Header image
Skepticism · agriculture · politics · technology
Header image
Skepticism · agriculture · politics · technology

LG Tone Bluetooth headset comparison

| Posted on in gadgets, reviews
The LG Tone+, Tone Ultra and Tone Infinim
The LG Tone+, Tone Ultra and Tone Infinim

I spend the majority of the waking hours of each day with a podcast playing in my ear. While I’m farming, I use two headsets for different purposes. I use the Motorola S10-HD when I’m working on or under equipment because it doesn’t fall off my head. The rest of the time, I use an LG Tone+. I’ve found the Tone+ to be light and amazingly comfortable, as well as very easy to quickly insert and remove from just one ear while wearing it. Wearing comfortably with just one ear is crucial for me, as I need to hear the equipment I’m operating with the other ear, so the Tone is superior to alternatives like the S10-HD and the BlueAnt Pump because they really can’t be worn comfortably in just one ear.

I bought my Tone+ in the summer of 2013, and it lasted through that season, through the winter and through the 2014 season. For someone who is as tough on devices as I am, that lifespan is a demonstration of very impressive durability, especially considering that the headset was in use for an average of 12 hours each day. I’d turn it on at 6 a.m. when I left the house and run it until the battery ran down, which was usually about 12 hours later.

As my Tone+, model HBS730, began to age, I began wondering if some of the other models of the LG Tone series might prove superior to my Tone Pro. I ordered a Tone Ultra, model HBS800, a couple months ago. Then, recently, Verizon asked me if I’d be interested in testing the LG Tone Infinim, the HBS-900. What follows is a comparison of these three headsets, the HBS730, HBS800 and HBS-900, with a focus on usability.

Common features
Each headset features a play-pause button on the right and a call button and charging port on the left. They all have equalizer preset modes, allowing selection among normal, bass boost and treble boost modes. While I haven’t tested the Ultra and Infinim for months on end like the Tone+, I’ve found no problems with battery life, with each model seeming to do at least better than 10 hours for constant audio playback.

LG Tone+ HBS730
LG Tone+ HBS730

LG Tone+ HBS730
Near and dear to my heart, the Tone+ has proven itself over the last year-and-a-half. The volume rocker is on the superior, or top, left and the tract selection rocker switch is on the superior right. The power switch is on the left, but, unlike the Ultra and Infinim, it’s on the distal side, facing away from the neck instead of the proximal, or inside, side of the headset. I’m not sure why later devices moved the power switch to the proximal side, but the Tone+ definitely has the best placement of the power switch.

The sound quality is adequate. The default EQ mode was always good enough for me, as I don’t demand pristine audio quality, especially for podcasts. When I do focus on sound quality, I find the sound of the Tone+ to be the worst of the three units compared here. It’s slightly muddy in each of the three modes, with no real way to shape the mid-range response to my liking. Having said that, for anyone but the most discerning audiophile, the sound from the HBS730 is certainly good enough.

LG Tone Ultra HBS800
LG Tone Ultra HBS800

LG Tone Ultra HBS800
Where the Tone+ was essentially flat in shape, the Tone Ultra has a pronounced curve to it, obviously in hopes that it fits more comfortably about the neck. I never had a problem with the comfort of the Tone+, so this shape change seems like a solution in search of a problem. However, I can’t complain about the comfort of the Ultra. What I can complain about is usability.

The Ultra is unquestionably the hardest of these three models to use. The buttons are simply harder to get to and harder to use. The power switch has been moved to the proximal side. The volume and track selection rocker switches have been moved from the superior to the distal sides of the left and right sides, respectively. These rocker switches are much more difficult to get to and, where I could easily operate the rockers with gloves on the Tone+, the Ultra requires a fair mount of fine motor skills just to adjust the volume or track. Additionally, the call and play-pause buttons, instead of being round, are shaped like icons. I’m not sure if it’s the change in shape of the buttons or the change in shape of the magnetic earbud holders that leave them more open on the dorsal side, but these buttons are difficult to use compared to the Tone+ unless I’m holding my thumb on the back side to use as counter-pressure.

Curvature of the LG Tone Ultra
Curvature of the LG Tone Ultra
Track selection button placement is hard to use
Track selection button placement is hard to use

The sound quality of the Tone Ultra is branded as JBL, and while it’s noticeably better than the Tone+, it’s not good enough to offset the nosedive in usability and additional cost of the Ultra over the Tone+.

LG Tone Infinim HBS900
LG Tone Infinim HBS900

LG Tone Infinim HBS-900
The Tone Infinim has some significant differences from its predecessors. The Tone+ and the Ultra have thin, flexible neck bands, while the Infinim is a a thicker and harder plastic with a flexing region of just a couple inches in the very back. The added weight adds a premium feel.

The next most significant difference is the change to the earbud cords. The Tone+ and Ultra feature fixed length cord that emerge mid-way up the neck and are held in place at the left and right ends with magnets. The Infinim has much thinner cords which actually retract into the headset, so when they’re fully retracted there is no cord showing. While it’s convenient when charging or transporting it to have the cords retracted, I’ve found that, because the cords emerge at the ends of the left and right sides instead of mid-way up the neck like the Tone+ and Ultra, it actually results in a longer cord that’s exposed when in use. This additional cable length is inconvenient when I pull the earbud out of my ear temporarily as it is just more cord to catch on clothing or other obstacles. As I’ve been caring for my two-month-old son for the last few weeks, it’s certainly less convenient than the Tone+ or Ultra to have the longer cable dangling for him to grab and try to eat when I’m holding him. It’s also more arduous to have to operate the retraction mechanism than it is to simply return an earbud to its magnetic holder with the other two models.

The buttons are also different. The play-pause and call buttons are round, but, unlike the Tone+, they’re recessed. I can see them being harder to use with gloves than the Tone+. Also, instead of rocker switches for volume and track selection, the Infinim uses sliders. While the sliders are more usable than the rockers on the Ultra, they’re still more cumbersome than the controls on the Tone+.

The sound quality of the Infinim is the best of the three models. It’s branded as harman/kardon and is a noticeable improvement in clarity from the other two models. The highs are clearer on all three preset modes and the mix feels balanced and much less muddy.

Selecting the right LG Tone headset for you
Each headset handles Bluetooth multipoint, which, as an example, allows it to pair with a phone and a tablet simultaneously. I use this feature on my Tone+ extensively in the tractor cab. They also feature other gimmicks, such as voice actions and the ability of the Infinim to read back the time. At the end of the day, I’m looking for a quality headset with excellent usability and acceptable sound quality at the lowest price.

The version of the Infinim Verizon sent me is red and black, while the only color scheme listed on LG’s website is silver. The lack of a black version is a deal-breaker for me, as is the price tag, which is, at the time I’m writing this review, about $150. If I had only a desk job, the controls on the Infinim, as well as the unique retractable earbuds, would be fine. I’m afraid that I just wouldn’t be happy with the Infinim for my use on the farm. However, if you want the best sound possible, don’t have an industrial application and don’t mind the red or silver color schemes, you can’t go wrong with the LG Tone Infinim.

What would I buy? I just bought a bucket of Tone+ headsets – one as a backup and the rest as stocking stuffers for family. At a fraction of the cost of the Infinim, and with much better usability than the Ultra, the Tone+ is an amazing value for a dependable, durable headset with good sound and amazing battery life.