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Apple's 'Shoddy' Beats Headphones Get Slammed In Lawsuit (theregister.co.uk) 190

A lawsuit (PDF) filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Oakland, California, recounts the frustrations of five plaintiffs who found that Apple's Powerbeats 2 and Powerbeats 3 headphones did not perform as advertised. They are also claiming the company is refusing to honor warranty commitments to repair or replace the failed units. The Register reports: The complaint seeks $5,000,000 in damages and class action certification, in order to represent thousands of similarly afflicted Beats customers who are alleged to exist. "In widespread advertising and marketing campaigns, Apple touts that its costly Powerbeats (which retail for $199.95) are 'BUILT TO ENDURE' and are the 'BEST HEADPHONES FOR WORKING OUT,'" the complaint says. "But these costly headphones are neither 'built to endure' nor 'sweat & water resistant,' and certainly do not have a battery that lasts for six or twelve hours. Instead, these shoddy headphones contain a design defect that causes the battery life to diminish and eventually stop retaining a charge."

The complaint attributes the shoddiness of Apple's Powerbeats headphones to cheap components. Citing an estimate in a recent Motley Fool article, the complaint contends that Apple's Beats Solo headphones cost $16.89 to make and retail for $199.95: a markup of more than 1,000 per cent. That figure actually comes from a Medium post by Avery Louie, from hardware prototyping biz Bolt.

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Apple's 'Shoddy' Beats Headphones Get Slammed In Lawsuit

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  • Obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @05:14PM (#55191655)

    The complaint contends that Apple's Beats Solo headphones cost $16.89 to make and retail for $199.95: a markup of more than 1000 percent.

    That takes courage!

  • Fakes abound. (Score:3, Informative)

    by commandlinegamer ( 1046764 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @05:15PM (#55191667)
    A recent TV investigation (I think it was BBC's Rogue Traders) featured people getting ripped off with poor quality fakes of premium brand headphones, including Beats, IIRC. Wonder if some of the complainants here have been similarly caught out.
    • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @05:28PM (#55191741) Journal
      So they were tricked into buying headphones that were 12$ to make?
    • Re:Fakes abound. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by qortra ( 591818 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @05:31PM (#55191763)
      I think you're playing fast and loose with the word "premium". If you must use an adjective that is not pejorative, I would choose "fashion headphones". When I think "premium", I think Sennheiser, AKG, Shure, Beyerdynamic.
      • Re:Fakes abound. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by YuppieScum ( 1096 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @05:59PM (#55191923) Journal
        To be fair, the term was "premium brand," which Apple - arguably - is.

        However, such a brand can be applied to all kinds of shonky products - Ferrari and Porsche, for example, sell all kinds of branded, over-priced tat.
        • by qortra ( 591818 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @07:39PM (#55192443)
          Haha, a reasonable point to be sure. That being said, companies can have subsidiaries with a more tarnished reputation than their parent. Also, I would claim that one way of measuring the "brand of record" is the domain that shows up first when I Google. In this case, "beatsbydre.com". iPhone, by contrast, returns "apple.com".

          Also, I bet if you look outside tech circles, a lot of people don't even know Beats is owned by Apple. There were only two references to Apple on the Beats site that I identified. One was the Apple icon inside the "buy" buttons, and the other was the registration footer with excruciatingly low contrast. Maybe one day when they get renamed to BeatsByCook, I'll reconsider my position.
        • Re:Fakes abound. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @06:51AM (#55194165)

          To be fair, the term was "premium brand," which Apple - arguably - is.

          Apple is by far, not a premium brand. Its an expensive one, but not premium. Even then, they're not so expensive as to price themselves out of availability for everyone. Here in the UK even someone on benefits (welfare) can get an Iphone. They're like a Toyota Camry and we can hardly call Toyota a premium brand

          However, such a brand can be applied to all kinds of shonky products - Ferrari and Porsche, for example, sell all kinds of branded, over-priced tat.

          Right about the first part, wrong about the second.

          Ferrari's and Porsches have attributes that set them apart from cheaper competition (although the Porsche is the cheap Ferrari). You cant replicate a 488 for much less than a 488 costs. You cant say the same about Apple. Apple is like what Volkswagen does in Australia. VW pretends its a premium brand in Australia when they're common as muck in here in Europe and no more expensive than a Toyota. They aren't better quality or have better features than their competition, but they charge a premium because of the badge.

          • by YuppieScum ( 1096 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @09:04AM (#55194767) Journal

            Actually, you seem to have missed the meaning of my second point. If you read it again, you'll realise that I was referring not to the cars that Ferrari and Porsche sell, but the clothing, mugs, coasters, wind-chimes and so forth - in fact, anything with enough space on it for the name or logo, the presence of which increases the retail price by a huge margin.

            You comments on the relative merits of car-brand attributes and perception as they relate to Apple, while interesting, are germane only in that they reinforce the first statement I made, since you've argued against it :)
          • by JohnFen ( 1641097 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @09:54AM (#55195163)

            Apple is by far, not a premium brand. Its an expensive one, but not premium.

            According to my marketing-wank-to-English translator, "premium" is a synonym for "expensive".

      • by messymerry ( 2172422 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @04:06PM (#55198551)
        You know, the funny thing is that most people with these "premium" headphones are listening to crappy mp3s with them... go figure. ;-)
    • Re:Fakes abound. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @05:40PM (#55191813)

      Wonder if some of the complainants here have been similarly caught out.

      The two-year-old Medium post in the summary links to a author who was fooled. A later post reveals this [blog.bolt.io] and corrects the cost estimate. Based on the language and misleading info, I think the summary author has an agenda.

      • by Ed Tice ( 3732157 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @05:59PM (#55191915)
        Yes but the later post points out that the counterfeits are almost identical and that the genuine ones aren't any better. So this kind of contributes more to the original point that the "value is in the brand," (i.e. they suck but are expensive)
        • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @07:57PM (#55192509)

          Sort of... the generics were estimated to cost $16.89 vs $20.19 for the real. Sure, they are $200 headphones, but that's a 20% increase in COGS. The counterfeit is "almost identical" because by definition it has to be a pretty believable copy in order to pass for the real thing.

          Anyway, my point wasn't that Beats headphones are a good deal - they aren't. My point was to support the parent's implication that the headphones could be fake - they even fooled an expert. Secondarily, my point was that the author is knowingly exaggerating and misleading.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @05:16PM (#55191669)

    you got what you paid for.

    the logo.

  • by fluffernutter ( 1411889 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @05:29PM (#55191745)
    It's courageous to drop 200 on headphones with batteries.
  • Misleading summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @05:32PM (#55191769)

    I have no idea whether the case has merit or not - I would never spend $200 on headphones and am completely unequipped to judge. However, the article says "recent" Motley Fool article, when the linked article was published in 2015 - about a year after the Apple acquisition of Beats. I don't know if Apple has used those years to improve the product or not, but calling the article "recent" is disingenuous.

    • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @09:41PM (#55192905) Homepage

      For Slashdot, that's pretty recent ....

    • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @02:25AM (#55193569)

      I don't know if Apple has used those years to improve the product or not

      They haven't. Go to a best buy and have a listen how garbage Beats sound are compared to a cheaper (not even comparable price) product from ... anyone else.

      But yeah I get it, it's just not cool unless they are bright red and have that large b logo on it. Beats are fashion accessories, not headphones.

      • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @09:53AM (#55195157)

        My "good" headphones cost $15, so yeah I'm not even touching a $200 pair.

        • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @11:27AM (#55196037)

          My "good" headphones cost $15, so yeah I'm not even touching a $200 pair.

          Each to their own. My sister isn't fussed about the difference between her $15 headphones and my $900 set either. But then a favourite passtime of mine is laying in a quiet bed listening to music for hours on end.

          Point is, Beats are the Chanel of the headphone world. You're paying 100% for name and brand recognition and zero for quality.
          (Still can't believe my sister spent $250 on Chanel sunglasses which are neither polarised, nor block IR, and don't even have anti-glare coating on them)

          At least your $15 likely goes into the manufacture. With Beats, a portion of those $15 goes to a few metal weights to make them seem heavier and thus higher quality.

          • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @11:52AM (#55196267)

            I wouldn't get too cocky. Wanna bet your $900 pair didn't cost much more than the Beats to manufacture? I'm glad they make you happy (and I'm envious that you have hours to lay in bed quietly!). I'm glad your sister finds happiness in $250 sunglasses, even if I'm completely satisfied by the ones I get from the guy on the street corner selling them for $5. I also spend my money on things that make me happy. It's a wonderful world.

            • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @12:54PM (#55196833)

              Wanna bet your $900 pair didn't cost much more than the Beats to manufacture?

              Yeah gladly. You see markups disappear rapidly in high end audio up to a certain point before they re-appear again in quality that can only be described as vapour ware (cough high end cables cough). I take it you're USA based? If you're ever in NY, go check out how they manufacture Grado headphones. Hand made, hand checked and each driver put through a quality control regime which the entire budget of beats would eat up just paying some poor Chinese slave their hourly wage.

               

              and I'm envious that you have hours to lay in bed quietly!

              Don't be, I'm sure if you thought about what you do you'll probably spend many hours a week doing something you enjoy as well. A lot of people who live happy lives are envious for no reason. :-)

              • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @04:10PM (#55198571)

                Yes, I used to live in NYC, and I'm familiar with Grado. They do indeed hand-make their headphones (out of wood!) and if those are what you have, then yeah, you paid for the old-school craftsmanship. Many of the audiophile-class stuff is wholly or in part made in China, though (cough, Bowers & Wilkins, cough) - and if they use modern processes even highfalutin headphones will have less than $100 in parts. It's just wood, metal, and plastic. And while this is all very subjective, I personally haven't experienced anything better than the tried and true MDR 7506, which go for around $100.

  • Lawsuits (Score:5, Informative)

    by willoughby ( 1367773 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @05:37PM (#55191797)

    This is the second lawsuit I've read about in the last couple of days which just amounts to, "It's not as good as I thought it was". Are consumers today really so ignorant they just purchase without research and then expect someone to bail them out if they're not satisfied?

    And... my Grado headphones are great, btw. Not wireless, though.

    • Re:Lawsuits (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @05:45PM (#55191853)

      Well, flatly refusing to honor warranted commitments is illegal.

      There is also the issue of blatantly lying in the advertisements.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @05:57PM (#55191909)

      At least in the EU, a company making false claims for a product will rapidly find itself in violation of trade description and advertising laws. Prior "research" by consumers to check that the advertised claims are accurate before purchase is not a requirement. To put it simply, companies should not lie.

      Companies that lie and abuse consumers should not be defended but condemned. They're a blight on society, just white-collar fraudsters.

    • Re:Lawsuits (Score:4, Interesting)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @06:00PM (#55191925) Homepage Journal

      Battery warranties need sorting out. Companies claim that they are consumables, but you also can't change them yourself and if you get a dud or bad design you are SOL.

      The law needs to be changed so that batteries have a minimum 2 year warranty and must be user replaceable. It isn't difficult to design for those requirements, and not expensive.

      • by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @06:20PM (#55192043)
        Speaking of bad design with headphone batteries...

        Avoid the Logitech H600 wireless headphones. If the battery dies, the device is bricked without disassembling them and "jump starting" or otherwise replacing the battery. A lot of rechargeable devices have had similar issues over the years, but you wouldnt expect headphones to have the extra circuitry necessary for this bug to exist at all.
      • by Strider- ( 39683 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @06:25PM (#55192067)

        The law needs to be changed so that batteries have a minimum 2 year warranty and must be user replaceable.

        Great in theory, not so practical in the real world. The first part is fine, require an expected lifespan of n years with acceptable performance. But lets take the example of a fitbit, a pebble watch, or any of the other wearable devices. Even if the battery is theoretically user replaceable, they are either going to have to standardize on a format, and secondly the battery is going to need to be far more mechanically robust so that it doesn't explode when some idiot tries to mash it in with his screwdriver.

        A different solution might be to require a manufacturer to offer battery service for a reasonable fee, for, say 5 years after the product was discontinued.

        For any problem there is always a solution that is both simple, and wrong.

        • by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @07:13PM (#55192295)

          Great in theory, not so practical in the real world. The first part is fine, require an expected lifespan of n years with acceptable performance. But lets take the example of a fitbit, a pebble watch, or any of the other wearable devices. Even if the battery is theoretically user replaceable, they are either going to have to standardize on a format, and secondly the battery is going to need to be far more mechanically robust so that it doesn't explode when some idiot tries to mash it in with his screwdriver.

          Yet user-serviceable batteries are found in everything from hearing aids to sex toys to watches to flashlights to TV remotes to wireless mice to cars to smoke alarms to toothbrushes to cameras to...

          • by Strider- ( 39683 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @11:22AM (#55195999)

            Yes, but hearing aids draw a lot less power than something with a display, nor do they have the computing power of a lot of these devices. They're pretty incredible bits of engineering (if overpriced), but they're in a different league. Also, have you seen how much they charge for hearing aid batteries? All the other devices you cite are also significantly larger than what fits on your wrist.

            • by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @11:57AM (#55196313)

              Yes, but hearing aids draw a lot less power than something with a display, nor do they have the computing power of a lot of these devices. They're pretty incredible bits of engineering (if overpriced), but they're in a different league.

              You can typically use any "battery" tech to power any device. Dry cells, wet cells, alkaline, zinc, zinc air, lithium, NiCd, NiMH, Li-Ion, Li-Poly, potatoes, whatever. It's a question of cost and density, not whether or not it's feasible or safe to be user-serviceable. If you want the battery to be more robust you just package it in a thin plastic shell. All you lose is a bit of capacity.

              So why don't they let you replace batteries? Planned obsolescence.

              All the other devices you cite are also significantly larger than what fits on your wrist.

              Really?

              Yet user-serviceable batteries are found in everything from hearing aids to sex toys to watches to flashlights to TV remotes to wireless mice to cars to smoke alarms to toothbrushes to cameras to...

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Thursday September 14, 2017 @02:57AM (#55193641) Homepage Journal

          I thought we had solved the replacable watch battery issues decades ago... Okay, these days they might have different battery form factors (although I bet in practice they all use one of a few off-the-shelf sizes), but I'm sure 3rd parties will be happy to meet that demand.

    • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @06:07PM (#55191959)

      Are consumers today really so ignorant they just purchase without research and then expect someone to bail them out if they're not satisfied?

      No, this lawsuit is about lawyers trying to make a killing on a class action suit. The consumers will be lucky to get a coupon good for $2 off their next Apple purchase.

    • Re:Lawsuits (Score:5, Insightful)

      by skam240 ( 789197 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @07:22PM (#55192327)

      The lawsuit is claiming false advertising and If they can prove it then they deserve the win. We shouldn't have to research the hell out of every little purchase, we should be able to buy based on what is advertised. If an item is advertised as sweat and water resistant no one should have to doubt that claim, especially when paying a premium price.

      Along with all this, holding Apple accountable for lying to consumers (if they really were) is healthy for our economy in general. If consumers have trust in the products and brands they are buying they are likely to spend more than if they do not have trust. I'm not at all the type of person to buy something when it first comes out but without these people our economy would be less healthy.

      • by SlaveToTheGrind ( 546262 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @08:20PM (#55192641)

        If an item is advertised as sweat and water resistant no one should have to doubt that claim, especially when paying a premium price.

        No doubt. But presumably if someone is spending that much money on something and are relying on the advertising lingo to guide your purchase, they've first done 30 seconds of due diligence to understand the difference between water resistant and waterproof [waterproof...phones.net]. To the extent the complaint is comprehensible, it seems to badly conflate those two concepts.

        • by skam240 ( 789197 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @09:34PM (#55192885)

          Their advertising claim clearly implies that sweat from working out wont be a problem. If it is going to be a problem then whats the point of advertising anything on the topic? You can engage in a semantics arguement all you want between proof and resistant but if they advertise an activity the device is supposedly friendly for then the device shouldnt have a problem in said environment.

          • by SlaveToTheGrind ( 546262 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @07:58AM (#55194409)

            Their advertising claim clearly implies that sweat from working out wont be a problem. If it is going to be a problem then whats the point of advertising anything on the topic?

            Advertising claims are measured from the perspective of a reasonable person. A reasonable person would not believe that the handful of people who sweat far beyond typical levels and effectively immerse their earbuds to puddles of water in their ears for sustained periods of time should expect non-waterproof earbuds to survive that kind of abuse.

    • by MoaDweeb ( 858263 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @07:27PM (#55192355)
      'Fit for purpose' is a common legal requirment (in my country anyway) and return the item to the seller for replacement or get your money back. Especially if it failed in a year.
      Is your reasonable expectation that a set of headphones should last less than a year under normal usage?

      The Apple X is now only warranted for 1 year and is over $1k however it is not what I would call a resonable expectation that the device should only last a year.
      Perhaps because my country gives a small s*it about consumers over producers.
    • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @02:27AM (#55193571)

      And... my Grado headphones are great, btw.

      But for the same price you could get a set of Beats Pro, which sound like a $35 headphone. Why would you buy Grado, they don't even have flashy misleading ads.

    • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @05:48AM (#55193975)

      They did research. They read the ads and the ads lied.
      The people who should bail them out are the people who protect people against false advertisement.

  • by Ed Tice ( 3732157 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @05:39PM (#55191809)
    They have "beats" in really large letters so that everybody else in the gym can notice that you are wearing them which is the only reason you would buy such a ridiculous product as these to begin with. Unfortunately, having the beats headphones isn't going to provide the attention from the cute girls in the gym who are in better shape and not interested. You can't file a class action suit saying that the headphones didn't increase your sex appeal, though.
  • by GrBear ( 63712 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @05:56PM (#55191905)

    Beats headphones have always been absolutely crappy cans. People are just realizing that now?

    • by DaMattster ( 977781 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @06:04PM (#55191945)
      I would never spend that amount of money on a pair of headphones anyway. That's just ridiculous that they even get a 1,000% mark-up. I hope Apple loses this one!
      • by Strider- ( 39683 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @06:27PM (#55192077)

        It all depends on the use case. I spent a pretty significant chunk of change on a pair of Shure IEMs. Great quality sound, but more importantly, they're extremely comfortable to wear for long periods of time (at least for me), and they provide about as much isolation as industrial earplugs. When I was logging 140,000 airline miles a year, they're what kept me sane... And they were good enough to protect my hearing when I was bouncing around the sandbox in blackhawk helicopters.

        • by CrashNBrn ( 1143981 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @07:49PM (#55192489)
          I spent < $60 on a pair of OSTRY KC06A IEM's [massdrop.com]

          * 10 mm CCAW double cavity driver | * Eardrum Bionics Technology diaphragm | * Titanium housing
          * Sensitivity: >102 dB @ 1 kHz | * Impedance: 16 Ohms +/- 15%
          * Frequency response: 20 Hz - 20 kHz | * Distortion: < 1% 110 dB (@20μpa)
          * Channel imbalance: Rated power: 10 mW
          * 4.43 ft environment-friendly antibacterial TPU cable

          Best IEM's I've had. Even blocks the "scraping sound" of the cable rubbing against clothes.

          Comfortably stays in your ears without using the over-the-ear hooks as the cable is firm enough to wrap around your ears. The headphones sit upside-down (in your ear) compared to other IEMs.

  • by qzzpjs ( 1224510 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @08:45PM (#55192763)

    People always seem to forget the amount of R&D that goes into making a product. How long and how many people at what wages? How many prototypes were created and tested? How much for the marketing? All of that costs money and is recovered through the sales price. I imagine they still make a good chunk of profit once costs are recovered but you can't just say it's $20 per set.

    • by MoarSauce123 ( 3641185 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @05:24AM (#55193917)
      Fair point, but are you arguing that overall cost per unit is much closer to the 200$ retail price? R&D expenses are one time expenses that add a diminishing cost per unit with more units sold. Let's be generous here and add 20$ per unit for such expenses....although I am not sure how much R&D is needed for well established technology. Still, pegs expenses to 36$, let's add 14$ for distributor and retailer, brings the expenses to 50$. Asking 200$ is still an unethically huge markup. For that price these puppies better work even after a bus drove over them thrice.
  • by dmr001 ( 103373 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @09:46PM (#55192919)

    My use case is running for 40 minutes 4 times a week while getting my headphones soaked in a combination of sweat, rain, and lately ash blown in from nearby wildfires. I have blown through 3 prior pairs of Bluetooth wireless headphones, all of which suffered from poor reception while running, and all of which died a salt-encrusted death within several months.

    My Powerbeats 3 aren't perfect (the cord sticks a bit on the back of my neck) but they are by far the only wireless headphones that ever really worked for me for running. I spent more than $200 with the other 3, which I suppose made the admittedly stiff price worth my while.

  • by polyp2000 ( 444682 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @06:21AM (#55194049) Homepage Journal

    Urm , and this was a surprise to the claimant?
    Apple Cultists really are that stupid ?

  • by ilsaloving ( 1534307 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @10:29AM (#55195487)

    I realize I'm wading into one big Anti-Apple circle jerk, but I just wanted to mention that I spend $175 on their overpriced BeatsX bluetooth headphones....

    And they're the single best bluetooth headphones I've ever owned. The sound quality is great (well, as great as they can be for in-ear headphones, obviously), and most importantly, they have given me virtually flawless performance. I had given up completely on bluetooth headphones because every single one I bought gave me problems, notably constant connection drops. Every. Single. One. Even in residential areas where you would think ambient RF interference was low. They were all useless unless I kept my phone in a front coat pocket or otherwise somehow kept the phone within 2 ft unobstructed from the headsets.

    I decided to take a chance with the BeatsX, cause I wanted to know if the W1 chip would make that much of a difference. And I have to say that the BeatsX headset doesn't give me any problems. I've had exactly one major connection failure, and that was when I was walking past an electrical room that puts out so much RF that I'm amazed surprised the florescent lights don't excite on their own.

    I have no idea about the circumstances of this lawsuit, but I can honestly say that I am happier with my BeatsX headphones than I ever have been with any previous BT headset.

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