Wayne Thorp will speak at the 2015 AAII Investor Conference this fall; go to www.aaii.com/conference for more details.
A Bluetooth handset and speakers for making calls and listening to audio.
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is an annual spectacle in the Nevada desert where companies from around the globe introduce the latest and greatest in consumer technical gadgetry. This past January was my second time attending CES, and each visit, there have been a few products that caught my eye and made me wish and hope I could get my hands on them to review. One of them is from a company you’ve probably never heard of, yet has been around for 120 years: Swissvoice. The company makes a variety of accessories for landline and mobile phone users. At this year’s CES they debuted the ePure Bluetooth Station. This uniquely designed system will pair with your mobile phone to allow you to talk on a handset similar to the phones of yesteryear. Beyond calls, you can use ePure for chatting via Skype, Google Talk, FaceTime, etc. In addition, the ePure supports hands-free operation and acts as a speaker system for you to stream your audio. For this review, I tested the BH01u model that was given to me by the company with a powered micro-USB port, so you can charge your phone or other USB devices. There is also an iPhone version with an integrated docking station for iPhone 4/4S (it does not have a dedicated Lightning connector).
What makes the ePure unique is that, while being a Bluetooth device for taking phone calls, it isn’t something you clip to your clothing or stick in your ear. It consists of a charging base with a cordless handset. However, its design is purely 21st century. As one of my coworkers put it, it’s a “love it or hate it” design. While some may consider it modern, others may call it cartoonish. I love the way it looks. The base and handset are an outline of a “traditional” desk phone. The handset has a matte rubber finish, making is easy to hold on to. Elsewhere, the ePure is made of plastic.
On the side of the handset are up and down volume buttons and on the inside are four LED-lit buttons arranged in a “+” configuration. The bottom button is the talk on/off button; the top is the music play/pause button that will engage or disable the speakerphone; the left and right buttons are the previous and next track buttons, respectively.
Beyond the base and handset, the BH01u model includes a micro-USB charging cable that you plug into the back of the ePure’s base to charge the handset. Sadly, Swissvoice doesn’t provide a dedicated wall charger as well, reflecting an annoying trend in the industry. So, you will have to buy a USB charger if you don’t have one. There is also a sealed micro-USB port on the handset itself, so you can charge it without the base/cradle.
There is also a powered USB port on the back of the base/cradle, so you can plug into any USB-powered device for charging.
The first thing you will want to do before using the ePure is charge the handset. Again, you can do this by placing the handset on the cradle (assuming it is plugged in). When you place the handset on the cradle, it makes a sound to let you know it’s charging. This is a good thing, because it is easy to place the handset on the cradle and not have the pins and contact pads aligned, meaning the handset isn’t charging. You can also charge the handset directly with the micro-USB port on the handset. It takes about three hours to achieve a full charge.
Once the ePure handset is charged, you need to pair it with your Bluetooth device. Turn on the handset by pressing the on/off button for five seconds. There is a very pleasant, “angelic” vocalization when you power on the ePure. This will put the ePure in pairing mode, which is indicated by the handset buttons flashing blue and white. You then activate Bluetooth on your mobile device and look for Swissvoice BH01u in the list of available devices. Select it and the pairing process will finish. You will receive an audio indicator when pairing is successful and the handset buttons will flash blue. By default, ePure will connect with any Bluetooth device it has previously been paired with. I found this to be a bit problematic, as I also use Bluetooth headphones with my iPhone; so when I enter my condo, the ePure sometimes will pair with my iPhone even though it is downstairs. You can, however, deactivate the auto-reconnect feature. EPure can connect with up to two Bluetooth devices simultaneously.
When a call is incoming, the ePure will play your device’s ringtone over its own speakers. To answer a call, press the talk button on the handset; to end a call, you again press the talk button; and to reject a call, you press the play/speaker button for two seconds.
You can also perform Siri/voice-activated dialing by pressing the talk button and then talking directly into the handset for voice dialing (assuming it is supported by your mobile phone).
I found the ePure to be very easy to use. In many ways, it is just like a cordless phone: When the phone rings, pick it up, press a button and start talking.
EPure’s Bluetooth capabilities give it a line-of-sight range of roughly 30 feet.
I was thoroughly impressed with the sound quality of the ePure handset for phone calls. I actually found the sound quality to be better than using my iPhone by itself. I had several people ask if I had gotten a new phone because of the improved sound quality on the other end of the call. I had also forgotten how convenient it is to cradle the phone between my ear and shoulder so I can use both hands, especially when I am in the kitchen. Today’s mobile phones are so small that this is virtually impossible.
As a speakerphone, the ePure again gets high marks. This is a feature I rarely use, but calls were clear and I was able to hear the people with whom I was speaking clearly, and they could hear me just as easily.
You can use the ePure as a speaker system by keeping the handset on the charging cradle or by taking it off and setting it on its side. Given the speaker’s size, the audio clarity is surprisingly good. There was a bit of distortion at the highest volume levels, but overall the speakers works admirably for close-proximity listening.
According to Swissvoice, the ePure’s lithium ion battery will provide six hours of wireless talk time or three-and-a-half hours of wireless audio playback. It also offers 300 hours of standby time. I only had the handset die on me once and that was only because I hadn’t placed it correctly on the cradle charger.
When the battery is low there is an audio alert and the handset buttons flash white quickly. Also, when you have the ePure paired with an iPhone, a battery indicator appears on the phone’s status bar.
The ePure was one of the devices I saw at CES that I really wanted to like. More than a few products I have received post-CES have been a disappointment and you will be reading about them in the coming weeks and months. Luckily, ePure lived up to my expectations. As someone who has forgone landline phone service, the ePure provides a true telephone handset experience that actually improves the call quality of my iPhone 5. I like the quirky design, but others may not. It all depends on your personal taste. Add in speakerphone functionality and above-average speaker quality, and the $140 price tag isn’t unreasonable. This is a product that, on the surface, doesn’t sound necessary. But after you use it, you will be glad you got it and wonder why someone hadn’t thought of such a thing sooner.
$139.99 (currently $139.99 from Amazon.com)
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of "Gadget Corner." All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.