Sena SMH10 Intercom
Sena SMH10 Motorcycle Bluetooth Intercom Review
by Rick K. and "Burn" for webBikeWorld.com
A motorcycle Bluetooth intercom system with a very different approach to control layout that makes it very easy to use. Very loud volume and excellent sound quality also.
NEW! BUY YOUR Sena SMH10 Intercom With This Link to BMG
See Also: Part II: Sena SMH10 Ride Report Update
Burn and I were working with the new Sena SMH10 intercom system one day last week, when suddenly we realized that a new day has finally dawned for motorcycle communications.
What might be called the first "Gen 1" Bluetooth intercom systems that we reviewed about 3 years ago were difficult to use. Communication of any type involved a series of obscure and illogical button-pushing sequences that challenged the gray cells of young and old alike, to a point where the intercoms were best left at home.
Next came what might be called the "Gen 2" systems, marked by an improved user interface but with sound quality and volume levels that quickly faded at anything beyond residential road speeds.
And now? Now we're talking -- if I may pun the saying -- because we finally have arrived, with motorcycle intercom systems that work, and work beautifully well.
In fact, while past webBikeWorld intercom reviews were mostly a focus on what features didn't work and why, along with tricks and tips to get past the issues, these new generation intercom systems are making the reviewing task a real pleasure.
It's now assumed and expected that when you turn the darn things on, they're going to pair (an amazing concept!). And they'll pair with whatever else you throw at them -- GPS, MP3, iPods, uPods, mePods, whatever...
So we can now call these the "Gen 3" systems; characterized by very nice products like the recently reviewed Interphone F4 (review); the Scala Rider G4 (review in process); and the Sena SMH10 system described here.
In fact, it was the Sena SMH10 system that turned on the light bulb for us, because this system pretty much defines the term "ease of use" as it applies to motorcycle Bluetooth intercom systems.
Introduction to Sena Technologies
Now while intercom manufacturers -- er, pardon me -- I mean "motorcycle communications systems providers" -- with names like Interphone, Scala and Midland are familiar to motorcyclists, Sena is not.
But, chances are you've used a Sena product anyway without even knowing it.
Sena makes high-tech gear like "external, embedded, wireless and industrial device servers" and they're also big in the industrial Bluetooth arena. They make products like Bluetooth serial adapters Bluetooth access points used for information technology services, telecom applications, retail point-of-sale, industrial automation (i.e., advanced factories) and medical automation applications.
Sena specializes in what is known as "M2M", or machine-to-machine communications. Customers for these products are mostly other manufacturers who embed and integrate Sena equipment in various types of manufacturing systems. In fact, M2M magazine (yes, there is such a thing!) named Sena Technologies in their "Top 100 M2M Technology Providers" for the fourth year in a row.
OK, but what does a tech firm who makes "M2M" products know about things like motorcycles and a sensible user interface? Plenty, as it turns out...
The Sena SMH10 Motorcycle Bluetooth Intercom System
Just by coincidence, The Sena SMH10 intercoms and the new Scala Rider G4 intercom system arrived within 24 hours of each other. So comparisons are inevitable, but in some ways, the two systems are aimed at different audiences.
We wanted to bring you as much information as we could as quickly as possible, so this "First Look" at the Sena SMH10 will cover the basics. Up next will be a more detailed look by HBC, our intrepid electronics whiz, who will be taking the Sena and Scala systems on an extended motorcycle tour in the warmer parts of the U.S. over the next several weeks. He will then report back with all the details.
The most striking thing about both the Sena SMH10 and the Scala Rider G4 systems are their size. With added features comes added size, apparently. But this isn't a bad thing, because larger is better for glove-wearing motorcyclists.
Wall charger is a module with country-specific adapters.
Sena SMH10 Features
There are two design factors that are immediately noticeable on the Sena SMH10: first, the absence of buttons. Believe it or not, those M2M engineers at Sena have made what we think is a breakthrough in a motorcycle intercom user interface -- take a look at the SMH10 and what do you see? A total of one button.
That's right -- only one! It's called the "Phone Button" because is controls pretty much all of the functions of a paired cell phone.
The other can't-miss feature is what I call the "Big Wheel" and what Sena calls the "Jog Dial". The Jog Dial controls the intercom functions. The Jog Dial also rotates to -- get this -- raise and lower the volume! Yep, just like in the old days, one of the best and most intuitive electronic interface systems ever made. Rotate the wheel one way to raise the volume; rotate it the other way to lower the volume. Why didn't I think of that?
I'm being facetious, of course. When the Jog Dials is pushed, it activates some of the intercom functions. So I guess you could say it is a second button, but still -- when's the last time you used a motorcycle intercom with only two buttons?
We really like this feature, because the dial is nice and big and easy to find and use. It has a smooth rotation with just enough friction to provide feedback and to hold it in place when it's moved.
The Jog Dial is indicative of the simplicity of the SMH10 intercom system. The owner's manual is thinner than most because it's easier to understand. Both Burn and I realized we didn't have to keep referring back to the manual every time we wanted to use another feature.
Each SMH10 will also pair with three other SMH10 units, for a total of four, although pairing the four at one time does take another read-through of the manual.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Since this is a "First Look", I'll briefly describe the features we have been using over the last few weeks:
Easy On/Off: The SMH10 is very easy to turn on and especially easy to turn off. To turn the unit on, press and hold the single button and the Jog Dial for 2 seconds and the SMH10 fires up. Turning it off is a snap -- it's not necessary to press and hold and wait; simply press the Phone Button and jog dial again and it instantly powers down. Nice.
Sound: Stereo, Bluetooth 2.1, Headset Profile, Hands-Free Profile (HFP), Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), Audio Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP). The system has a wider than normal volume range, from very low to very high.
VOX: VOX can be enabled on demand. When enabled, the system turns on after a brief (~1 second) pause, then stays on during the conversation. If no words spoken in 20 seconds, the connection is put in sleep mode and can be enabled again by speaking. Once we discovered that both units must be put in VOX mode to get it to function, we used this method.
Speakers: High-quality speakers have a relatively heavy magnet (we weighed each speaker at 10 grams vs. 7 grams for the Scala G4), good sound quality and the volume can be raised very high.
Pairing: Four person pairing. Pairs with Bluetooth music players. Can also connect with non-Bluetooth music players or devices via a 3.5 mm input jack in the back of the intercom module. Pairs with Bluetooth-enabled cell phones and GPS units in stereo.
Battery: Lithium polymer. Claimed ~12 hours or more talk time, 10 days standby. Listening to MP3 players takes slightly more power, so a combination of the above will vary the battery life, as is usual with intercom systems.
Accessories: The SMH10 is available either as a single unit or a dual kit. The single unit box shown above contains a headset (intercom module, robust mounting bracket, speakers, boom mic, charger, USB cable, cigarette lighter adapter, stick-on mount (if needed) and an extra microphone wind sock and Velcro stickies for the speakers.
Very strong helmet mounting bracket uses hex-head cap screws and brass inserts, along with rubber padding.
Helmet Mounting: The SMH10 headset can be described with words like hefty, robust and strong. Ditto on the helmet mount, which also features rubber pads on both sides to help protect the helmet and provide more grip.
The mount is a bit on the thick side, and may not fit between the liner and shell of some helmets...as is the case with other intercom helmet mounting systems also. But we'd much rather have big 'n' hefty than small 'n' wimpy.
The hex socket screws that are used on the helmet mount screw into brass adapters inside the headset, as seen in the photo above. This is a quality system that, once installed, should give no problems at all. Sena also supplies an external helmet mount bracket with double-sided tape which we have not used.
Microphone (L) has a small triangle to indicate the mouth side.
Using the Sena SMH10
The SMH10 module locks securely into place in the headset unit with a tab on the bottom of the module and a clip at the top (see the video below). The module feels very secure once it's in place in the headset, and the headset feels sturdy. The microphone boom also has a robust attachment where it enters the headset.
The headset and the module are mostly finished in a matte rubberized water-resistant surface treatment. The glossy part of the module is a translucent cover that hides the LED indicator light. The glossy plastic can get scratched, but it may be possible to polish it if necessary.
On/Off: Press and hold the Jog Dial and the intercom button and the system fire up within 2 seconds, noted by an announcement tone and the familiar flashing blue light, which is subtly indicated under the transparent module cover.
Turn off the SMH10 by simultaneously pressing the Jog Dial and intercom button and it instantly shuts down, so the user does not have to press, hold and wait to make sure the unit is off, as is the case with other intercoms we've used.
Pairing: The SMH10 has a slightly different pairing procedure than other systems. The unit is turned on first, then once it's on, press and hold the intercom button for about 5 seconds to place it in pairing mode. This is the same procedure for pairing with other SMH10 units, GPS, MP3 or Bluetooth adapters.
Multiple Pairing: Up to four SMH10 units can be paired but do not allow four person, full duplex communications. Once the rider and passenger systems are paired, the rider can also be paired with two others, then the passenger can also pair with two others. So it might go something like this:
Step 1: Pair A to B,C and D.
Step 2: Pair B to C and D (skip A since A is already paired with B at Step 1).
Step 3: Pair C to D (skip A and B since they're already paired with C at Step 1 and 2).
Once all four units are paired, any unit can initiate an intercom conversation with any other unit by tapping the Jog Dial one, two or three times. This is where it pays to study the owner's manual, which has a graphic illustrating how this works.
It's slightly counterintuitive, because the last intercom that was paired takes the least amount of taps. For example, if headset A is paired with B, C and D, then one tap connects with D; two taps with C and three taps with B.
Cell Phone: Although we recommend never using a cell phone while riding a motorcycle, a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone can be easily paired with the SMH10 as described above and illustrated in the video.
Once the phone is paired, to answer a call, press the intercom button in the rear of the SMH10 module, or answer with voice if the voice activation system is enabled on the SMH10 (it's turned off by default). To enable the voice answering activation, press and hold the intercom button for 8 seconds, until the LED turns solid red.
VOX: A similar method is used to enable the VOX system on the SMH10. Note that VOX is only available between two systems if all four are paired; if you think about it, there would be some difficulty in using voice to call the other headsets.
To enable VOX mode, press the Jog Dial for 5 seconds until the red light flashes. Keep pressing for another 3 seconds to go into VOX configuration mode (solid red light). Tap the Jog dial to enable the VOX mode. Blue light comes on for a moment as a confirmation.
Range: Sena claims up to 900 meters range for intercom communication (under ideal conditions, of course) and we have no reason to doubt that. Burn and I are able to communicate clearly at any distance we care to during our evaluation runs and, in fact, the SMH10 will now become our standard system for this purpose.
GPS and MP3: The SMH10 easily paired with our trusty Sony Bluetooth adapter (review) when the Sony was connected to an MP3 player and older Mio GPS unit. Since we don't have one of the newer Garmin GPS units available here, we'll have to wait for HBC's report on how the SMH10 interacts with that device.
The MP3 player or device can be controlled to some extent if it includes the AVRCP profile. Press the Jog Dial for 1 second to pause; press and turn the Jog Dial to forward or reverse the track.
Sena also provides a nice coiled accessory cable with 3.5 mm jacks on either end, which can be used to connect wired devices directly to the headset.
Larger-than-average stereo speakers provide outstanding sound volume and quality.
Sound and Volume: The sound quality of the SMH10 is outstanding for a motorcycle Bluetooth intercom system. While the mid-range of the tunes recorded directly from the admittedly cheap iRiver MP3 player's radio are somewhat muddled, this is due to the recording itself rather than the SMH10.
Speakers: The Sena speakers actually have very good bass response and the volume has a huge range -- the greatest amount of range of any motorcycle intercom system we've reviewed so far, from very low to very loud. We never had to use the highest volume at any speed.
The speakers are noticeably larger and heavier than other intercom speakers and, in fact, they actually sound better when placed slightly farther from the ear than normally is the case (usually, a motorcycle intercom speaker must be placed very close to the ear for best response).
The Sena speakers actually work very nicely in a motorcycle helmet that has a deeper ear pocket; it's almost like the speakers use the air volume in the ear pocket as a speaker enclosure. We did not run volume comparisons but a subjective evaluation points to the SMH10 as having a higher volume and better sound quality than any other intercom system reviewed.
Large size of the SMH10 intercom with Jog Dial and charging port.
wBW Video: Sena SMH10 Intercom
More Video: Quick feature comparison of the Sena SMH10 vs. Scala Rider G4 (YouTube)
Charger: Sena provides a 20 mm diameter cigarette lighter accessory outlet charger with the SMH10. It can be used to charge and run the SMH10 simultaneously while riding.
Motorcycle intercom systems just keep getting better and better, and the rapid improvements in technology and availability now offers many different choices to the motorcyclist.
The danger is that the "more is better" mentality will take over, driven by the urge to compete on features rather than function.
The Sena SMH10 system takes a different tack -- while offering all of the desired functionality with a nicely streamlined user interface that makes the system a pleasure to use in the "real world"; i.e., while riding a motorcycle, where it may be both dangerous and frustrating to try and remember the correct sequence of buttons to work the intercom system.
Sena has obviously thought about this issue and made the SMH10 easy to use with the two-button interface. But of course, that wouldn't be enough -- the SMH10 has outstanding volume and sound qualities and there should be no complaints in that department by any motorcyclist.
See Also: Part II: Sena SMH10 Ride Report Update
More wBW: Motorcycle Bluetooth Intercom Page | Motorcycle Intercom Page | wBW Reviews Home