Cheapism: Best budget Bluetooth headsets

Amid all the buzz around wearable tech, it’s easy to overlook one of the original trailblazers: the Bluetooth headset, which has been facilitating hands-free phone conversations and making bystanders wonder if people are talking to themselves since 2000. These days Bluetooth-enabled phones are ubiquitous and even a cheap headset can deliver good call quality, as well as a few convenient features. With states enacting laws that forbid drivers to use hand-held mobile devices (and consumers everywhere acknowledging the common sense of keeping their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel), many have come to see a Bluetooth headset as an indispensible accessory.

The Samsung HM3300 comes with two hooks and three ear gels to ensure a comfortable fit.

Here are three top picks under $50 from

The Samsung HM3300 (starting at $30) displays the No. 1 attribute reviewers look for: clear audio with minimal distortion. In other words, this model doesn’t betray that the user is on a Bluetooth headset. It comes with two hooks and three ear gels of different sizes to help ensure a comfortable fit. Samsung touts the use of NFC, or Near Field Communication, technology, which requires a simple tap to pair the headset with a compatible phone. (Where to buy

The Plantronics M55 (starting at $30) stands out for promising up to 11 hours of talk time and more than two weeks of standby time, by far the best battery life among these budget models. It has won favor among experts and consumers for its lightweight, inconspicuous design. Users also appreciate that it responds to voice commands, such as “Answer,” instead of requiring a push of a button. (Where to buy

The Jabra Style (starting at $45) is a minimalist Bluetooth headset from a brand that specializes in headsets of all kinds. Reviewers deem its audio quality solid, if not spectacular, and the battery has proved capable of lasting through six hours of talk time (up to a week on standby). NFC pairing adds to this model’s appeal. (Where to buy

All these Bluetooth headsets feature noise cancellation technology to help them transmit the user’s voice untainted by passing cars, whishing wind, ambient chatter and other distractions. In addition to relaying phone calls, they can stream music, podcasts and other audio, such as GPS navigation (via A2DP, or Advanced Audio Distribution Profile). Audible alerts inform the user when the headset has successfully connected to a device and how much battery life remains. The Samsung HM3300 and Plantronics M55 use multipoint technology to connect to more than one device at a time. This allows the user to pair a Bluetooth headset with both a personal cell phone and a work phone, for example, and take calls that come in on either one.

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