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The high price of fashion: Sena SMH10R review

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February 26, 2013

The Sena SMH10R is great in its own right, but suffers in comparison to the older SMH10

The Sena SMH10R is great in its own right, but suffers in comparison to the older SMH10

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The Sena SMH10 Bluetooth headset we reviewed in December was absolutely fantastic – but it's certainly a bulky unit to have on the side of your helmet. If that's a concern for you, Sena has just released the SMH10R, a similar unit designed for "sports riding" with a much slimmer profile to aid with "aerodynamics." And when I say "aerodynamics," I mean "looks." But while the SMH10R is certainly nicer to look at, and works well, it suffers in comparison to the chunky SMH10, which is functionally superior in almost every way.

Let's get one thing straight – the "sporty" new SMH10R works very well. It does more or less what it says on the tin, and if I'd never tested the SMH10 I'd probably think it was the bee's knees. Looking at it in the Sena catalog, the R version looks cooler and sleeker and funkier than the SMH10, which looks rotund and dorky. But this test has more or less put them back to back, and the R version clearly compromises a lot of function in search of a racier form.

The Sena SMH10: a bit chunky, but simple and intuitive

The Sena SMH10: a bit chunky, but simple and intuitive

Installation

To start with, the installation process takes a lot longer, and it's much more permanent than the clip on, clip off convenience of the SMH10. The SMH10R separates the components out so you have to find separate places to put your control unit, battery, earpads and microphone. The three-button control unit attaches to the side of your lid with 3M adhesive or Velcro, and the battery sticks on the back.

The SMH10R: lots of wires to hide

The SMH10R: lots of wires to hide

The SMH10R: tucked away a bit on Noel's lid

The SMH10R: tucked away a bit on Noel's lid

The SMH10R: On my lid I had to cut some holes and use gaffer tape to get the wires out of ...

The SMH10R: On my lid I had to cut some holes and use gaffer tape to get the wires out of the way

There's a lot of wires to hide, which for me meant getting out the gaffer tape. There's also a choice of a boom or a pad microphone – I needed the boom, as my helmet is a flip-up. I couldn't find a very good spot to velcro the microphone boom into my Nolan N104, so it feels a little loose. It's not a big issue, it's just not as good as the SMH10.

Interface

The SMH10R has three buttons – plus, minus and a center – which are used in various combinations to control a wide variety of functions from Bluetooth music streaming to intercom and phone functions.

Sena SMH10R control unit: just three buttons

Sena SMH10R control unit: just three buttons

This is an area in which the SMH10 really shines, with its big chunky jog dial button and thumb-activated phone button. Unfortunately, the SMH10R falls prey to the problem I've had with every low-profile Bluetooth unit I've used – you just can't tell which button is which with a gloved finger. Adjusting volume up and down is pretty easy, but finding the middle button to switch your intercom on and off or make a phone call can be very hit and miss when you're on the road.

Also, with only three buttons, the SMH10R puts you back in that position where you have to hold button X for a certain number of seconds to access function Y – and when you're not completely sure which button you're pressing in the first place, that becomes pretty annoying – even if the voice prompts do chime in to help you out now and then.

You get used to it – it's not a big issue, it's just not as good as the SMH10.

Sena SMH10R installed on a Nolan N104

Sena SMH10R installed on a Nolan N104

Intercom Function

The intercom functions are more or less the same as the SMH10's, with the ability to pair up with up to three other Sena units to have a group conversation as you ride. The intercom is loud, clear and audio quality is great.

Armed with two SMH10s and one SMH10R, we were able to have a three-way conference intercom all the way through a grueling 10-hour ride, in which a couple of small disasters made the intercom feature very handy. The best way to set up a three-way conference is to pair the two riders most likely to stay within sight of one another, then pair the other rider in. This is because the three-way conference all works through the one primary headset – if the primary headset goes out of range, the two others who may be right next to each other are left unable to communicate.

Setting up a three- or four-way conference is a slightly hit and miss process. But then, the battery life on both the SMH10R and the regular SMH10 are long enough that if you start the day fully charged, you can leave them on during breaks to save fiddling about when it's time to roll again.

It's also worth noting that while the SMH10R has virtually identical intercom range as its chunky brother, both units will lose range fairly significantly when more than two units are paired. One-to-one, you'll get about 500 meters (1,640 ft) – which is well under the advertised 900 meters (2,953 ft), but in a conference setting it's more like 300 meters (984 ft). Also, all units must be in direct line of sight; go behind a building and you're incommunicado.

Having said that, this doesn't significantly effect the ride experience – most of the time when you're chatting, you're on a highway anyway, and riding in a smallish group. When the pace picks up in the twisties and the group starts spreading out, most people seem to prefer less talking anyway.

Battery Life

The SMH10R is rated for eight hours of talk time, or seven days on standby. That's more than enough for a day on the road – in fact, you'd probably last a two-day ride if you turned the intercoms off every now and then. We never found the battery life to be a problem – but having said that, the SMH10's battery lasts about 35 percent longer.

It's also worth noting that while the battery itself is velcroed on to the helmet, you can't really remove it to charge it. This is because you need the main control unit to plug your USB charger into. You could theoretically remove them both, but there's so much fiddling around with wires on the original install that once it's on, you're not going to want to move it.

So in order to charge the SMH10R, you need to drag your helmet over to your computer or wall socket USB and sit it there to charge. Again, not a big issue, but the SMH10 is better.

Overall

Are you sensing a subtle theme here? If I hadn't been playing with the SMH10, this would have been the best Bluetooth intercom jigger I ever used. And looking at the two in the Sena catalog, I would have gone for the R version in a heartbeat; the SMH10 looks a bit bulbous and dorky.

So when it comes to looks, the R version has it hands down. But here's a quick list of the compromises you have to make in the name of fashion:

  • Reduced battery life (~35 percent)
  • Significantly harder to install, and a lot of loose wires to clean up
  • Can't remove the intercom to charge it
  • Three button interface is vastly less intuitive to use than the excellent jog dial on the SMH10
  • Can't be quickly and easily thrown on a friend's helmet before a ride

And here are the upsides:

  • R version looks a bit cooler (although there's a weird battery sitting on the back, you have to tape the wires down, and nobody ever came up and said to anyone "hey, cool intercom" in all of motorcycling history)
  • Negligible aerodynamic advantage (I couldn't notice any drag or wind noise from either system to be honest)
  • The R version, since it doesn't come apart, could be more effective for adventure type tourers who have reported that under dusty and dirty conditions, the SMH10's removable unit starts to deteriorate
  • Possible slight waterproofing advantage.

Both sets cost the same (US$219 direct from Sena) and both are available now, so it's up to you. Both make a very positive difference to your riding experience, and both are reliable and high quality gear in my experience.

A lot of people are already raving about the SMH10R on forums and review sites, and lots of people will be very happy with this unit. But for my dollar, the slightly less funky SMH10 is streets ahead. In this case, for me, the price of fashion is too high.

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz loves motorcycles - at the age of two, he told his mother "don't want brother, want mogabike." It was the biker connection that first brought Loz to Gizmag, but since then he's covered everything from alternative energy and weapons to medicine, marital aids - and of course, motorcycles. Loz also produces a number of video pieces for Gizmag, including his beloved bike reviews. He frequently disappears for weeks at a time to go touring with his vocal band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain
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4 Comments

I have one of the "rotund, dorky, and bulbous" SMH10 units ;-)

I'm glad I read your review, because I was casually thinking about upgrading, but am now most certainly going to wave that off.

That said, I do agree the SMH10R should be somewhat more durable. The SMH10 has a set of spring-loaded contacts on the back of it which, if treated with reasonable care hold up ok (my unit is about 3 years old), but are, IMHO, a weak point in the design.

Note there is also the less expensive SMH5 unit which has a more robust mounting system then the SMH10, but somewhat shorter battery life, shorter intercom distance, and a few less mounting options. For some riding styles its a very worthy option to consider! Had the SMH5 been available when I bought my unit I'd probably have gone that way.

JimBob
27th February, 2013 @ 08:30 am PST

After buying a Nolan N104 you'd want to fit it with Nolan's B4 Integrated Bluetooth rather than using gaffer tape and velcro to try and make an aftermarket unit "almost" fit. Nolan have really learned a lot about how to get an intercom system to fit "inside" a helmet since their first units that came out with the N102.

SMURFF
27th February, 2013 @ 08:19 pm PST

In terms of being fiddly where the wires separate from each other and the main unit n battery its not a lot different to other units. In terms of hard to know what button your pressing it comes down to familiarity with the unit which is no different to say a new car or mobile phone. I have not bought this as yet but the similarities between this and sharks own blue tooth system says to me that it'll be easy to work with, incidentally I wonder if the battery will fit into the small area that shark helmets have like the vision r helmet on the inside. The only thing that let the shark system down was longevity which I thought was abysmal.

Neil Carr
18th August, 2013 @ 03:55 am PDT

Some 3 weeks my friend and I bought a Sena Smh10r. When we went home via the highway the Intercom worked fine up to 300 meter.

The week after he and I rode on our own using the connection to a Garmin Zumo 550 and 660. We both used the route information, phone and music. That worked fine as well on both Garmin's.

So far so good......however last week we drove a tour with a group. I drove as the first rider connected to my friend as last driver. There was only 200 meter between us. We both were using the Garmin AND intercom pairing. After 1 hour the connection stopped. During that one hour connection we didn't hear the route information nor music. After reconnecting at a stop we only had 15 minutes an intercom connection and failed again.

So it seems that you can only chat together or only use the Garmin functions including phone, music and route information.

Yes used the paring method 7.1 as suggested in the manual.

Yes we updated to the latest firmware.

Yes we also reset both devices to the factory defult and set up again according 7.1.

Yes also the dealer helped us.

Unfortunately nothing worked properly. And.....when we drive now on the highway the distance between us before losing contact is just 200 meter.

Very disapointing. There should have been a new firmware version in July but still hasn't been released. Would that help?

Blue Moon
13th September, 2013 @ 02:02 pm PDT
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