Every so often, one of tech’s major conglomerates- be it Apple, Microsoft, Sony – produces a simply crazy idea. Apple, for example, introduced the modern computer mouse with the Macintosh II – the mouse itself based off the work of World War II veteran Douglas Engelbart. While seen by some as a ridiculous concept at inception, the humble mouse has since become a staple of desktop computing in modern times.
LG saw fit last year to usher in its own bid to turn heads with the Tone Pro headset; a novel set of earphones connected to a neck-worn bracelet that accommodates both music and call playback. Now, in 2015, Samsung have fired back with the Galaxy Circle – a daring new concept of a modern bluetooth headset.
There are few products available today that aren’t so ubiquitous as to provide a clear idea of how to use them. The Gear Circle, however, is a refreshingly confounding take on a bluetooth headset that offers both a novel and convenient use. The Gear Circle, out of the box, is a rather simple product – two earbuds attached by a short lead cable to the central battery housing. The ends of each earbud are magnetised, and clip together to form 2015’s most geeky necklace yet.
The central idea behind the Gear Circle, which is closer to LG’s Tone Pro headset than any Samsung executive might want to admit – is to provide a headset which fits securely on the neck while not in use. Rather than a central clip, as the Tone Pro possesses, the Gear Circle achieves this by hanging the central battery unit behind the neck. The headset additionally comes with three transparent plastic neck fittings – small, medium, and large – to secure the unit during physical activity. Ironically, using the neck piece renders the entire headset reminiscent of LG’s Tone Pro.
The Gear Circle is surprisingly light, and is, despite all appearances, a comfortable headset to wear while connected and worn as a necklace. However, the unit becomes more uncomfortable when used as an active headset – I felt, with both earbuds in – that the central unit annoyingly pressed behind my neck as if to constantly remind me that it was there.
Conversely, once I had connected the unit and simply worn it as a necklace, I alltogether forgot it was there; I found myself leaving the house towards my car with the Gear Circle swaying from my neck, and had I not dropped my car keys and bent over to pick them up, I’m quite confident I might have walked through the rest of the day accidentally wearing the headset.
The Gear Circle’s earbuds continue the unusual trend set by the headset, and are by far the strangest in-ear buds I’ve yet had the pleasure to use. Both earbuds positioned at an obtuse angle, which directs sound down the ear canal. This in itself would be a wonderful design to complement a great listening experience, were it not for the gaudy earbud cover that accompanies them.
The Gear Circle comes with three sets of earbud covers – again, small, medium and large – which greatly detract from the overall quality of the headset; the covers struggle to encapsulate the awkward earbud design and, despite their thinness, smother the earbud’s speaker grill. The end result, if one uses them, is an awkwardly muffled sound that interferes with the listening experience. I found, with both the three sets of earbud covers and neck fittings, that Samsung are indeed catering to supposedly large customers. Despite the fact that I myself am 6 ft 3″ in height, I had to make use of both the small fittings to adequately fit the earbuds in my ears as well as secure the entire unit around my neck.
In terms of sound quality, the Gear Circle offers a decent yet not spectacular range, and it my personal feeling that the device’s dual purpose – music and call playback – hinders the overall headset from being a truly great product. The Gear Circle offers a decent bass end – impressive for a headset this size – which I often found all to easily lost due to the earbud cover smothering the earphone speaker while inside my ear. Only once I pressed the earphone unit slightly into the cavity of my ear was I able to enjoy a full-sounding, warm bass.
Mid-ranges and the treble end of the spectrum fare much better, despite sounding occasionally tinny at high volume; a trade-off to ensure voice quality on calls. I didn’t find that this significantly hampered my listening enjoyment, though I did find it acutely evident when listening to films with spoken word. Granted that this isn’t the typical headset one would purchase to listen to music or films in an inactive position – the Gear Circle is clearly optimised for physical activity rather than couch potato evenings -the Gear Circle’s range bothered me little overall.
What I did find greatly annoying, once paired with my computer to listen to an iTunes playlist as I worked, is the Gear Circle’s active noise cancelling feature, which is designed to save battery life and minimise background or white noise. The Gear Circle offers a somewhat savage cut-off, switching from white noise to silence in a matter of split-seconds, rather than a gentle roll-off. The device’s play/pause button is also all-too-easy to press, and can frequently result in unintended silence.
Further, the Gear Circle occasionally doesn’t cease playback once set in a necklace, leaving you to ponder the origin of the subtle wisp of music emanating from under your chin. The touch-based volume slider, however, was a pleasure to use and responded amicably to a swipe-up (to increase volume) or a swipe down (to decrease volume.)
The Gear Circle features a 180mAh battery which, according to Samsung, should last 9 hours of music playback – an impressive claim. My experience was somewhat mixed, as I only managed to get a total of 8 hours of use out of the Gear Circle. However, the headset charges quickly via microUSB, and just under one hour to reach a full charge.
Overall, the Gear Circle is a decent bluetooth headset that offers a novel experience, and is a solid next-generation bluetooth headset that accommodates decent voice-on-call quality, as well as music playback. At an expected retail price of approximately R1200, the Gear Circle is a great buy for a music-loving fitness enthusiast just looking to sport a high-tech necklace to the gym, but falls short of being an essential purchase.
Follow Bryan on Twitter: @bryansmith1138