Introducing SouthWing’s SH505 Bluetooth Headset
A few weeks ago, we received a package in the mail from our friends at WirelessGround.com that contained a very interesting looking Bluetooth device. The device – a traditional Bluetooth headset – is from a company called SouthWing. Now, I wasn’t too familiar with this company and had only seen them in passing at a few Cingular and T-Mobile stores. SouthWing is a company founded in 2000 dedicated to producing innovative wireless Bluetooth devices for use with mobile phones.
Up until this past year or so, SouthWing’s exposure had been confined to mainly the UK market. Like most companies, however, SouthWing is making a push to gain a stronger foothold in the tough North American wireless market. Their strategy is a good one: Become the world leader in the design and licensing of solutions for mobile headsets. Lofty goals for a young company whose executive management team is made up of former Ericsson, Nokia, and Vodafone employees, but when you look at the number of innovated products that the company has produced in the last 5 years, it seems like they are on the right path.
Today, we take a look at one of the products that have found themselves across the pond into North America. The SH505 Bluetooth Headset which had been available in the UK for the past several months.
Looking at the SouthWing SH505, this is not your plain-Jane Bluetooth headset. The design is very modern and slick and has an overall cool look. The headset retails for $99 and can be worn with or without the ear clip. During our use, we used the ear clip since it was more comfortable than fitting the driver in our ear. With the ear clip, the headset was still pretty light and ear fatigue was reduced greatly.
- Bluetooth Version 1.2
- 10 Hours Talk-Time
- 300 Hours Standby Time
- Reported Weight 12 grams
- PC Application Software Included
What’s in the Box?
One of the first things you notice about the SH505 is the lack of buttons – or at least the appearance of buttons. SouthWing is the first company that I know that has incorporated “tactile” control into their headset. There are two buttons that one can clearly see: the multi-function button with the SouthWing logo on it, and the small power button on the underside of the headset. The volume controls are actually along the body of the SH505 and when you are on a call and you want to increase the volume you just press any part of the upper area of the SH505 body and the volume will increase. The same for reducing the volume – any press on the bottom half of the SH505 face will lower the volume. Very nice!
Each command that is initiated with the SH505 has an audible feedback in the headset and after a while you get used to tapping your earpiece to adjust the volume like Lt. Uhuru on the Starship Enterprise. This design is highly unique and one that worked very well. It alleviates the clutter found on the body of most headsets and allows the designers to create a more sleek and elegant design
Another unique feature on the SouthWing SH505 is the ability for the headset to be customized and configured via the USB port of a PC. SouthWing includes a USB cable that can be used to charge the headset as well as plug directly into a PC.
We wanted to find out what exactly this software did as this was one of the first Bluetooth headsets we had heard of with this sort of customization interface. We went to SouthWing’s Website and download the 11 MB file and installed it in less than 5 minutes.
The SouthWing application, Wingman (cute), seems pretty basic. There is an area you can customize the main button on the SH505 with your favorite number (called “Push4”), ringtone type, default volume and current battery level. The software also gives you detailed information on the device that it detects. With the exception of the Push4 number programming and ability to change ringtones, I wasn’t overly impressed with what the software had to offer. I agree that even offering something a program like this is unique and if SouthWing can build on this to provide even more customization, ie programmable audio tone alerts, or even integrating an area to check the latest firmware.
Let me just take a second and talk about SouthWing’s ability to check and upgrade the firmware on the SH505. We glossed over it when talking about the accompanying Wingman software, but when first went to the SouthWing website, we not only could download the application software described above, but also could download the latest firmware SH505. There was no log file to tell what we ‘upgraded’ to, but something happened. We can easily imagine in the future as new devices are introduced to the market (as well new Bluetooth versions), the ability to upgrade will be very valuable.
SouthWing’s SH505 Performance
All of the amenities and configuration software will not help how a Bluetooth headsets functions in the real world. SouthWing’s SH505 is a solid Bluetooth headset that gives adequate – not superb – volume during calls. The SH505 is not that big so we were fairly impressed by sound generated by the speaker driver. Even during calls in loud surroundings, the SouthWing did pretty well allowing us to hear the conversation.
The SH505 was not really touted to be the perfect noise canceller, but again during real-world performances, the SouthWing was impressive. For a headset with passive noise-cancellation, it did a pretty good job of filtering out wind noise in a car as well as noise from traffic when walking on the street.
Voice quality during calls seemed to be above average as well. Callers reported hearing SH505 users loud and clear. Under duress of a loud background, outgoing calls could be heard, but if the noise was louder than your typical conversation (music in bar & grill, windows opened in a car traveling faster than 50 mph, etc.) the SH505 would struggle. If you are constantly in a noise environment and would like an active noise cancelling set to filter out noise and background sounds, this is not the headset I would recommend for you. If the majority of your phone calls are done in a fairly quiet surrounding, then you should have no problem with the performance of this headset. For the majority of people who are in need of a wireless headset for their mobile device, this is a great headset to own.
The performance of the SouthWing SH505 was what we expected from a Bluetooth headset in this price range. By far, it’s not the best headset we have seen, but at a street price of around $60, this could be the headset many want in terms of bang-for-buck.
SouthWing is clearly doing many things right as a company, and those strategies can be seen in how they have delivered the SH505. They start off with a small, efficient and stylish package that looks smooth and is fairly comfortable on the ear. We found the battery life of the headset to be above average and would last for at least 2 or more days of typical business use. Of course, your mileage may vary, but it is safe to say that you will definitely get at least the advertised 10 hours SouthWing claims.
During the time that we tested the SouthWing SH505, we only used the headset with the ear hook. We could have taken the hook off and just used the friction from the speaker ‘bud’ to wedge it directly in the ear. Since the earbud doesn’t really have any extra padding, this wasn’t exactly appealing to me and I kept using the ear hook. The good news is that while wearing the SH505 over long periods of time, I didn’t experience any irritation or discomfort. It was a headset that you could comfortably wear the entire day.
The Wingman software provided was an original and unique idea from the engineers at SouthWing. We have never before been able to “customize” our Bluetooth headset from our computer so being able to do this was certainly a new experience. After the first 2 times we used the software however, the novelty wore off and we wondered why the designers didn’t make the software and control of the SH505 a bit more robust. We would have liked to have seen fully customizable buttons and even a way you can sequence and string commands together – for instance changing the commands for answering calls or placing calls on hold, or even a way to have more than one of your favorite numbers stored in to be able to speed dial voicemail, home, or the office. Right now, the ability to use the Wingman software is very good, but to get beyond the gimmick phase, SouthWing will have to continue to grow the idea for their customers and show them something that will have their customers use the software more than one or two times.
Overall, the SouthWing SH505 is a very, very good headset for those not constrained by the absolute need for active noise cancellation. The performance of the SH505 was rock solid and compatible each of our test devices (Treos 650/750, MDA Vario, Motorola RAZR V3, and T-Mobile Wing). Battery life and ear comfort were very good as well. The tactile control for volume is very innovative and worked really well. We expect to see more of this kind of technology in mobile devices in the near future. SouthWing has certainly broken rank with the same old boring looking wireless headset devices that have populated the market.
The SouthWing SH505 is a very solid entry into the very competitive and very crowded Bluetooth peripheral market. SouthWing sets this headset apart from the rest by including programmable software and futuristic tactile control. We can’t wait to see what else this company has to offer us in the future.
Legit Bottom Line:
SouthWing enters the North American and US market with a sleek and stylish Bluetooth wireless headset. With a street price of under $60, the SouthWing SH505 is a solid headset that features unique controls, very good sound and voice quality, and only lacks active noise cancellation – a feature that most can live without at this price point.