More often than not, riding in pairs or groups requires constant coordination. While there are signs you can use to convey messages, there is nothing that compares to a hearty chat. We’ve felt this quite often too, especially on our shoots, where there is a need to be constantly in touch with each other.
There are only a handful of manufacturers who can help with this. Sena Technologies is one of them, and is the most sought-after brand when it comes to helmet communication systems. We got our hands on two models from the company – the 20S and the 10C. I took the 20S, which would let me listen to music and the radio, and most importantly, take phone calls on the go. Kartikeya, who goes on a fair number of rides took the 10C, which has a camera in addition to the features of the 20S.
I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the box the Sena 20S came in. Besides the module, headphones and mic which are standard, there were two extra mics, and a load of mounting options for different helmets and configurations. It even had an Allen key to fix the system on the helmet. The Sena 10C too was similarly packed.
Installing the two Sena units on both our helmets was a fairly straightforward procedure. Take the helmet liner out, fix the mount on the left side of the helmet shell, stick the earpieces on the shell, fit the liner back in concealing the wiring, and voila! Once installed, the system looks very neat, and doesn’t get in the way at all. The speakers sit flush inside the helmet, and you only know they’re there because of the sound emitting from them. We know it might be different for different helmet makes, however, neither Kartik nor I faced any issues.
The Sena 20S has a very streamlined, aerodynamic design. It has a nice combination of silver and black. The contours are also quite sharp, and mixes straight lines and curves really well. The jog dial is easy to use even with riding gloves on. The two other buttons are fairly accessible as well, but finding them initially with gloves on is a bit of a challenge. Everything else from there on is intuitive.
When you switch it on, you’re greeted by the device – a nice personal touch. Connecting the phone is as easy as holding down the phone button on the Sena until it prompts you. Once connected, you can access all the functions of the phone. You can also control the device using voice commands, which can be initiated by either saying “Hello Sena”, or double tapping the surface of the device, or pressing the phone button.
The boom mic can be positioned easily to the position you like. It is quite sensitive, eliminating the need to shout into the mic to be heard. Your voice on the other side does side a little muffled at times, but that is because of the position of the mic and helmet, and not the unit. In fact, when it is positioned well, the person on the other side does not even realise you’re in traffic, which was evident when I was speaking to Rishad while I was stuck in peak-hour Pune traffic!
It does isolate you from ambient noises, but you can also choose to allow sounds from the outside to reach you. This is really helpful in situations like when you're at the petrol pump and have to talk to the attendant. All you have to do is double press the ambient sound button, and you can get access to everything happening outside. The sound is like that of a PA system, but it gets the job done.
The main function of the Sena is to enable communication between helmets, and it does the job well. Pairing is as easy as pressing the jog dial for six seconds on each device, and one can pair up to 8 devices at a time. The Sena SMH10 is a great device, and the 20S is a step above that, and increases the distance of communication by 20 percent. It relies on Bluetooth 4.0, which uses very low energy, and as a result, the total talktime is claimed at 8 hours. However, in my experience, I haven’t charged my unit in over a week with moderate usage and it still is at half charge.
Sound from the speakers is crystal clear. The Sena system is primarily a communication device, and despite that the speakers handle music really well. Highs and midtones are good, but lacks good bass, which can be excused.
The Sena devices are also equipped with FM radio, and is Radio Data System enabled. This lets the device adjust the frequency automatically if it loses signal strength on a station. The pop-up antenna helps acquire a stronger signal.
The 10C’s camera unit is quite interesting. While the unit is heavier than the 20S and initially Kartikeya found it to be a bit discomfiting, he quickly got used to it. Fixed on the metal bracket, the 10C unit sticks out a bit from the helmet. This design has both pros and cons. It does look a bit awkward and while storing the helmet you will surely want to remove the unit. The advantage of the design is that when shooting the video very little of the helmet eats into the frame. This mount also allows you to adjust the angle of the camera, a very handy feature as seating position can vary from a full on crouch on a sport bike to a sit-up-and-beg style for cruisers. Using the stick on mount brings the camera closer to the helmet for a neater look, but it means the camera can be used in one angle only.
The video camera is operated via an easily accessible button on top of the unit. Features that really impressed were the 10C’s ability to record audio while shooting video. Chats on the intercom can also be recorded on the video. Music being streamed via Bluetooth can also be recorded! Another very handy feature is called Tagging. In this mode, once you hit the record button, the camera will store three minutes of video – one minute prior to hitting the button, one minute from the time the button was pressed and one minute post roll. It’s a very cool feature that lets you capture interesting moments on the road without having to edit through hours of video. This can be an interesting and useful feature to prove your stand in case of a road accident as well!
The 10C offers a very interesting combination for riders who wish to record their escapades with the richness of audio and video in one package. However, the video quality isn’t going to wow professionals. However, at Rs 24,000, the 10C will make for quite an exciting option for most riders just looking to combine easy communication with fellow riders while recording their weekend adventures.
What the Sena units don’t have is a screen, and you can only monitor the menu changes via audio. It does sound difficult, but Sena has developed applications for the iPhone and Android operating systems to be able to make changes in the devices. There are Windows and Mac applications too, but are bare-bones versions, and I personally wouldn’t use them for anything else besides upgrading the firmware.
Soon after I connected my device to the Sena app on my phone, I was prompted to upgrade my firmware. I absolutely love updates, and to know that a great product is up to date is icing on the cake. The firmware upgrade brought in a smart volume control, an FM station guide, and some improvements to the music sharing functionality.
The Sena 20S and the Sena 10C are good products that everyone heading out on the highway should own. As we experienced, it makes coordination much simpler when riding in groups, and keeps you entertained when riding alone. Not just the highway, the multi-functionality of the device makes perfect sense for city use too. I have been using it every time I ride a motorcycle, and don’t see myself swapping it for a pair of jugaad earphones ever in the future.