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Samsung's Overtaxed Headset

By Aoife M. McEvoy

San Francisco - Have you ever heard of the dual-purpose cow? As the name suggests, it gives you both beef and milk. But some folks argue that a dual-purpose cow generally cannot produce outstanding milk and outstanding beef—in other words, a cow should deliver one or the other, not both.

And that leads me to the $90 (price as of 9/16/09), dual-purpose Samsung WEP870. It's both a mono Bluetooth headset and a stereo Bluetooth headset. The mono part is a stick-like headset with an earloop; to convert the piece into a stereo device, you attach the earbud lanyard and then place both earbuds in your ears, while the headset itself dangles somewhere on your chest. Like those people who don't believe in a dual-purpose cow, I'm not in favor of the dual-purpose approach on exhibit in the WEP870.

First, a few words about the mono headset experience. The short, thumb-size stick sat reasonably well on my ear with the clear plastic earloop. Even though the earpiece was a little large for me, the earloop provided a sturdy grip, and the headset did not move around. (You can also remove the earloop, if you prefer.) I liked the unique battery status indicator on the unit's mini-LED, which provided an update when I turned on the headset. The dedicated power switch is another feature I appreciated. To access the main call button, you need only press the large upper area of the headset—very convenient. Likewise, the volume controls are easy to find at the side of the unit, and the call button and volume controls deliver solid feedback when pushed.

Calls sounded good—often great—when I used the WEP870 as a mono headset. To other parties my voice sounded natural and clear, and the unit blocked out a decent amount of background noise. My voice sounded muffled only a couple of times. Voices coming into my ear sounded crisp, with nice intonation.

Now, to the stereo part of the equation: Turning the mono headset into a stereo-ready unit proved awkward. After I connected the earbud lanyard to the mono headset, the cord regularly tangled up. You have to wear the lanyard like a necklace (with the headset as a pendant), and I felt as if I were wearing a stethoscope. The tips on the ends of the earbuds fit loosely and uncomfortably in my ears; the earbuds often tipped out if I didn't have the lanyard adjusted to distribute the weight better.

To make calls with the earbud arrangement, you have to use the mono headset's controls—the lanyard has no call (or music) controls. Call quality again sounded good; no changes there. Music quality, however, was disappointing. The overall experience lacked depth and richness compared with, say, the Jabra Halo. I missed a stronger-sounding bass, for example.

The WEP870's strengths lie in the mono-headset part of the package—namely, its great-sounding calls and handy controls. But Samsung's stereo component is rather cumbersome, unfortunately, so you might be spending $90 for a feature you may use only infrequently. I'd rather spring for a dedicated pair of stereo headphones and a separate mono headset, instead of a combo unit.

(For more on selecting the right headset for you, see PCWorld's Bluetooth products buying guide.)

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