional Bluetooth headsets
The Hint tries to fix this by looking good and being tiny. It fits in your ear pretty well (there are three different sized rubber "nubbins" included to help get the right fit) and while you feel a little pressure at the bottom of your ear canal, it's not really uncomfortable. I hate earbuds and they usually pop out far more often than I would like, but the Hint seems a little better than most. It stays in while I'm being a normal guy doing normal things, but I wouldn't try to exercise or ride Space Mountain while wearing it.
The Hint has a neat way to mitigate the tiny battery — the carrying case is also the charger. Motorola says to expect 10 hours of talk time per charge from the Hint, but that really means 10 hours from the external battery case. When you fully charge the Hint and place it in your ear, expect about two and a half to three hours from it before it needs to visit it's hidey-hole in the case again. It charges back up quickly, and you'll get about three full charges from the case itself before you need to recharge it. Chances are you're not going to talk more than two or three hours at a stretch, and the standby time (even while always listening) is a good bit longer. On an average day while paired with my Moto X and always listening (meaning I get two or three calls that need answered on my phone), with a little bit of "Hey Moto how many dollars is 340 pounds?" it lasted about five hours — exactly what Moto claims it would. Using it for navigation an hour each direction pretty much killed one charge of the earbud itself. Double these numbers for a phone that doesn't have an always listening feature (any phone that isn't based on the Moto X).
If you're going to need to use a Bluetooth headset longer than 5 hours or so at a stretch, this won't work for you
Using the charging case is easy. Hopefully, you thought ahead of time and charged the charger itself, and you just drop the Hint into it's little pocket and slide the case shut. The handle loop on top of the case lights up to let you know magic is working inside, and when you need it again slide the case open and put it back in your ear.
The Hint has a clear window on the back that allows it to turn on when placed in your ear, and turn off when removed. When you don't need to use it, drop it into the case. When you do need to use it, drop it into your ear. If you're going to need to use a Bluetooth headset longer than 5 hours or so at a stretch, this won't work for you. If you just need it occasionally through the day, it's the perfect setup. In fact, it can route calls on the fly so you can put it in your ear to switch a current call to the Hint, or take it out and switch the current call from the Hint to the phone with nary a hiccup.
Is it for me?
Here's where we talk about that price. the Hint retails for $150. That's a whole lot of cabbage for a Bluetooth earpiece of any type. In fact, you're in Bose price territory once you go that high. We're not going to lie — justifying $150 for any Bluetooth headset is hard if you don't absolutely need one every day.
It's high time these things were easier to use and weren't so cumbersome
But you're paying for something a bit better and more flexible that the standard Bluetooth headset here. It looks good, sounds great, and if you have a Moto X (or the Verizon equivalents), the always listening feature is something you won't get anywhere else. I have a good set of Bluetooth stereo speakers, and a great Bluetooth speakerphone for the car. I probably wouldn't buy the Hint just so I could say "HEY YOU PHONE! DO SOMETHING FOR ME" without touching a button. If I needed to buy a new Bluetooth device, the design and charging case would sway me. I think.
I really like where Motorola is going with the Hint, and I hope other manufacturers of similar devices take notice. It's high time these things were easier to use and weren't so cumbersome.
In short, regular readers of a site like Android Central will probably appreciate what Moto has done here. Smaller, better, and a new way of managing your battery are things early adopters like us are into. If you're reading this and use a Moto X, this is the Bluetooth earbud you want. If you have another phone, this is one you want to take a look at and think about, simply because of the design choices. There are plenty worse ways to spend $150.