Motorola S11-Flex HD review

The sturdy Motorola S11-Flex HD delivers good sound quality, but its bulky design and high price give us pause.
Photo of Motorola S11-Flex HD

The Motorola S11-Flex HD ($129.99 direct) is a sturdy stereo Bluetooth earphone pair that’s let down by an unfortunately high price. The S11-Flex HD sounds good with music, it’s tough enough for the gym, and once you get it fitted to your ears properly, it’s pretty comfortable to wear. But its expensive price, fiddly dual-headband design, and overall bulkiness make it a tough sell next to the less expensive and more practical Plantronics BackBeat Go, our current Editors’ Choice for stereo Bluetooth headsets.

Design and Fit
The sweat-resistant S11-Flex HD measures 5.2 by 5.28 by 1.81 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.9 ounces. It has a sporty if somewhat busy look, with white, black, and silver running throughout, and a few orange metal-look accents around the ear buds and one of the buttons. The left side features a Power button and Volume rocker on the bottom edge, and a covered micro USB charger port on top. The right side contains an orange multifunction button. Overall, it feels sturdy and well suited for the rigors of repeated workouts at the gym or outdoor running.

A pair of stiff, curved plastic arms sit behind your ears and hold the soft rubber ear tips in place. The latter sit on two tiny metal ear stems, which protrude out from the arms and can lengthen and rotate, so you can get just the right fit. I found it quite difficult to put the S11-Flex HD on, mainly because of the plastic arms that go around your ears; getting them to sit properly is tough. The ear tips themselves are quite comfortable, though. I had no problem leaving the S11-Flex HD in for long periods of time, at least once I finally got it on. Motorola also bundles three additional sets of ear tips in different sizes in case you need them.

The hard plastic neck band rests lightly on the back of your neck. Underneath, there’s a soft rubber coating, so the band doesn’t chafe or otherwise sit in a way that’s uncomfortable. Still, you’re constantly aware of it as you turn your head to the left and right while working or moving about. To help with this, Motorola includes an extra, flexible rubber band that fits into two tiny tab slots, and helps to anchor the band more securely around your neck (see photo below). It mostly works, although you’re still aware of the band a bit. It’s definitely preferable to tangled cables, and cable thump in the ears—which you often get with in-ear, rubber ear tips. But the headset is large enough to make it difficult to carry in a pocket.

Pairing and Audio Quality
Pairing is simple; you just hold the power button down until the voice prompt-based interface tells you it’s in pairing mode. I tested the Motorola S11-Flex HD with an Apple iPhone 5 on Verizon, and an HTC One X+ on AT&T. Both devices paired quickly and without issue.

The S11-Flex HD acquits itself fine sound quality-wise, at least with music. There’s plenty of midbass punch, and a reasonable amount of low-end extension. Vocals sound clear and relatively artifact-free—always a good thing with Bluetooth headphones. The overall timbre is warm but oddly muted, with less-than-crisp highs, and a slightly chalky sound in the upper midrange that shouldn’t be audible in a set of earphones costing more than $100. There are four equalizer modes, so you can tailor the sound a bit from the S11-Flex HD in addition to whatever your phone or device can handle. Most of these sound fairly inoffensive, though I prefer the sound with the equalizer disabled the most.

For calls, the dual-mic design aids in noise suppression—one mic captures the sound of your voice, while the other tracks ambient sound, which the integrated DSP chipset then cancels out. Call quality was below average; calls sounded clear in the earpiece, but a little muddy the microphone in the other direction. The noise-cancelling wasn’t that effective in practice, either; a small desk fan was low but still clearly audible in the background, although it sounded more like hiss than a fan. Worse, a bug with the HTC One X+ meant calls were excessively loud in the earpiece, even with the volume set all the way down on the headset and on the phone.

Other Features, Range, and Conclusions
The S11-Flex HD supports multipoint, so you can pair two devices simultaneously and alternate taking calls between them. It only works for calls, not music, which is typical. Motorola claims you can get a full hour of charge out of just five minutes of charging time. We’re still testing the battery and will update this review as soon as we have a result.

Range deserves special mention. Normally, Bluetooth devices max out at a theoretical 33 feet, with actual real-world range somewhere between 10 and 20 feet, depending on the device and whether there are any obstructions like walls or doors in the way. Motorola says the S11-Flex HD can go as far as 150 feet from the device it’s paired to. If you’re using a phone or MP3 player, chances are range won’t matter much, since you’ll be carrying the device with you while wearing the S11-Flex HD. Still, I had no problem walking 40 feet away from the handset before dropouts began, which was certainly impressive, if not quite what Motorola claims.

If you’ve worn neck band-style earphones before and are comfortable with the fit, then you’ll like the Motorola S11-Flex HD Bluetooth earphones. But the Plantronics BackBeat Pro remains our Editors’ Choice, thanks to its much smaller size, lower price, great audio quality for voice calls, and more comfortable fit in a variety of situations. It’s not the greatest sounding headset for music either, but the S11-Flex HD isn’t enough of an improvement in sound quality to warrant overlooking its various other flaws. Another good option is the Outdoor Technology DJ Slims, which cost even less and are much more comfortable, although they’re a true headphone design that’s even larger.

More Bluetooth Headset Reviews:

Specifications
Wireless Yes
Active Noise Cancellation Yes
Connection Bluetooth
Removable Cable No
Phone Controls Yes
Surround Sound No
Boom Mic No
Type In-Ear

Verdict
The sturdy Motorola S11-Flex HD delivers good sound quality, but its bulky design and high price give us pause.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
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