The Dragon V2 sounds terrific: loud, clear, static-free. It, too, can suffer from wind noise, but in other situations, your calling buddies aren’t likely to guess that you’re even using an earpiece.
But, hey, there are hundreds of Bluetooth earpieces out there. What makes these two so special? With the press of a button combination, they become secret-agent two-way radios.
It works exactly the way it works for Tom Cruise: As you climb, work, drive or bike, both your hands remain busy with what they’re supposed to be doing. And yet you’re also in constant two-way conversation with whoever is wearing the other earpiece. It feels natural and creepy at the same time, as if you have one of those little angels (or devils) sitting on your shoulder feeding advice or wisecracks directly into your head.
And it’s free forever. No air time, no minutes, no monthly bill.
This setup would be great for warehouse workers, factory employees, waiters (dining room to kitchen, for example), electricians working together, store clerks, families at amusement parks, emergency workers and magicians.
It’s especially great for cyclists. I tested the SM100 on a scenic shoreline bike ride with my daughter. We rode single file at the side of the road, which would ordinarily mean either riding in silence or turning my head back to yell (and hoping not to crash). Instead, we chatted as naturally as though we were on the phone, yet with both hands on the handlebars.
Unfortunately, the SM100 uses standard Bluetooth. Its maximum range is 30 feet. If we ever drifted more than a couple bike lengths apart, the signal broke up in static.
The Dragon was a different story. It’s a so-called Bluetooth Class 1 device, meaning that it has a much more powerful radio, and therefore, much greater range. During a similar bike ride with my son, we could get about three house-lengths apart before garble began creeping in. That’s probably 250 feet, and it makes a huge difference.
As a bonus, the Dragon can also pair with two sources at once — your cellphone and your computer, for example. You can listen to iTunes music, or make a Skype call on your Mac or PC — and then when a cellphone call comes in, the Dragon switches automatically. Or you can switch from walkie-talkie mode to a cellphone call in the same way. Sweet.
The Dragon also comes with a car charger, wall-outlet charger, U.S.B.-cable charger and a carrying case. (The SM100 charges only from a wall outlet.)
Both companies sell additional gadgets that make your clandestine listening power even more interesting. Callpod, for example, sells something called the Phoenix ($300), a tabletop junction box that expands that Tom Cruise ear-socket radio effect to up to five Dragon earpieces. Now a whole team or family can be chatting as they work, no charge — or, if somebody has a cellphone, everyone can be on the same call.
Both of these Bluetooth earpieces represent exceptional engineering. Both are advertised to have eight hours of talk time on a charge and 300 hours of standby time, although the SM100’s standby drops to 24 hours if you use EnvironmentalMode.
The Dragon V2, though, is the runaway winner. It’s larger, of course, which may make you more detectable by the agents of evil. But it offers better sound than the SM100, and 10 times greater range. That’s a hugely important factor. After all, as anyone in the secure-facility infiltration business can tell you, finding nearby parking for your counterspy van can be a real pain.
David Pogue is a columnist for the New York Times and contributor to CNBC. He can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.