In November 2012 – just weeks before the Consumer Electronics Show – a CES 2013 Design and Engineering Honoree award was given to BlueWi for their product: the Nighthawk Bluetooth Microphone Combo System. This product goes takes the now-ubiqitous Bluetooth earpiece or headset to the next level. Courtesy of Julie Oien, BlueWi’s Business Development Manager, we had the privilege to test and review this product. This modular, multi-location, audio package really has a number of possibilities that a mere headset can only dream of addressing. To say we were impressed would be an understatement.
The features, as stated on BlueWi’s website:
- Longer talk time
- Greater clarity.
- More comfort and safety.
- From on-person to hands-free.
- Control MP3 Bluetooth devices.
- Free recording app for smartphones.
What was in our starter package:
- A removable earbud
- The multifunction, clip-on, microphone unit
- An external speaker attachment
- USB cable
- Wall charger unit
- Instructional pamphlet
Available for separate download directly from the BlueWi website is a free recording app.
The reason I stated “starter package” is that the Nighthawk system can also be combined with some additional pieces that really make this a great package for extended hands-free talking for those who are doing customer service, law enforcement and other mobile/conversational tasks.
At the center of the Nighthawk experience (I’ll refer to the unit by this name, from this point on, to make references shorter) is the multifunction wireless microphone unit. It appears to be the most substantial, multi-faceted part of the system package. The form factor feels sturdy and finished; no rough or sharp edges.
- There is a combination power/pairing button at what is the bottom of the unit. When you are playing music, you can use it as a “play/pause” button. You press this same button to accept and hang-up on telephone calls. Pairing was simple and straightforward (I always read my instructions anyway); worked as expected the first time.
- Two buttons on the front of the unit serve as volume controls when held; they serve as “advance/reverse track” buttons when tapped.
- There is a USB power connector on the right side. According to the instructions, it takes up to three hours to fully charge the unit. The instructions specify a 150-hour standby time and 12+ hours of talk time.
- On the top of the unit are the embedded microphone and the 3.5 mm port. You can plug in the provided earplug, the provided external speaker attachment (which looks like a large black vitamin with a 3.5 mm plug) or any other output device that has a 3.5 mm plug.
- For future applications is a “PTT” (push-to-talk) button on the left side of the unit.
- On the back of the microphone unit is a clip that swivels. This was most important so that I could click the microphone to the air vents in my Honda Accord.
Here is a video with a basic demonstration of the microphone in use with the external speaker attachment and with the AUX-in in my car:
The provided earbud is decent for a start but most users who will be also listening to music or audiobooks in addition to speaking will have more substantial listening accessories. One reason to be thankful for the earbud is the length of cable, or rather, the lack of length. The cable is only 14″ long and so (for clipping on to a shirt collar or pocket) there was just enough length to provide a comfortable looseness between the microphone unit and my ear.
Using the unit during a 35-minute exercise walk provided a useful test of the connectivity. I connected my Sony over-the-ear headphones while I listened to an audiobook and walked. I didn’t enjoy having the extra cabling of the Sony headset, so I really appreciated the relative shortness of the cable on the provided earbud.
There was a bit of interference when I got started with the walk. As the walk proceeded, I could easily adjust and manipulate my iPhone 5 wirelessly (it was in the pocket of my sweats), as described in the instructional pamphlet. The sound passed through was quite good and was almost as crisp and clear as the direct wired connection using Apple’s provided earphones.
The provided external speaker attachment caused a bit of feedback at the other end of a call when I had the microphone unit at full volume. Lowering the volume reduced the amount of feedback received at the other end of the call but then I couldn’t hear the speaker as well over the road noise (a Honda issue more than a Nighthawk issue). Connecting an extension cable significantly reduces the feedback but then I have the added worry about where and how to elegantly secure the speaker unit when moving about.
There are two benefits that truly make the Nighthawk something special. In addition to be able to easily transition the sound use from in-car to indoors to exercise, there is the BlueWi app which, when paired with your smartphone, turns the Nighthawk into a wireless lavalier microphone.
Setup screens for/of BlueWi app for iOS:
Here, I have left the car with NPR playing. The installed BlueWi app is running while I record my video, so the audio from the radio (that the Nighthawk is picking up with the embedded microphone) is my soundtrack. I walk away from my parked car and the sound is cleanly recorded until I return the car and conclude the recording.
Another real-world example of the Nighthawk in use is this law enforcement demonstration, provided on the BlueWi site:
The sturdy form factor, the 12-hour talk time/150 hour standby time and the transitional usage of an audio product would be useful “as is”. But a convenient app for mobile recording of audio for your smartphone video (or audio only) enhances this product and adds up to a 10 out of 10. Clear documentation and detailed instructions (provided with the unit as well as on the BlueWi website) make use clear and set-up a breeze. A truly versatile product for those of us on-the-go!