Look, No Wires! On Finding My Perfect Bluetooth Headset

(Note: Link added to post)
Ever since I heard of the concept, I wanted a pair of headphones that required no physical connection to a device to work. No more entanglements, premature shorts, and most useful of all, increased flexibility when exercising and the like. The only problem? And this might be just me, but perhaps other blind folks agree: bluetooth headphones can be difficult to power on and off accessibly. At least, if you haven’t located a pair built just so.

My first set of bluetooth headphones were a Christmas gift to me in 2016. Uproar Wireless, I’m uncertain of the exact model number as I don’t think it listed in the bluetooth connection as most current models do. They were fairly small and the pads fit well, meaning that I didn’t feel like they would come off easily due to repeated entrance and removal from my backpack. They lacked the flexible speaker though, so that putting them into more confined spaces was difficult.

The real issue though was the power button. I could get the unit to power up and connect to my iPhone, but when I attempted to turn it off, the headphones would call my wife as I held the button down. At 6:30 in the morning. Obviously this was a no-go. The odd thing to me was that this behavior was not entirely consistent, and sometimes the headphones would indeed shut down as I had hoped, emitting a series of descending beeps.

This inability to predict what would happen, as well as the fact that the headphones lacked enough volume to allow me to hear in louder places such as our employee break room, caused me to shelve those and return to my old, wired set. I continued to use these as they slowly deteriorated, now to the point that I basically have to put the raggedy speakers that have no padding, and in which only one still kind of works, against my head.

About a month ago though, someone on my Facebook page spoke of a feature in the latest iOS called Live Listen that turns the iPhone into an FM system with a pair of bluetooth headphones. This means, I suppose, that I can have sound beamed into my hearing aid if I wanted to, say, listen to someone speaking in a larger room. I still haven’t actually tried this feature, but I intend to look it up and see if I can discern it.

Before that can happen though, I must track down a workable headset. So I dare to venture back into this, and on recommendation from a Twitter follower, I acquire the MPOW H5 Noise Canceling variety. These do have considerable volume, and an impressive amount of bass. They make music and other programming sound fantastic. They even have those flexible speakers, as well as the option to connect via the headphone jack. But when listening via Bluetooth, they would beep anytime I interacted with VoiceOver or even pressed the volume up-down switch. While mildly annoying, this was tolerable.

The power button, however, is what really dissuaded me from using them. Though it audibly says “Power Off” when the button is held, sometimes twice, for four seconds, my wife says a green light continues to shine. And sure enough, when I go to try and connect them the next day the 30-hour battery is drained and I must resort to a hard connection. This leads me to one conclusion, I need something with a switch I can flip bon or off.

My wife sets off on a search to find such a device, carefully combing Amazon reviews to see if mention of an on/off switch is made. Finally, she locates the Plantronics Backbeat Go 600 Noise-Isolating Headphones. I’ve only had them a couple of days, but they seem to be just what the doctor ordered. When I push the switch up, they say “Power on, Battery High, Phone 1 connected”. If I continue to push the switch, it becomes something of a rocker. I imagine that is how you can switch between multiple, connected devices. I wonder if any other, lower-priced, headphones allow for this kind of thing. (I just can’t bring myself to spend 300 bucks on a set, not yet at least). Anyhow, these headphones also allow for a wired connection if you choose, and say they can remain charged for up to 18 hours. Mine still report that the battery is high so we shall see how long they last. There is also a long button that, when pressed, reports the status again.

They don’t have the bass of the MPOW, but this is ok as I discovered an AppleVis podcast (AppleVis is a site for blind people that helps us with all things Apple) that shows me how to use the iPhone’s equalizer. With this, I can set it to “Small Speaker” to make music sound good in my headphones, or “Spoken Word” to improve the quality of audiobooks. I have found that this works wonderfully with my new set, and am finally able to truly enjoy bluetooth connectivity. I thought I would post about them, just in case any of you were pining for something similar, (i.e.) ones that do not require holding down a button and hoping.

Bienvenido a Miami 3: Do You Know What Today Is?

And today’s soundtrack is obvious, as far as I can tell just about the only of its kind. A nice, smooth jam clocking in at over 7 minutes to get your head in the right place for chillin’!

Anniversary: Tony Toni TonÉ (Youtube)

That’s right, it’s our anniversary. And unbeknownst to us, instead of being stuck inside with gloomy weather as we’d thought, the South Florida sunshine is about to make a glorious appearance. This means we will get to truly enjoy our special, shared holiday.

Sun, January 27

I lie awake, with thoughts of how much getting this braille display fixed would cost me, and more worrisome how I would fair without it bouncing around my head. I finally have enough time to truly browse Miami radio, and decide that the better iPhone app for this purpose is OOTunes, as it truly emulates terrestrial radio. But as is always the problem in this room, my proximity to her awakens her soon after I begin, so I abandon the browsing in favor of conversation.

Anxious to see if I can determine what has happened to my display, I ask her if she can help me locate and remove the battery, as many of my Twitter followers have indicated might be the problem. Only I am unable to find a battery port on the Brailliant BI 40, I suppose because it is entirely sealed in the unit. In a move based on hope, I give up and jus try turning it on. And what do you know, it works! This is why the prior day’s quip about someone perhaps wanting me to disconnect for a while and truly be present with my wife. In any event, I am hugely relieved. One cell, or at least one of its dots, does seem to have been casualty to whatever occurred last night, making repairs imminent.

We shower, then proceed to dress for the upper 50’s with rain that we are expecting. But when we step outdoors, the sun hits us in all the right spots and a nice, ocean breeze caresses our skin. “Ah, this is what I paid for!” I say, graciously taking it in.

“Indeed,” she replies. “We’ll come back to the room after eating to dress down a bit before heading to the beach.”

IHOP is not too bad on this morning, so I sit and have my old man breakfast again, feeling content. I am hungrier this morning, as our last full meal had been around 4 the previous day. Conversation flows as smoothly as my lemonade iced tea, and I am glad that, at least to my telling these new hearing aids are easing my comfort level in such social environments.

Swinging by a beach storm we acquire a nice, large beach towel that we will put in the sand. I try to wear my flip flops down as we walk from the room, but they velcro and I can’t get the material to fit snugly enough. So I just opt for my regular shoes until we get down there, as I will go barefoot in the sand anyway.

One thing I wanted to do is dip my toes in the Straits of Florida to see if that water would be as warm as a bath tub. The answer? No! I suppose you have to go a bit farther down for that. While that initial cold is shocking, I am able to withstand a few washes by the waves that, today, sound more like what I am used to as the waters are churned up.

The most fun part comes though when we return to the towel. She lies down, and I back up against my backpack. “Why don’t you lay down, see how differently it feels?” she says. So, using my backpack as a pillow, I stretch out. It does feel different, as if I”m on a deserted island somewhere. I am afraid to drift off entirely out here though, because what if sand drifts into my mouth? Or one of those loud seagulls swoops down and snatches me up. Ok, I have a vivid imagination. But, yeah.

After nearly an hour and a half, we finally fold the towel and make our way back to the room, where I promptly go to sleep in the bed. She allows me to remain in this state for another couple hours, before concluding that we should eat before the rains come.

We were to locate a fancy restaurant so we could get all cleaned up and put on a suit and dress to celebrate the occasion. But she said, and I agreed, that the atmosphere of the day just didn’t fit this vibe. So we just walk down to the nearby Burgerfi and have one of their delicious burgers with even better hand-cut fries. It is a good thing we make this choice, as some fierce storms roll in just after we complete another Publix run and scramble back into the room.

And that is about all that happens on this low-key day. She wraps it up by reading me a beautiful note that she has written using the letters of LOVE as an acronym. And we bed down relatively early for our early AM wake-up call to head to Key West!

Bienvenido a Miami 2: Little Havana and Biscayne (Sat)

And we’ll start this post with the second song played on our citywide tour:
Havana, Camila Cabello (Youtube

Any trip to Miami is likely not complete without a visit to Little Havana, the section of the city most dominated by Cuban first and second-generation residents. We have therefore booked a bus tour that will take us to this area, as well as to a party spot along Biscayne Bay with food, music, and the damp smell of nearby water.

Saturday, January 26

The bed feels delicious, and the sleep I experience is unlike any I’ve had in months. So I have to fight hard to the surface as the 9:00 alarm rings. And, it’s rather cold outside of the cover. Miami residents, it turns out, know little or nothing about heating. I do take a little time to listen to Miami radio, as I had also done last night, but because we are pretty much forced to remain close to each other and I don’t wish to wake my wife too early, I do not avow myself in this practice for too long.

The air outside is cold too, as we again stroll to IHOP. Today I select generally lighter fare: 2 eggs, scrambled with cheese; sausages, and grits. I soon learn that this is known as the 55 and over senior meal. Ha ha. I also discover that they have lemonade iced tea, which I enjoy on subsequent visits as well.

Once we finish, we make a quick swing by the room to complete getting ready, then I bring up Uber to take us to 305 Lincoln Road, the location from which the tour bus will collect us. We are due to leave at 1:30, and it is only just after 12:25, so she decides to have a look around. WE enter a large, two-level clothing store and make our way up an escalator. As we prepare to squeeze down one of the narrow aisles, I manage to bang my head on a protruding shelf. It hurts, but fortunately no long-term damage is done. There is little else to do in here, so we make our way outside to await the bus so that we can hopefully secure good seats.

This bus exudes such strong exhaust that my head immediately begins to hurt. Even inside of the vehicle, the odor is almost asphyxiating. I can’t help but wonder how old it is. Unfortunately, I in my infinite wisdom have forgotten my Braille display back at the room, so I am unable to trace the tour via GPS as we move along. Therefore I can only recall bits and pieces.

The two songs I’ve already added to entries, and of course a fast-paced one from Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine are played through the tinny-sounding PA, I guess to get us all in the mood. As this happens, a woman narrates the sights both in English and Spanish, (as near as I can tell this is true of most Miami tours, and it sounds like it takes skill. We pass quite a few mansions, most notably that of Giani Versace. The beach itself of course consists mostly of hotels, condos, and very nice houses. Then we hop onto a causeway and head into the city, where we are told that approximately 5.7 million people now reside in Miami, the only U.S. city sounded by a woman; Julia Tuttle. I look at the Wikipedia article later, and it says that Tuttle was from Cleveland originally. Interesting story there, I’m sure.

My favorite part of the tour is disembarking at a Cuban cigar store I think on Southwest 8th Street. “We’re gonna smell like these cigars,” I quip. I’m guessing that location, smack in the middle of Little Havana, gets a lot of business from those tour buses.

After a little more showing off of the downtown area and Biscayne Bay, we get off again at an outdoor restaurant called Largos located at 401 Biscayne Boulevard. This is where the bus tour ends, and those who are going to board a boat to tour the bay are able to do so. We opt not to go on the second portion, but do enjoy burgers at this place while sitting in the somewhat cool but manageable 60 degree day. I order a delicious Bleu Cheese sandwich, and their fries hit the spot also. Music blares, and partying commences. It feels like one might imagine Miami would feel.

We have to wait for a bus to return us to our initial pick-up spot, missing the 4:30 to finish eating and catching the 5:30. Until then though, we walk around a bit and she sees American Airlines Arena, where the Miami Heat (NBA) play. I note the slightly mildewy smell of the bay, and have fun listening to people cavort about the city.

Back at the Lincoln Road location, our first Uber flies by without stopping or even really seeing us. The woman who does collect us seems not to speak English, which is ok as the info is already in GPS. We arrive at the hotel, and I discover that said forgotten Braille display is throwing something of a fit, as it comes on, connects to my phone, but does not punch up the dots as it should. Later we determine that it wants me to pay attention to my wife and put down the tech, which I had vowed to do after a quick check! While she was otherwise occupied. But perhaps someone doesn’t believe me. Other than watching some movie as I laid back and drifted in and out, and slopping down Friday’s strawberry cheesecake gotten from Las Vegas restaurant, not much else happened. I listen to a little NPR, decide the news is too much to take in while on my dream vacation, and call it a night.