Review posted May 2008 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
As Nokia releases more Nseries and XpressMusic series phones, it’s only natural that they also provide Bluetooth stereo headsets to accompany these phones. Bluetooth stereo headsets are still a small part of Nokia’s vast portfolio of Bluetooth accessories that include mono headsets, speakers and car kits. The Nokia BH-503 is one of handful stereo Bluetooth headsets currently available from Nokia, and the only one with an over the ear design (replacing the BH-501) as of this writing. If we hadn’t just reviewed and utterly enjoyed the Samsung SBH500 Bluetooth stereo headset, we’d given the Nokia BH-503 the top position in A2DP audio quality.
The Nokia headset supports stereo audio streaming and player control over Bluetooth A2DP and AVRCP and it has inline mic and built-in DSP for making and receiving phone calls. The Nokia BH-503 has Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR, supports both Headset and Handsfree profiles and comes in black and silver colors.
Measuring 5.9 x 2.95 x 6.1 inches, the Nokia BH-503 is larger than both Samsung SBH500 and Cardo S2, but the modern, clean Finish design gives the headset fluid lines and a smooth look. The Nokia is also a bit heavier, weighing in at 3.7 ounces. Despite the larger body, the headset feels good over the ears and is just slightly heavy. It also relies on the ear hooks to stay on your head which pinches less than the Samsung SBH500. All the controls including phone calls, music play/pause, fast-forward, rewind, volume and the charging port live on the right earmuff. The buttons are large and easy to use, and the volume rocker on the edge of the earmuff is raised for easy touch control. Unlike the Samsung, the Nokia BH-503 has soft foam covers over the ears instead of soft leather. Though soft, the foam covers aren’t as padded as the leather covers, but they can be replaced very easily.
Pairing and Features
The Nokia BH-503 has Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR and it supports both Headset and Handsfree profiles for phone calls, and A2DP and AVRCP for music playback. We tested the Nokia with several mobile phones including the Nokia N95, Samsung Access, the LG enV2, the LG Vu and the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet, the headset paired with all easily. To pair the headset, press and hold the multifunction key (the phone symbol) until the LED flashes blue, use your phone to find the headset and pair with default pass code “0000”. The headset can also store previously paired partnerships so that you don’t have to go through pairing process again, you only need to reconnect the headset. To clear pairing info, press and hold the multifunction button and the volume-up key together until the LED flashes red, green and blue three times. If the headset is plugged in to AC while you do this, it will reset itself, which comes in handy if the headset ever hangs.
For use in phone calls, the Nokia BH503 offers enough features for most call management needs, and the controls are easy to remember. You can receive calls (one press on the multifunction key), reject calls (press twice on the multifunction key), redial (press twice while no call in progress), voice dial (press and hold) and mute mic (press the pause/play key). We tested all the features including voice dialing on all the phones, every feature worked flawlessly. For music playback, the Nokia offers the basic controls: play, pause, next track (or fast forward on current track by press and hold) and previous track (or rewind by press and hold). The headset paused music when calls came in and played ringtone/alert for incoming calls. On most phones, music playback will resume automatically after ending a call.
Audio Quality and Range
The Nokia BH-503 has very good audio quality for both phone calls and music playback. One might not suspect it, but it’s actually not easy to find stereo Bluetooth headsets that have great in-call voice quality, but the Nokia BH503 surprised us with excellent in-call voice and very loud volume on most phones we tested it with. The DSP worked quite well when working with most phones and the range was about 15 feet which is average for a Bluetooth 2.0 headset.
Have you ever wondered what Karl Malone’s career would be like if he had played in the Jordan era? Too bad for the Nokia that the Samsung SBH500 rules the audio quality; but in reality both have very good audio for music playback. Music tracks have really good clarity via the Nokia BH-503, loud volume and very good channel separation. The only thing that sets the Samsung and the Nokia apart is the fullness of the sound. While the Nokia has plenty of boom, the bass sounds a little artificial and digitized compared to the true strong bass sound on the Samsung. The same goes for some high treble lines as well. As result, the Nokia BH503 sounded clear and loud while the Samsung sounded heart wrenching and inspiring when played the same pieces of music.
Battery life is superb on the Nokia especially if you listen to music on and off instead of continuously. The headset comes with rechargeable battery and you can charge it with the included charger or most recent phone chargers (like the Nokia N810, the Nokia E51, the Nokia N95 and more). It takes a little over an hour to fully charge the headset. The claimed talk time and music playback time is 11 hours and the claimed standby time is over 8 days. In our tests the music playback seemed on target, and the standby time was beyond 8 days. The headset will go to sleep after long period of inactivity to conserve the battery.
The Nokia BH-503 is a joy to use for both phone calls and music playback. The Nokia impressed us with its audio quality. Voice calls have great sound and very loud volume. The clean and sleek design also gives it more points. What you won’t like is the price. At $164.95 list, the Nokia is significantly pricier than the $79.99 Samsung SBH500 or the Cardo S-2 at $84.99.
Pro: Great looking headset and comfortable to wear. The controls are easy to use. Great audio quality for phone calls and effective DSP. Very good music audio quality, second only to the Samsung SBH500 so far. Excellent battery life.
Con: Bluetooth range isn’t the best, but it’s average. Pricy compared to its peers.
Package Contains: the headset, travel charger, carrying pouch and printed manual.