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The Cardo S-800 is average to good in most respects, and outstanding in terms of all-important sound quality.

With a good value street price ($36) and the cachet of the Cardo brand supporting it, this is a headset likely to appeal to many purchasers.

 
 
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Cardo S-800 Bluetooth Headset review

Best sound quality, rich feature set, good price
 

A fairly traditional and reasonably attractive unit, the Cardo S-800 has an optional wire retainer to fit over your ear for a more secure mount.

Part of our series on Bluetooth - more articles listed on the right.

 

 

For most people, the most important feature in a headset is sound quality.  Nothing else matters if the sound quality isn't good.

Here's great news - the Cardo S-800 has brilliant sound quality, possibly even surpassing that when using your phone directly.

With no profound negatives to offset the positive feature of sound quality, the Cardo S-800 becomes a clear good choice for most people seeking a Bluetooth style headset.

With a list price of $85, and a street price of about $15 on Amazon this is a very well priced headset.

What you Get

The Cardo S-800 Bluetooth headset is packaged in an easy to open cardboard box.

Inside the box is the headset itself, a multi-voltage charger, and several other things.  There is an adapter cable to connect between a regular USB port and the micro USB (not the more common and slightly larger mini USB) connector used by the headset.  Cardo says the new micro style connector is the new de facto standard for phone and headset charger ports.

There is a metal loop which can be added to the headset - this loops around the back of your ear, causing the unit to be more securely held in place.

A silvered lanyard provides a way to carry the headset around your neck when you're not on a call.  A warranty and safety sheet, and a user guide complete the inclusions in the package.  The unit has a one year non-transferable warranty, and requires you to send in a registration form to qualify.

The unit lists for $84.99, and can be found for less at the usual sorts of electronics resellers such as Amazon (where it is currently $15).

Feature Chart

Use this information to quickly understand the capabilities of the unit and to compare with other units.
 

Feature                         Comment

Cost

List price $84.99.

Purchased from Amazon for $36, Apr 08
Currently for sale (May 09) on Amazon for $15


Ergonomics

Easy to put on and take off

When used without the ear loop, you simply stick the unit in your ear and take it out again.  This is easy to do.

Using the optional loop makes this only slightly more difficult.

Easy to use the control buttons

The good news - there are more buttons on this unit than on a typical unit.

The bad news - there are also more functions that are spread around the various different buttons, and in total, the unit is no easier to use than any of the myriad of other poorly designed Bluetooth headsets.

I continue to marvel at the inability of the industry to make use of such simple concepts as, eg, a slide switch to turn the unit on and off, eliminating the sometime ambiguity of 'is the unit actually on or off at present'.

While Cardo gets zero marks for the ease of use of its buttons, this is no worse (but also no better) than any other Bluetooth headset to date.

Comfortable to wear

The earpiece was neither comfortable nor particularly secure to wear unless you added the optional loop.  The lack of comfort is probably due to it not coming with a range of different sized parts that actually fit in your ear.

With the optional loop it was no longer uncomfortable, because it now primarily hangs off your ear, rather than is mounted by being wedged into your ear.

See also the related discussion below about the security of the mounting options.

Can you use with glasses

Yes, the small size of the earpiece doesn't interfere with glasses at all and the optional loop is thin and unobtrusive too.

Can use with either ear

Yes.

If you have the optional loop added, you simply rotate this to match the 180 different symmetry of your other ear.

Securely mounted on ear

The unit can be worn either with or without a metal loop that hangs around your ear.

If you wear it without the loop, you'll necessarily push the unit further into your ear, which detracts from the comfort factor.

Unusually, this unit does not come with a range of different sized ear pieces, and the size of the bit that goes in your ear was too large for me or for several other reviewers and 'ordinary users' too.

Perhaps it was because of the 'one size (doesn't) fit all' policy, but I had the unit fall out of my ear while wearing it, which is of course unacceptable.

Adding the optional loop makes the unit much more secure.

How to carry

Cardo have given some thought to this often overlooked issue, and offer a couple of innovative solutions.

The first is a lanyard with a type of 'dock' that you can clip your headset into while not in use.  The lanyard loops around your neck, and has a soft rubber type oval loop at the bottom, into which you can friction fit the headset when not in use, and from which you can simply pull the headset out to put in your ear when needed.

A great idea?  Alas, no.  A dangerous idea, as evidenced by the warning label affixed to the lanyard's packing, which reads 'CAUTION Use Lanyard at own risk.  No replacement if headset is lost'.  This is a warning that was obviously placed there for good reason (it seems from pictures in earlier reviews that this warning label is a recent addition) - the headset fell out of the lanyard several times during my testing.

The second option is a carry pouch that you could keep on your belt and have your S-800 in when not in use.  The carry pouch sells from Cardo's website for a mere $5, but not it is not clear if it will fit the headset if/when you have the metal ear loop added to it.

Compatible with Nectar retractable and necklace style headset holders.

Weight

The unit weighs 0.3 ounces.

Because it is short and squat, there are no angular momentum issues and the unit has a very low perceived weight, especially when mounted on your ear with the ear loop.


Ease of Use

Commands intuitive and easy to remember

Between writing this review and the previous review one week earlier, I had a minor mental epiphany.  Who really cares if the headset commands are intuitive and easy to remember or not?

The key thing is to know how to turn the headset on and off, and perhaps how to place and answer calls - anything more complicated can generally still be done from the phone handset, obviating the need to learn arcane headset commands.

Due to the rich set of headset features, the S-800 has even more commands than do many of its competitors, which makes mastering the unit more complex.

For example, the two color status light has fifteen different things it can signal, depending on which colors show, and whether they flash quickly or slowly.  Will real people ever bother to memorize the different meanings of, eg, the red light flashing slowly and the red light flashing quickly?  Of course not (oh, and by the way, these two different types of flashing signal both mean the same thing - low battery.  Go figure....)

Volume adjustable

Yes.  The unit has a volume wheel - you flick it one way repeatedly to increase the volume, and the other way repeatedly to decrease the volume.  There are eight different volume levels you can select between.

How fast does it turn on

It takes about four seconds to turn on and about another four seconds to synch with the phone.

Manual

A helpful and well written 16 page (long narrow page size 8.7" by 2.7") black and white user guide (in English) is provided with the unit, and the same guide can also be downloaded from Cardo's website.

The manual also has German, Italian, French and Spanish versions bound into it.

Support

Via email, website (very rudimentary), and (800) number - (800)488-0363.  Support hours are 8.30am - 5pm, Mon-Fri, EST.

A test call was answered very quickly, and the (US) support rep gave reasonably helpful and sensible answers.

Pairing password printed on device

No (it is 0000 so in an emergency you have a good chance of guessing what it is!)


Features

Battery life

Up to 8 hours of talk or 168 hours of standby time claimed.

These timings are slightly better than normal compared to other units on sale in April 2008.

Low battery indicator/signal

You can check the battery charge level at any time (while not in a call) by pressing and holding the Control button for about four seconds.  The LED will flash blue for a full charge, alternately blue and red for half charge, and red for a nearly empty charge.

Battery type

Lithium polymer.

Replaceable battery?

No.

As with other headsets, the chances are by the time the battery has died, you'll probably have bought a new headset.

Battery charging method/time

The bad news - the headset doesn't use a standard mini USB connection for its power input.

The good news?  It uses a micro USB connector instead, and this is possibly the new common standard type connection for miniature devices such as phones and headsets.

Charging time is about 2 hours.

A red light on the headset goes on when charging and extinguishes when fully charged.

Multi-voltage charger

Yes.

Charger weight/size

2.2 oz.

A small brick charger.

Other charging methods

Cardo include a cable with the unit to connect via a regular USB plug to a power source such as a hub or laptop, and ends in a micro USB plug to connect to the headset or any other micro USB type connection.

Cardo also sell a car charger on their website for $15.

How many pairings can be stored

The S-800 can store up to eight different phone pairings.

And it can be simultaneously connected to two different phones - eg, your home and work cell phones, or your phone and your spouse's phone.

Obviously (?) you can only place or receive one call from one phone at one time, but while in standby mode the headset can 'listen' for incoming calls from two phones at once, and will allow you to answer whichever phone rings next.

This is similar to the functionality of the Plantronics Discovery 650-E.

Headset and hands-free profiles?

Both profiles are supported.

Audio profile for computers

No.

Bluetooth compatibility

Version 2.0

Power/range

Doesn't say, so is presumably standard.

Effective range

Doesn't make a claim, but tests showed good reception out to 50' with no obstructions and poorer reception to 60'.

On the other hand, with the iPhone being held in my hand down at my hip on one side of my body, and the headset in the opposite ear, the signal quality noticeably diminished.

Warranty

The warranty is a generous one year warranty.

Free return

Retailer policies will vary.

Noise cancelling/DSP

Cardo says the S-800 embodies 'noise reduction technology' without providing any further specifics.

Here is a sample recording of me using both the S-800 and an iPhone in a noisy environment with a mix of different sound sources creating a complex sound environment.

You'll note that both the iPhone itself and the S-800 do a good job of reducing the background noise.  IN particular, notice the initial burst of loud background noise and how it reduces once I start speaking, which helps either unit know what volume level to adopt and to guess at which sounds might be my voice.

The noise cancelling/processing on the Cardo seems to be comparable to that on the iPhone itself, and the experience for the person on the other end of the phone is better than it would be without any noise processing at all.  But the Cardo's noise processing doesn't seem to involve any 'clever' digital notch filtering, such as is clearly the case with the Jawbone.

Sound quality

Sound quality was excellent, and, for the person at the other end it was, if anything, better than the handset.

Here is a sample recording of me using both the headset and an iPhone  in a clean quiet environment so you can hear the difference for yourself.

This headset offers the best sound quality of any tested so far, and in many cases the sound quality is better than directly through the handset.


Capabilities

Turning on and off

Turning on is simple - press the control button on the earpiece and wait until the LED flashes blue - this takes about four seconds.

Turning off is also simple - press the control button for about four seconds until the LED flashes red.

Auto connect

Yes, but doesn't always seem to work reliably with my iPhone.

Cardo say they sometimes have problems with the 'smarter' type phones and auto connect, but don't know why.

Voice tag support

Supported (if also supported on the phone, of course).

Briefly tap the control button, then say the name of the person you wish to call.

Last number redial

Yes.

Press the volume control wheel inwards once.

Transfer call to/from phone

Ouch.

The instructions say to press and hold the control button for three seconds to transfer a call either to the headset or to the phone, but then says that on some phones just a brief tap of the button is all that is needed.

Except that a brief tap of the button can also hang up a call.  And a four second press of the control button can turn the phone off.

Plenty of opportunity for error here!

Call waiting/Three way calling

Yes.  A tap of the volume control switches between calls.

Three way (conference) calling is done by holding the volume control in for three seconds.

Call reject

Yes.  Press and hold the control button for three seconds.

Call answer/end

Yes.

Generally you will have your headset off rather than on.  So, to answer a call, you could first turn it on, then, once the headset was on and paired, press the button briefly to answer the call.  This however can take a long time - too long for some callers - so it is better to answer the call on the handset then transfer it once the headset has switched on and paired.

If the unit is already on, a short press of the control button will answer an incoming call.

To end a call, a short press of the control button is again needed.

The unit signals incoming calls with a quiet ring tune ('Ride of the Valkyries') which you'd only hear if the unit was in your ear, so you probably need to rely on hearing the phone handset's ring.

Mute

Yes.  Press the volume control in briefly to mute or un-mute a call.

Other Features

Yes, lots.

One innovative feature is a headset locater feature, although note this will only work if the headset is currently switched on, paired to your phone, and in range of your phone.  This apparently works by calling any number from your phone, then turning the phone's volume up and down 'five or more times'.  I tried it plenty more than five times before giving up.  The headset was supposed to buzz, but it didn't.

The S-800 has an auto-answer feature that will enable it to automatically answer incoming calls 'for your convenience'.  Cardo do point out this can be dangerous, particularly if a call is answered without you realizing it, and all of a sudden you're unwittingly broadcasting whatever you're doing to the person who called you.

It has a button lock feature - this can be useful if you're carrying the unit in a pocket and don't want to accidently bump one of its buttons and perhaps place a call.  But it is also a hassle - you have to unlock the buttons by pressing both the volume and control buttons simultaneously for at least four seconds before you can even take an incoming call.

It also has a speed dial memory that allows you to store up to three numbers in speed dial locations (press the volume button twice for speed dial one, three times for two, and four times for three).


Subjective

Attractive design

Reasonably attractive and understated design in silver and dark blue.

Flashing indicators on standby

Yes, a blue light flashes once every five or so seconds while the unit is on standby.  This can be switched off if you wish.

Size

The unit measures about 1.7" x 0.8" and is about 0.4" thick, with the earpiece bit protruding out another 0.5".  Without the ear loop it is small enough to be conveniently carried in a pocket.

The earloop increases its size to about 2" x 1.8", and the same thickness.


Summary

This is a 'good all rounder' headset with good sound quality, an extensive feature set, and a sensibly standard recharge capability.  It lists for $85, but is currently available on Amazon for a mere $15, making it easy to justify the slight price premium over entry level priced and featured units.

 

Using the Cardo S-800 Headset

The strongest impression from using the S-800 (other than the superlative sound) is that it falls out.

It falls out of your ear.  As unwelcome as it may be (in terms of extra bulk), most of us will choose to add the metal ear loop to the unit so as to ensure the unit doesn't fall out of our ear.

And the S-800 also falls out of its lanyard.  No wonder there's a printed disclaimer on the packaging for the lanyard 'CAUTION Use Lanyard at own risk.  No replacement if headset is lost'.

The very real risk of losing the headset when carrying it in the otherwise cleverly thought up lanyard loop of course means one has to throw the lanyard away and resolve never to use it.

But, and assuming you haven't lost the unit, either off its lanyard or out of your ear, its splendid sound quality makes it a joy to use, and its long battery life (together with battery charge level feature) makes keeping it charged and available for use easy to do.

Problems with the unit always linking up to an iPhone were puzzling, and Cardo offered no clue as to what the issue (or solution) may be, instead noting that it is an occasional problem with many of the more high tech phones these days.

Most of the time, however, all went perfectly, and in terms of simply answering or ending calls, and switching it on or off, it was easy to use.

It is heartening to see good quality high tech products being developed other than in China.  Cardo is an Israeli based company, although it too has the units manufactured for it in China.

Connecting with phones

This was not always the headset's strongest point, with it occasionally (rarely, but a couple of times during a week of usage) 'forgetting' its connection to my iPhone, and needing to be re-paired (that is, paired again, not fixed).

It showed no problems pairing with a Blackberry, although I didn't test it as extensively with the Blackberry.

Summary

The most distinctive and positive element of this headset is its excellent sound quality. This is the first headset that I've felt unreservedly good about using; if anything, sound quality improves via the headset rather than when speaking directly through the handset.

In other respects, the headset is average to good.  It has average to good battery life, weight and design, and is averagely priced.  It has a very wide array of features, but increasingly our feeling is that most of these features are distractions rather than benefits - it is easier to follow the on-screen helpful prompting on your phone when you want to do something 'clever' rather than try and puzzle out a non-intuitive series of timed button pushes and flashing colored lights.

The Cardo S-800 has a current (May 09) street price of about $15 through Amazon.  This puts it in the most affordable price bracket.

A mere $15 for a high quality headset with no appreciable limitations easily makes it a best buy.

But should you spend even more again and choose the much more pricey Aliph Jawbone and the newer (superior) Jawbone 2?  To answer that question, check out our comparison page that highlights the similarities and differences of these three high-end headsets.

Update May 2010 :  After being the reigning champion for more than two years - a very impressive achievement when you consider the rapid pace of change with Bluetooth headsets, and the bargain basement price of this unit, it has now finally been displaced as our favorite headset by the BlueAnt Q1 ( although the BlueAnt Q1 is priced considerably higher, so the cargo unit remains as the best value choice).

Recommended.

 

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Originally published 25 April 2008, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 

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