- Small, light with non dorky looks
- Great Moto X accessory
- Personal assistant in your ear, kind of
- The charging case works well
- Limited battery life
- Expensive for a Bluetooth headset
- Moto/Google Voice far from perfect
- Only one design in the UK
You may ask yourself why you're reading a review of a Bluetooth headset. Not just a Bluetooth headset but a pretty expensive one at that - the Moto Hint is $149 in the US and £99.99 in the UK.
We're going to guess that one of two things apply: you own or are interested in owning a Moto X or you've seen and loved the movie Her. Other, more generally interested parties will just want to know if the Moto Hint is the future of wearable - or earable - tech. The short answer? Maybe but the future's not quite ready yet. Here's the long answer.
An eye-catching ear
The internal monologue of deciding whether to buy a Bluetooth headset or not boils down to this: how stupid am I going to look? Where your dot is placed along the gadget/vanity graph is an entirely personal decision. But if you've been put off the entire category until now, it's likely the Moto Hint could be the device that changes your mind.
Now, this is not an almost invisible earbud that you'll pop in and everyone around you will none the wiser. Just to be clear, you can see it. If you've read the initial coverage of the Hint on the web you might actually be slightly disappointed up close. Don't be. Yes you can see it and yes, people will have a little gawp. But they're gawping in a good way - in my time wearing the Hint I never felt shamed enough to cover it up or take it out. The looks I got were more "I wonder what's in that girl's ear" than "what a dweeb".
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Compared to every other Bluetooth headset you can buy, it's a real feat of engineering. It's about the size of a raspberry and feels incredibly light at 6g; so light you'll want to toss your new £100 accessory about. Sculpted to fit snugly in the ear, which it does, most of the Hint's outward-facing surface is a shiny faux-metal finish but the main touch-sensitive panel is customisable with six designs to choose from. That's two canvases, two leather and two wood options in the US but only the black canvas has made it to the UK which is a real shame as Motorola is really making personalisation a big deal with the Moto X and, to a lesser extent, the Moto 360 smartwatch.
I said it fit snugly and the fact that's comfortable is in part down to the choice of three tips, your size will probably correspond to the tips you choose for in-ears. That said, I did find myself wiggling it about and pushing it in slightly here and there. It never felt like it would fall out because it wasn't hooked over my ear or jutting down the side of my face but I ended up fidgeting anyway. As with earphones, the Hint does also make your ear ache a little after extended use and I tended to swap the Hint from ear to ear throughout the day as a result.
Is it like Her?
The small form factor might be reason enough to buy the Hint but it's no regular Bluetooth headset. If you've seen Spike Jonze's movie Her, in which the character Theodore Twombly interacts with a human-like OS named Samantha through a tiny earpiece, you'll want to know if the Hint lives up to this trendy vision of the near future.
I'd say living with the Hint is about 17% like Her. And that's with the Moto X which really gets the most out the accessory thanks to its touchless voice controls and clever software additions.
So what can the Hint actually do? It can pipe any audio from your smartphone directly into your ear, of course, including phone calls, podcasts (which is rather lovely) and music - if you must. It also works with Moto Voice, Google Voice or Siri to take the personal assistant experience, flawed as it is, up to 150 feet away from your smartphone. That's right, it's technically compatible with iPhone as well as Android.
I paired the Hint with a Moto X for the majority of my testing and got a real kick out of some of the Motorola-specific tricks. You can activate voice commands by tapping the touch-sensitive panel if you want to feel like a spy or to go completely hands-free, set a personal launch phrase on the smartphone first. I chose "OK Penny Lane" and it's worth noting that it has to be a certain number of syllables to be 'strong' enough, like a password. My first choice of "What's up, doc?" was rejected. The plinks and plonks letting you know your words have been recognised will be familiar to anyone who has used Google Now.
You're essentially controlling the whole smartphone by chatting to the Moto Hint but since the Moto X is most likely in your hands - and the phone's mics are superior at picking up voice - this isn't the most useful thing you can do. With Moto Assist, things get a little more sophisticated. Saying "good night", for instance, can put the smartphone into a sleep mode. And once I'd entered my postcode, I was able to set the phone and Hint to automatically read out texts to me when I'm at home. After a bleep, the Hint told me who the message was from then prompted me to say "Listen" if I wanted it read out. And in case you're wondering, it reads out a smiley emoticon as "smile". Another strangely pleasing application was getting walking directions in my ear thanks to Google's beta navigation in Maps.
Voice recognition needs your patience
But just as I was sure I was ready for my brave, new, screen-less world, it all kind of fell apart. At times, it was like I was on a bad line … to the device in my ear with the connection dropping in and out or just volumes too low to use on the street. Of course, voice recognition is nowhere near 100% and when the novelty wears off, this gets more frustrating. It's not just recognition it's little niggles such as the Hint not letting you edit a text message you've just composed via voice.
I also got sick of hearing the words "Opening Google" in the stern, female Google voice. This happens a lot because pretty much everything goes through Google Now - instead of pausing while it brings up the right command - say, send a text - you're kept up to speed by the "Opening Google" phrase. It gets annoying.
That said, there are rewards for being patient and repeating the launch phrase a few more times than anyone would like. Google needs to keep spending money getting its natural language processing up to scratch so that we can talk "normally" to devices like the Hint and Motorola needs to improve the erratic volume of the Hint and the mics. But once I realised I don't need to stare at a screen all day, I started to really invest in the idea of an intelligent personal assistant in my ear.
And for the 99% who don't have a Moto X
The Moto Hint is an accessory built with the Moto X's special skills in mind. Sure, it's compatible with any Bluetooth-enabled Android phone and any iPhone but the same annoyances with voice recognition and sound apply.
It does still have its compact size and tidy style going for it, in this respect, but without the customisation and software smarts, chances are there will be much more sensible choices of Bluetooth headset.
You can still do plenty with it. Tap the Hint and you're basically talking to either Google Voice or Siri with the option to ask or command the system to do anything you would using just the smartphone. As one device in an ecosystem, though, it's harder to justify splashing the $149/£99.99 on the Hint. Hey, it's not Motorola's fault.
You have over three hours of talk time left
So Motorola has a lot to work on for version two. That includes battery life which, at the moment stands at 3.3 hours for the teeny 46mAh unit, an estimate that I found to be spot-on in my testing. This is extended by 2.5 times to a grand total of ten hours by the 150mAh power pack and carrying case.
This is a beauty - Motorola has really nailed this problem. Just as it did with the Moto 360, Motorola makes charging a ritual here. Popping the Hint in its neat, wireless charging nook in the case feels satisfying and not in any way a chore. The case itself matches the Hint's material. It has a hoop so you can attach it to keyrings. It glows a white light when it is charging via microUSB.
The Hint itself pulses the same light a few times when taken out of the case, to show it is charged. Once, it's in your ear, you're informed that you have over one, two or three hours of talk time left which is also handy. One more thing: the Hint turns itself on and off when you insert it into your ear or take it out. It does this with an IR proximity sensor and it's one reason the battery life isn't truly, truly disappointing. Ten hours with the case isn't bad but there's certainly room for improvement.
How we test