iPhone Headphones

I’ve had an iPhone for several months now, and am enjoying it as both the most usable phone I’ve ever owned and also the most enjoyable PDA I’ve ever owned. Except, that is, for the headphones.

It comes with earbuds nearly identical to stock iPod buds, with the small but significant inclusion of the inline microphone/switch bulge. The buds have the usual drawbacks: painful to wear, sound terrible, and are white. Like most people, I immediately switched to anything else and have been happy – for the most part.

It turns out that the switch and microphone are fabulously useful. A few immediate features are the ability to pause (single click), skip to next track (double click), skip back a track (triple click), and fast forward a track (hold). When using the provided buds, the phone rings through the headphones, you can answer the phone (single click), hang up the call (single click when on call), and speak into the bulge microphone while listening through the headphones. No need to touch the phone or, with custom ringtones for callers, no need to even look at it.

Not so with regular headphones… You can still listen to music, but can’t control it. You can still listen to the call, but can’t hear it ring through the headphone, control the call, or speak into the microphone. Instead, you only notice a call because the music fades out, you have to pull the phone out of your pocket/bag to answer it, and then you must hold the phone somewhere near your mouth – looks very silly.

The obvious solution (to me) is to have an adaptor that plugs in-line with your regular headphones to provide the microphone/switch function. The logical construction is easy, but by no means stylish – custom plastics molding is gaffer-tape-ish or expensive. It has already been commercially developed of course, but by only one readily found supplier: Phillips

Naturally, I was straight onto the web to buy one. Again, it seems only one Australian-based store had then for sale: MrGadget.com.au. The order was placed and the waiting began… After over 2 months I gave up trying to deal with the sales staff and went to the source: @MrGadget

This was first real effort to get any direct result from the Twitter network, so my expectations were low. I was very pleasantly surprised and satisfied by my dealings with @MrGadget – his communications were direct, honest and timely. Sadly he was not able to supply the headphone adaptor cable, but as compensation for my troubles I was given some ex-review headphones, some iPhone screen protectors to trial/review, and an iPhone silicon skin. Part of that deal was for me to review the headphones and screen protectors, thus the following is not a paid review, but I have gained from the transaction.

The market for iPhone screen protectors appears to be somewhat saturated; everywhere you look there is a new brand or style. My original protector was some unknown brand hastily grabbed off a shelf when the phone was new. It did the job well enough until I foolishly stored my keys and phone in the same pocket. Welcome to scratch-ville, but at least the protector was sacrificed that the phone may live.

The new protector is MrGadget’s own branded product. My first impression was how bright and glossy the screen was compared to with the matte protector I used to have; the MrGadget protector interferes much less with the display. An initial concern was that the new protector was too ‘sticky’ – when touching/sliding/pinching/etc there is more resistance to movement. I think this is getting better with practice and a lighter touch. The unexpected benefit is that I find it much easier to type accurately – again with the reduced interference.

  • Next, the iPhone silicone case:

The case was not my favourite item. It fit the iPhone well and had a nice texture that made it easy to grip, but it had a headphone management dealy on the back designed to fit stock earbuds (and similar). This made the case almost double the thickness of the phone, and somewhat awkward to hold. Since I don’t use the earbuds, and like my phone to fit in my pocket, the case was quickly passed to a friend who could make appropriate use of it and is reportedly still very happy with it.

These are the black Sumajin ones with a built-in SD card MP3 player. These are the best headphones I’ve ever owned – they sound fantastic, with  a very consistent response across the range. As a closed design, they also have excellent sound exclusion … with one small flaw: the buttons for the built-in MP3 player have some spacing around them that allows a relatively large amount of sound in on one side. This is something I probably wouldn’t normally notice if it were symmetrical, but it’s quite obvious in noisy environments. I’ve never actually used the MP3 player function, but I may have to give it a whirl sometime as it would allow some cable-free music or podcast listening.

So, while I didn’t get the switch/microphone cable I was looking for, I am very happy with the screen protector and headphones I received instead.

Final note: a few other cable/adaptor options appear to have surfaced since this all started (4 months or so…) – I’ll update if I ever obtain one.