BONX is a hands free, voice-activated Bluetooth Headset that works with a dedicated app for your phone. In other words; it is a single function piece of gear requiring a specific app that is at best redundant and at worst a copy of a product that was part of the first wave of Bluetooth in-ear headphones in the early 2000s. It is a bit oversized, but we will go through the features one by one to discover if there is a secret that sets this product apart and makes it welcome in 2016.
First, the BONX is supposedly designed for “outdoor athletes.” It weighs in at 15 g., or about the same as three US$0.25 coins, and has a rugged exterior with a water resistant rating of IPX5; good enough for “water jets at any direction.” So, while you can not take it snorkeling or scuba diving, you may be inclined to use it as a floatation device because it is huge. It looks like an ear muff and is visibly cumbersome even in the Indiegogo video.
Unfortunately, having a piece of gear this size hanging off an ear is not a design that lends itself to high impact activities. Having put headphones under my winter hat, I can tell you from experience that the part that wraps behind your ear will soon be digging into your skull, especially if you’ve got a goggle strap over it as well. And, if I can whip my glasses off my face on a casual terrain park run, I don’t expect for this to stay on my ear without having something over it, especially during a wipeout.
Second, the BONX is voice-activated but has two large buttons for mute and volume control. While these features make sense, it appears that the buttons are placed where pressure will be applied from any hat, strap, or headband. Referencing the video again, a ski cap, helmet, and goggles would all apply pressure to these buttons and activate them. So, unless there is a way to disable the buttons, or significant pressure is necessary to activate them, this seems like a major oversight.
Third, voice activation sounds like a good idea, but it has to be implemented well and there is no adequate demonstration to make a judgment. In my experience, I have yet to use an application or device where the recording does not miss the first moment of speaking. The description even explains that there is a “fraction of a second” before the product picks up your voice.
This may be nitpicking, but one of the reasons push button walkie talkies are still in use, like, since WWII, is because pressing a button is a sure way not to miss communicating something with significant ambient noise like wind, a motor, crowds or traffic. However, I will reserve judgment on the “Innovative Voice Activation Detection” software which claims a noise reduction system that “allows users to talk even in the most extreme conditions,” because I have to hear it to believe it. Afterall, it is entirely possible that their technology is able to isolate my voice and transmit clearly to my friends.
Fourth, and most importantly, the campaign announces that “what sets the BONX Grip completely apart” is that it “creates conversations that never could’ve happened before.” It also claims that we, as outdoor athletes, have “never had wearable group-talk technology that could keep up with us.” I could go on, but it’s pretty clear that these claims are laughable.
There is a significant number of applications for any device running iOS or Android that act as a walkie-talkies effectively, but that don’t need dedicated electronics (Just search “walkie talkie app” on Google). And if you don’t want to use an app, you can do what my friends and I did when we were younger and use three-way calling to be on the same call on the trails. The best part is that you can use any number of cheaper or high quality headphones, earbuds, or bluetooth devices for either of these options!
Finally, your fifth bonus round — you still need cell phone signal for this device to work. This relates to the biggest question: why would I purchase a dedicated and proprietary piece of hardware for something that I can already do? If I can make a call using my earbuds to listen and my in-line mic to talk, or use a free walkie-talkie app, then why would I spend money on a large, one-ear speaker that only works with one app, and one that I can lose when I wipe out?
Unfortunately, this appears to be an example of a bad idea gone too far. In the world of crowdfunding, you get to see products like this make it so far, and some even make it further.
However, if BONX is looking to compete even against the cheapest handsfree bluetooth headsets, it has to provide a distinguishing and unique feature that sets it apart. Perhaps it is the “Innovative Voice Activation Detection” software. Or the contemporary app-inspired interface. But right now all I see is out-of-date technology and unsubstantiated claims; and an out-of-touch design team stuck in the early 2000s.