If you’ve ever seen someone talking to himself before realizing he’s actually on a phone call using a Bluetooth headset, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
I mean that literally: You can’t see this thing I’m about to describe — not unless you’re standing next to someone and looking in that person’s ear.
I’m talking about the Moto Hint, Motorola Mobility’s discreet, wireless earbud that twists into the ear and stays in place, confusing even more onlookers as you seemingly talk, argue and laugh with yourself.
I’ve tested a lot of hands-free headsets over the years, but until now, I’ve never found one that I liked enough to use on a regular basis. Lots of them become too uncomfortable to wear for conversations lasting longer than 30 minutes. And wearing one when you’re not on a call seems to send a subliminal message to whoever you’re with that says, “I may or may not be talking to someone else right now. Deal with it.”
This alternative to obtuse, blinking Bluetooth headsets differs in design, fit and function. It comes in six finishes — including bamboo, brown leather and light canvas — with matching charging cases. Over the past week, I often wore the Hint for long conference calls and personal calls, and I forgot it was still in my ear after the calls ended because it was so comfortable to wear. I also used it for asking questions of digital assistants like the iPhone’s Siri and Motorola Mobility’s Moto Voice. It also works on Google Now. One press on the Hint wakes Siri; Moto Voice initiates with voice prompts — no touching required.
I liked the Moto Hint enough to do the unthinkable: I started making more phone calls for the first time in years.
But a smart gadget like this doesn’t come cheap: The Moto Hint costs $150. Though that elicited an initial eye roll from me, the more I used the Hint, the more I realized how valuable it was.
The Hint is small enough to fit into the cap of a water bottle, which is a great thing when you’re wearing it, but a not-so-great thing if you’re the type of person who loses things easily. I dropped my Hint a few times, and had a flash of panic as I searched the floor to find it before my one-year-old could find it first and put it in his mouth.
On the upside, every Hint comes with its own case, which is harder to lose. My Hint had a dark-canvas finish, and its case was covered in the same material. It was stylish enough that I didn’t mind hooking it onto my keychain for easy access.
This case does more than hold the Hint while you’re not using it. It also serves as a recharging station for your Bluetooth earbud. By itself, the Hint earbud holds enough battery charge for about three hours of talk time. Each time you drop the Hint into its case, it gets another jolt of juice — totaling two full charges, or nearly seven more hours of talk time. The case comes with a short USB cord that’s used for plugging into a PC and recharging.
Cases like this aren’t new, but the Moto Hint’s $150 price tag includes the cost of the case. A competitor like the Jawbone Era costs a little less, at $130, but its charging case is sold separately for an additional $50.
What did people on the other end of my phone calls think of the Moto Hint’s sound quality? I used my Hint in a lot of noisy situations, like walking along city streets, walking past ongoing construction, and while standing beside my loud washer and dryer. Most of the dozen people I spoke with (some on many different phone calls) didn’t notice a difference between my regular phone calls and those made using the Hint.
Like a lot of Bluetooth headsets, the Hint has a noise-canceling microphone that senses the sound around it and attempts to mask that, making your voice sound clearer. It’s a little nerve-racking to speak normally without something hanging down from your ear, which would seem to help people hear you, but no one complained about the way my voice sounded through the Hint.
Not only does the Hint help you talk to others, it talks to you.
Whenever I took the Hint out of its charging case and put it in my ear, a voice said, “Moto Hint connected.” The voice also told me how many hours of talk time it had left. This notification made the Hint a lot more helpful than headsets that assume you’ll know that they’re connected to your phone. And the announced remaining talk time is necessary, since the Hint doesn’t have a display that shows its remaining battery life.
I paired the Moto Hint with my iPhone 5s and with a Moto X smartphone. If I received calls while wearing my Hint, those incoming calls were announced in my ear as, “Call from ___. Say ‘answer’ to answer, or ‘ignore’ to ignore.” I easily used these voice prompts to answer and ignore calls without digging my phone out of my bag, which was a big plus when I had my hands full.
You can’t use Hint while it’s charging in its case. This means that if you’ve been using your Hint for a bunch of long calls throughout the day, and run out of battery life, you’ll have to put it in its case and wait to use it until it’s charged again. This takes about 50 minutes.
The Hint performs the same audio prompts that you might otherwise make using your phone and a voice-command assistant like Siri, Google Now or Moto Voice. I did things like tapping my Hint to wake Siri and say, “Play Little Big Town.” Seconds later, I heard the country group harmonizing in my ear.
Moto Voice, which adds its own layer to Google Now audio prompts, works without tapping the Hint. I asked it trivia questions like, “Hello Moto X, how tall is the Washington Monument?” without tapping anything first, and got the answer (555 feet) in my ear.
If you want a Bluetooth headset — actually, an earbud — that feels great, is usually unnoticeable, yet still looks stylish when it’s seen, the Moto Hint will be music to your ears.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.