Gear review: Interphone Tour
I've used a lot of different Bluetooth headsets over the years but this Interphone Tour is the one that's become my default – and it's the one I'd recommend. Even though the twin-pack you need to talk with your pillion is eye-wateringly expensive.
As ever, let me make it clear that I didn't pay money for this product: it was supplied for review when I worked on RiDE (and a review was published) but I've kept using it principally for much the same reason that, if I could, I'd probably still like to use a Nokia 3310* – the battery life…
Not everyone needs a Bluetooth headset to last for days, but I'm afraid I do. Well, actually what I want is a headset to last all day when I'm doing a long ride (defined as: more than 10 hours) and I'm streaming music from the phone to help motorway miles pass by. Other units I'd tried would always give up the ghost before getting home – and generally, the more features one offered, the more silence I'd have to put up with when the damn thing conked out before even reaching the Eurotunnel. The Interphone has proved itself to be good not just for day-long use but for days at a time: on a 17-day trip round Spain, it needed charging just three times…
It's not short of features, though. It can connect to upto four bikes, has a claimed range of 1.5km (pretty standard) though I haven't tested its ability in this respect. Importantly, it can handle the pillion headset and another device simultaneously – either a Bluetooth smartphone (how I normally use it) or the sat nav, with the phone accessed through the nav. That still works pretty well – but I connect it only when I also need voice directions.
It's a slender-ish unit – like all externally mounted Bluetooth devices, it does generate a little extra wind noise and a little extra drag… but I'd say it's not enough to worry about. The controls are easy to operate, though perhaps not sufficiently differentiated for use with thick winter gloves. There are four pushable areas on the side of the body – the power button, the music button, the phone button and the radio button. The top and bottom faces of the unit have two chunky buttons that do work with even the thickest gloves: the front pair raise (top) or lower (bottom) the volume; the rear ones move forward (top) or back (bottom) through the options in the other functions. For instance, when listening to music from the phone, the top-rear button skips to the next track. If you set the radio up, it moves between the pre-set channels. You can also set up a single phone number to speed dial, but holding down the front (phone) push-area summons the digital assistant and it's even easier just to say "Siri, call..." and speak to anyone.
Sound quality is good. Not the best – I'm afraid the Sena S10, S20 and 30K have deeper bass and slightly better clarity... but at 75mph frankly the difference isn't worth worrying about. Again, the Interphone does lose out slightly to its Sena rivals in the volume stakes, but it's not a problem for listening to music: I use it as a speed limiter anyway and when the wind is drowning out System of a Down, you KNOW you're going too fast… The same logic applies to use of intercom, too: if it's hard to hear the pillion, it might be comforting to pretend that you weren't just called something awful – but it's also a sure sign that speed needs to drop to a more sociable level. It's more of a problem when receiving a phone call, though – quality from the bike end is exceptional and most callers haven't realised I was riding… until I've asked them to repeat something three times and then finally say, "No, I can't hear you. Let me find somewhere to pull over and I'll call you back." Sat nav directions are similarly less-loud than I'd like – I find much about 60mph and they're more of a grunt to prompt me to check the screen for the next instruction.
It's easy to install the Interphone Tour – though the baseplate to which the unit clips is secured by a plastic clip that feels like it won't take too much tightening-up. You can swap the boom mic for a discrete one that stickers into the front of a full-face helmet and when you eventually need to charge the device, it plugs into a normal USB charger (I normally use an iPhone charger but a TomTom mini-USB lead). Battery life is awesome for music and still good for a full day when talking to a pillion.
And while for me the battery life when listening to music is almost enough to make it the number-one choice… but there's one other massive thing in its favour: it's waterproof. Not water-resistant: properly waterproof, with an IP rating (Ingress Protection) to back it up... though I've ridden through enough hideous downpours with it to know it's secure. Whereas other units I've tried have died when used in heavy rain: not good enough on any motorcycling product, but really unacceptable with products that are so expensive.
So while the Interphone Tour is expensive (£220 for one, £360 for a twin-pack), it does everything a Bluetooth unit should – and lasts long enough for big-mile touring, without dying in the rain. That price compares with the top-of-the-range Sena 30K (£245 for one, £360 for a twin-pack) which arguably has a few smarter features (it's mesh-connection technology is very good for large groups that want to talk to each other). But the battery doesn't last so well and it's only water-resistant, not waterproof… So for me, it's the Inerphone all the way.
* Okay, you can still get a Nokia 3310 - which puts me on the spot. Would I swap my smartphone, which is an office in my pocket but guzzles juice like a greedy toddler, for something that can go two or three days without needing another charge? Er... Okay, no I wouldn't. I just wish my smartphone had a decent battery life.