Sunday, April 29, 2012

PRODUCT REVIEW: Interphone F5 Motorcycle Communications System

I had some updates to this review that I wanted to append.  I did a few more tests and had some new insights to share.

The Intercom range - Hmm.  On my initial ride,  Mrs. Rocket was close behind me on her own scooter the whole time so, I didn't get a good test on the range of the intercoms. A new test showed the intercom to have about a quarter of a mile of range in line of sight.  When I turned a corner and disappeared around some trees, that range fell to about one-tenth of a mile. You might find that a bit distressing if you ride in canyons on in heavily wooded areas like we do.

Revised phone test - I tested the unit at home, dialing into the unit from my home phone.  The voice-activated answer settings were no longer active and I could not answer a call.  My phone paired easily and I was able to make calls using the phone without removing my helmet, which is a benefit.
Revised radio test - the RDS no longer announced the station every few moments.  Again, I think the settings changed from one use to the next.

Conclusion - This is a great unit, with a boatload of features.  Is it complex?  Yes.  Would I eventually learn how to use all of these features?  Yes, in time.  I think that the initial ownership period would be frustrating and I would prefer something with better range and more ease of use.  I wonder if Apple has thought about getting into this market???

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket

I was eager to test and review this new product for as I am a bit of a technology geek and a rider who likes long rides, either in a group or in the company of one other rider.  For most riders, a bike-to-bike system like the Interphone F5 would be just the ticket.

My first impression, upon opening the box was that there’s SO MUCH STUFF!  The list of included parts is extensive and the manufacturer of this device has thought of every possible option that you could want, in a bike-to-bike communications system.  This is a complete audio system that allows for rider communications, phone, GPS and music (built-in radio receiver, streaming bluetooth and MP3 inputs).  They thought of everything! 

After I laid out all of the components, I was a bit worried about the complexity but, all of the parts are clearly described in the owner’s manual and I quickly identified the ones that I needed for the full-face helmets we wear.  The set even included several replacement parts, for wear items like mic covers and additional adhesive strips.

As this is a 2 rider system, there are two of each component, with the exception of a tube of waterproofing silicone grease. The set contains two different types of microphones; a universal boom mic for open face helmets and a helmet-mounted mic for full face helmets.  Additionally, there are two ways to mount the bracket that holds the rechargeable Bluetooth module, which is the heart of this audio system.  There is an adhesive-backed mounting plate and a clamp-style mounting bracket, with an extension piece, to fit any type of helmet.  I chose the latter.

Mounting the bracket on our helmets was the first and perhaps most challenging task.  I chose the clamp mount, so I could easily remove these at the end of our test.  The challenge came from the need to use the extension piece but, Interphone wisely supplied the longer mounting screws, to make the job as easy as possible.  It was a bit “fiddly” but, the hardest part of the install was now done!  Next, I positioned the stereo speakers into each helmet, each backed with velcro-like material to make positioning and re-positioning a snap.

I then concentrated on the actual Bluetooth module.  It clearly is of quality design and construction.  It has a rubberized, waterproof exterior with large raised buttons.  Its low-profile design is compact and does not sport an ungainly antenna, like some other systems.

The multi-headed charger allows you to charge both modules at once, using only one plug.  Within three hours, the headsets were fully charged and ready to use.  They mounted easily with a positive “CLICK” and the system was ready for a test.

The owner’s manual comes in 13 different languages (!) so you know that this truly is a global product which is appreciated worldwide.  The primary control is the large round button in the center, which the manual refers to as the Multi-Function Button (MFB).  It controls all of the inputs and allows you to switch between menu functions with a toggle up or down.  Volume is controlled by the + and – buttons.  All four are raised and easy to control, while riding and with gloves on.

Test #1- Intercom

A group of five took a slow ride to the seacoast, avoiding highways and getting a good tour of small New England towns.  My wife was using the second headset and we set the system to Intercom for this first test.  We were both impressed by the clarity and ease of communication between us, no matter how far behind me she was at any point.  If the group was momentarily separated, I was able to provide clear instructions as to where I planned to stop to wait for the others.  It quickly became apparent who was the extrovert in our pair!  I enjoyed being able to share directions (“Turning right in one mile”) to let her know what to expect on these unfamiliar roads.  For this ride, I did not pair the Interphone to my GPS device (more on that later).

On the return trip, we chose a more direct highway route.  It became apparent that our headset volumes were not properly set and, no matter how much I tried to increase it, we couldn’t hear one another.  I now believe this to be user error, having later learned that the headsets have an Automatic Volume setting, which I think would have compensated for the ambient noise at highway speeds.  Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to communicate with another rider, out on the road.

Test #2- Radio, GPS and Mobile Phone

A second test was conducted a few days after the first.  I turned on the Bluetooth Module and was told I had “medium battery” available.  For the one hour ride, I presumed this was sufficient.  I paired the unit to my cell phone on the first try.  The two devices sought one another out and I was out the door in just a moment.   As I waited for another rider to join me, I tested the phone system.  I pushed the MFB and selected phone using a voice prompt to place a call.  It connected perfectly and the audio was loud and clear on the in-helmet speakers.

I then programmed a local radio station, into one of the 5 presets.  The station has a strong signal that I assumed would serve me on this shorter ride.  Once on the road, I fired up the radio and was pleased that the first song was “Born to Be Wild”, by Steppenwolf.  Perfect.  I cracked the throttle wide open and roared down the highway.  And then it got a little weird.  The Interphone F5 identified the radio station.  And then a minute later it did it again.  Hmm.  I hit the scan button to something other than my 1 preset and was soon listening to another station.  Once again, the station call letters got popped into the middle of the music.   It turns out that I had the RDS (Radio Data System) turned on.  I scanned a couple of other stations and was listening for a total of twenty minutes when the system shut itself down.  It appears that I ran out of juice!  Note to self:  Make sure RDS is set to OFF and your headset is fully charged before each ride.

For the GPS test, I tried to pair the Interphone F5 Bluetooth Module with my TomTom Rider.  It failed to pair.  The TomTom is an older unit, about 4 years old, and while it has Bluetooth connectivity, it delivers the audio to a small receiver that plugs into a helmet speaker.  The problem here was the age and design of the GPS unit, not the Interphone F5.  On a newer GPS device, I have no doubt that this would have paired as easily as it did to my mobile phone.

So, from my previous ride, when I used the system for about 4 ½ hours total, and I got maybe another 30 minutes on it when the system told me that I had approximately half-power.  Needless to say, I was disappointed.  I suspect that the short phone call and all the radio scanning had an effect on the battery life.  The test I did not get to make was how long the system would work, continuously.  Interphone says the units have 700 hours of stand-by time and 11 hours of talk time.  If I planned to use a system like this, I would want it to last all day long, perhaps as much as 12 hours on one charge.

Test #3

Initially I was not thrilled with the audio quality of the radio test.  The sizes of the stereo speakers are small, by necessity, and they are easily overloaded by a poor radio signal.  Where this system shines is when it streams music from a Bluetooth phone or with the addition of an iPod or MP3 player.  My Android phone streamed music perfectly when paired to the Interphone F5. If you use a service like Pandora or Spotify, or just pair this with your iPhone, you will have an endless supply of music while touring.

Another source of music is through attaching external audio devices, such as an iPod or an MP3 player.  I attached my iPod Mini to the Aux input, using the supplied coiled cord and found that my iPod didn’t have enough power to drive these speakers.  Fortunately, I have a small, pocket-sized amplifier called a Boostaroo.  Once that was jacked in between the iPod and the Aux input, I had all the volume that I wanted (and MORE).  The speakers have a much better sound with this type of music input, providing a full, rich sound.   You might want to save the radio functions for times when you have a strong signal or, need local weather information, when riding.


This is a premium system, designed for the rider who wants it all.  You can make and take phone calls, communicate effortlessly with other riders or listen to music, all at the same time.  The system automatically mutes other inputs at incoming phone calls or intercom messages.  Additionally, the system is able to link multiple modules, allowing multiple riders (6+) to communicate and greatly extending the range of the units.  This would be very beneficial to all but especially to riders who like to spread out on the road.

The quality of these units is very high, well-designed and with an attractive low-profile.  You needn’t feel like My Favorite Martian, with antennae sticking out of your head.  These units do it all, in a stylish manner, at a very favorable price. 

The most important benefit, beyond all the personal ones, is safety.  Imagine being able to point out road hazards, distracted drivers, etc., as they are spotted and communicating it effortlessly and immediately to others in your group.  No more need for confusing hand signals or missed turns.  Whether you ride two-up, solo or in a group, the Interphone F5 Bluetooth Audio system will make it easier to communicate and will add a new level of ease to your ride.  No more missed calls or missed turns.  Don’t get left behind! 

MSRP is $499.00.

Product Description
INTERPHONE F5 is designed for motorcyclists who like to travel in pairs or groups, and provides conference-type communication 6 or more users - even on different motorcycles INTERPHONE F5 is equipped with multimedia capabilities, thanks to its FM radio with RDS and wired connections with MP3 players (iPod)/Bluetooth® with A2DP profile. INTERPHONE F5 is equipped with TTS (Text To Speech), which provides status messages and ensures maximum comfort and total safety during use. INTERPHONE F5 is available in single and paired versions, and is easily installed on any type of helmet.

1 comment:

Guy LRC said...

“Purchased F5 in May and have been struggling to sink with Garmin Zumo 660 (motor bike GPS). Basically there is a conflict when using the Zumo when used in combination with a cell phone (Zumo allows calls thru the unit so becomes hub for both directional guidance and phone calls) and you have to choose between either connecting thru Zumo for phone calls but then the voice activation does not work via the headset button, or connecting phone and GPS separately. However under the second option all Bluetooth activity on Zumo will not work (including directions) causing line to break up and disturb any Bluetooth phone functions happening at that time. Eventually I wrote to Interphone site and was told that I must turn off the A2DP on my phone (a Blackberry Bold) as the Zumo does not allow this to be turned off and this causes a conflict. The Blackberry also does not allow this to be turned off. So I sit with one of the top motor bike GPS units and a conflict which does not allow some key functionalities of the F5. Interphone should have cracked this before launching?