Sena SMH10R Bluetooth Headset Review
Sena’s SMH10 and SMH5 Bluetooth headsets are as easy to use as they come. The key to their success is the “Jog Dial,” a big round knob that is both a button and a dial that lets you push-to-talk and enable and disable all of the other functions with a single control. The jog dial is mounted on the main unit, which clamps or adheres to the side of your helmet and contains the battery and indicator lights. Twist the dial to turn the volume up or down, push it to talk on the intercom, pair it with another headset or enter the function menu, where you twist the dial once again to make your selections from a spoken menu. The learning curve is short, volume plentiful and fidelity excellent, whether you use the headsets to intercom with a passenger and/or other riders, listen to spoken GPS instructions, the radio in the SMH5-FM or music and phone calls from a smartphone.
The only downside to the SMH10 and SMH5, in fact, is their size, since the tip of the jog dial sticks out about two inches from the side of your helmet. In reality its rounded shape is aerodynamic enough that it’s unnoticeable to the wearer, even at highway speeds, but it can get in the way when the helmet is off your head—when you’re packing two helmets into a top trunk, for example. I imagine some sportbike riders and land-speed record runners would appreciate something with a slimmer profile as well, even just for appearance’s sake.
Enter the new Sena SMH10R, which uses a two-part design to slim down the main unit to about a 3/8-inch thick. In this model, the small, flat battery pack is separate—it connects to the main unit with a wire and fastens to the outside rear of the helmet. The jog dial is replaced with a single button in the center that you use in combination with up/down volume buttons to enable or disable all of the functions. Everything else works virtually the same way. Some of the spoken menu options have been replaced with beeps, but the unit still talks to you in the main setup menu.
Installing the SMH10R was a snap in a Shoei GT-Air and should be fairly simple in most helmets. It comes with both a wired mic for full-face lids, and a boom mic for open-face or modular helmets, as well as all of the adhesive and hook-and-loop pads for securing the main unit, battery pack and speakers onto the helmet. Each speaker, the mic and battery connect to a short pigtail that is permanently attached to the main unit, and these connectors get tucked away somewhere between the comfort liner and the helmet shell, so you have to leave the control unit and battery on the helmet for charging. A USB cable is provided for this and firmware upgrades, but you’ll need a USB/AC adapter for wall charging. The one for my iPhone worked just fine.
It takes a little practice to find the center button, but it lives between a pair of raised ribs that can be felt with gloves on. Once mastered, you’re ready to use the Bluetooth 3.0 intercom with up to four other Sena headset users; control and listen to your MP3 player via Bluetooth stereo; make conference phone calls with an intercom participant; take spoken GPS directions; and make and receive phone calls. The volume for each audio source can be controlled separately, there’s a cigarette charger for charging on the fly, and the unit is water resistant.
Charging time for the lithium polymer battery is 2.5 hours, and we got a little more than six hours of talk time and eight days of standby out of it. Sena claims the unit has a range in open terrain of 980 yards, but we were only able to understand one another on the intercom out to about 3/10ths of a mile. That’s still good enough for a group ride, or talking to your passenger while he or she is over yonder somewhere and you’re waiting by the bike.
A single SMH10R headset retails for $219; the Dual Pack goes for $399. By all means, if you don’t care about their size, get the SMH10 or SMH5—they’re easier to install and to use. But if you need a sleek, low-profile headset, this SMH10R is about the best thing going.
For more information, contact Sena Bluetooth at 866-8-US-SENA (866-887-7362) or visit senabluetooth.com
(This Gearlab review was published in the October 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)