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Hands-on with Motorola's MOTOACTV S9!

Chris Ziegler

Why hasn't stereo Bluetooth become ubiquitous? The promise of cutting the wire from the player to the ears sounds seductive enough, but for a variety of reasons -- poor support and lack of quality product chief among them -- the technology has failed to catch on en masse with the listening public. When we first saw the S9 debut at CES last month, we've gotta confess, we were less than enthused; we figured we were in for more of the same awkwardness that has plagued A2DP peripherals to date. To be blunt, it looked big, heavy, awkward, and altogether a little uncomfortable. A month later, we're delighted to report that we're eating those words right up.

Put simply, the S9 exceeded virtually every expectation we had. Despite the seemingly bulbous rear end and somewhat rigid over-the-top earbud placement, the device wasn't just comfortable -- we nearly forgot it was on after a while, and that sentiment was echoed by several individuals we had try it out.

As is the case with most modern A2DP headsets, the S9 functions both as a headset and a handsfree. It worked swimmingly in both modes. As a stereo headset, sound quality was excellent with rich bass and plenty of volume; we noticed some hiss, but we're thinking that might have to do with the pre-release nature of the particular unit we were using. In handsfree mode, incoming sound is heard only through the left ear -- we're not sure if this is by design, or just another quirk of the engineering sample. We never could figure out just where the mic was hidden, but no matter -- callers reported that we could be heard clearly.

The S9's buds don't actually go in the ear as we first thought, but rather sit just over the ear hole, giving the user a reasonable capability to hear the goings-on around them. Don't worry, though -- the volume is plenty loud to drown it all out if you so choose.

Pairing with our Samsung BlackJack was a breeze, though we had trouble getting it to work with either Windows XP or Vista (both machines were packing Broadcom Bluetooth chipsets). Again, we'll reserve judgment here until Moto has a chance to work out all the kinks and come to the table with a final product (and besides, this thing really is meant for paring to a phone).

In a market segment with some pretty uninspiring equipment, we're delighted to see Motorola step up and deliver an A2DP headset that we actually want to buy. Between the water resistance, the USB charging capability, the decent sound quality, and the fact that it doesn't make you want to tear your ears off after a few minutes of use, we're sold. Hurry up, Moto, you've got some customers waiting!

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