Motorola's new Hint isn't a significant improvment over its predecessor, and in this instance that is a good thing.
People who buy Bluetooth headsets tend to care about one thing, and that's everything. A good Bluetooth headset has to be small, but it also has to have a big battery. It has to be discrete, but it also has to have amazing audio and a quality microphone. It has to have a great feature set, but it also has to be convenient and uncomplicated. While you're at it, Bluetooth headset manufacturers, it needs to be cheap.
You can walk the mobile electronics aisle of any store and see a reasonable combination of these features with an understandable series of compromises to match, but the Bluetooth headsets that stand out actively work towards having it all. Last year Motorola made their first serious attempt at a Bluetooth headset that could be all things to all people, but especially Moto X owners. It was called the Moto Hint, and this year Motorola has refreshed this mighty little earbud in a continued effort to do everything.
Here's our review.
The Moto Hint is designed to be the Bluetooth headset you reach for when you need it, instead of something you wear all day out of convenience or laziness. It's a small ear plug that sits in a battery case you hang on your keys, and when you climb into your car or you've got an incoming call you need to take privately, you shove this little piece of plastic and rubber into your ear and everything just works. There's a sensor on the inside of the Hint that detects your ear when it is inserted, which sends the command to power up the rest of the headset and pair to your phone.
There's no two ways about it, having a Moto Hint connected to a Moto X is damn cool.
Shoving this earbud into your ear is the nicest possible way to describe what happens when you prepare to use the Moto Hint. You're effectively forcing this piece of rubber and plastic into your ear canal until the curved back finds a groove it can comfortably rest in, and the combination of that resting position and the friction caused by the design of the rubber ear gel holds Hint in place. If your ears are particularly waxy, or you've been particularly active and are sweaty, there's a good chance you'll need to perform some personal maintenance before Hint comfortably sits and stays. Once you get that seal, however, it stays surprisingly well.
When you remove Hint from your ear, the headset disconnects automatically and prepares to be places back in its case. There are no physical buttons on the Moto Hint, it's all automatic and it really does "just work" when you go to use it. In place of a physical button, the flat area that sticks out of your ear a little is a touch sensor. You can place your finger on this area and hear a beep in your ear, confirming the touch was received and launching your voice command service of choice. On the Samsung Galaxy S6, this means you can choose between S Voice and Google Now, and whichever you choose becomes the default for voice commands for as long as it is connected. You tap once, speak your command, and as long as your voice assistant of choice translated you correctly you get the response you wanted.
Of course, this is just what happens when you're connected to something that isn't a Moto X. When you're connected to a Motorola phone with Moto Voice set up, something a great deal more impressive happens. Moto Voice uses the microphone in the Hint as the microphone for your phone's voice recognition system, which means your Moto Hint is now ready at all times for you to give your personal command and wake the phone from upwards of 150 feet away as though you were standing right next to it. There's no two ways about it, having a Moto Hint connected to a Moto X is damn cool, especially if you regularly use Moto Voice for things.
When you insert a fully charged Moto Hint into your ear, the first thing you'll hear is a voice telling you there's three hours of talk time remaining. In our tests, this was a little closer to four hours of talk time. Depending on what phone your Hint connected to, standby times vary wildly. When connected to a Moto Voice phone, standby time is only five hours due to the constant connection to your phone. Any other phone will get you more than a day of standby time, since it's working like a regular Bluetooth headset in this situation.
According to Motorola, the battery case provides an additional 14 hours of talk time and either 27 or 200 hours of standby time. It doesn't provide this battery power all at once, rather through a constant swapping in and out as you charge it. Ideally the headset is always fully charged when you need it, so you've always got at least three hours of talk time to use. Placing the earbud back into its case and closing it immediately starts the charging process, and in our testing it took just under an hour to fully charge a dead Moto Hint. This works well for anyone who is casually using a Bluetooth headset, but those who require something constantly connected and are on the phone for more than three hours in a day may find it's important to keep a power supply nearby.
For most users, audio clarity is what separates a decent Bluetooth headset from a great one. The speaker on the Moto Hint isn't particularly loud, but it's nice and clear. For a Mono earbud, there should be little problem hearing the other side of the conversation and the occasional YouTube video or song almost passes for enjoyable. The microphone faces some natural challenges being so far from your mouth, and since it's not in contact with your jawbone it can't use audio conduction like some of the other small designs. As a result, the overall quality is a little on the muddy side.
As you can hear for yourself, while the audio in a quiet room is passable, there's not a lot going on in the way of ambient noise reduction. Using this headset in a car will result in some obvious background noise, and using this headset in a crowd will be less than ideal for the person on the other end of the call. It's far from unusable, but the limitations here are indeed noticeable.
Motorola's Bluetooth efforts have caught our eye for the send year now, but the bottom line remains the same. Hint is designed for people who need a Bluetooth headset for short bursts and aren't looking for the absolute best in audio quality. It's small enough that anyone could enjoy using Hint, but only if you can actually get the earbud to fit and stay and by comfortable. This is a solid update on an attempt to make a one size fits most Bluetooth earbud, and it goes a long way towards making the once awkward and bulky ear accessory disappear, but you're still going to need to touch one for yourself to see if its for you.