Four riders, 3,600 mile trip, 4 Packtalks
My friends and I have been using Bluetooth helmet communicators for at least five years starting out with the first release of the UClear, through earlier Sena devices, the Sena 20S and finally the ScalaRider PackTalk. We consider ourselves "power users" because we try to master and use every feature that they offer.
Summary: The PackTalk is the best Bluetooth helmet communication device we've ever tried. Not perfect, but really, really, really good
First, as everyone has posted all over the Internet, the manual kind-of stinks. It's about 17 pages (the English Version) but really doesn't help a new user get started. Fortunately, a user with 5 PackTalk units has posted Youtube videos showing the basics. These were very helpful. Go to Youtube and search for MotoGeek Freak. You'll find his instructions. They're extremely helpful.
Mounting is a snap, even onto a Schuberth C3. Instead of using the double-sided tape, I clamped the mount to the helmet using the supplied clamping device. Then, routed the collar-retaining wire around the clamp. It still retains the collar just fine.
By myself, I first tried the FM radio. I could receive any FM station in my area with total clarity. I'm in a suburb of Dallas, not anywhere near the FM station transmitting sites. Happy with the FM radio.
Then, one of my friends brought his new PackTalk over and we got down to the nitty gritty. Didn't even try the normal intercom connecting scheme; but went straight to DMC mode and did the PackTalk connection using the iPhone to do all the controlling. Took a couple of tries, but in about 3 minutes, we had our two devices communicating in DMC mode. A few days later, the 3rd in our planned trip group came over and we connected HIS into the same PackTalk group. Now we had 3 out of the 4 of us connected in DMC mode.
On the first day of our 3,600 mile trip, we met rider #4 on the west side of Ft Worth. Again, it took a couple of tries to invite and join, but when it did, the four of us could communicate. We communicated every day for 12 days of riding throughout the midwest and all the way to Las Vegas, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and home.
The DMC mode worked flawlessly for the four of us. Each night, we charged our devices and the next day they were ready for the ride. Our rides were between 6 and 10 hours per day. My PackTalk lady would alert me to low battery before the others at about 8 hours. The others could get 9 to 10 hours each on theirs. It may be that mine got poorer battery life because I was the group originator. Or it could be that I had FM radio on almost all the time. On three of the days, I charged the unit while riding. On one day in Las Cruces, I snuffed up the charge while we ate lunch at a Subway; on that day my unit stayed charged for the duration.
One note about battery life:
The PackTalk lady alerts of low at about 35% remaining. The unit will continue to work for up to 2 hours after the first alert. About every 15 minutes or so, a two-tone beep reminds that the battery level is low. The other indication is that all audio volume begins to decrease as the unit nears no charge left. But the unit was still useable . . . . just very low volumes. I never ran my all the way to empty.
The audio quality is superb. There was absolutely no noise, static, popcorn, drumbeat or anything else during lulls in our conversations. This is so unlike our previous Bluetooth units from another manufacturer.
They say the all of the microphones are "hot" all the time in DMC mode. WELL, you cannot tell it! There must be some kind of audio squelch built into the receiving ends because you could hear the audio open up when someone spoke; and close back down a second after the last syllable spoken. This was very nice.
A note about the intercom audio:
One of our group has a strong voice. Another a weak voice. The weaker-voice guy was using the mounted-in-the helmet microphone. It was an inch or so away from his lips. The rest of us were using boom mics in our flip-front helmets. Two of us had to turn down the receive audio so much for the booming voice friend that we could hardly make out what the weak voiced rider said. I wish there was something that would normalize all the intercom audio level so that all are about the same.
On our motorcycles, we use little (very inexpensive) FM transmitters that are plugged into the audio output of the factory radios. We select FM frequencies that are not used locally. Then, we tune the PackTalk FM radio to that frequency. What we get is full stereo from our factory radios, wirelessly transmitted to the PackTalk. I also have my Zumo with XM radio plugged into my factory AUX input; so I could listen to XM radio, AM radio, WX radio, and CB radio; all wirelessly transmitted via FM to the Packtalk.
In addition, I had full control of the audio via the Harley factory volume, stereo, and tone control. This worked flawlessly for the entire trip.
One feature that Scala Rider needs to implement is "Sidetone". Not being able to hear ourselves speak, we tended to naturally talk very loudly when speaking. Sidetone, I believe, would alleviate that. It might even get the soft talkers to talk more forcefully and the loud talkers to talk more normally.
There were a few quirks that we ran into. We used voice control to turn the FM radio on/off on the units. But occasionally, the PackTalk lady would misunderstand the word "RADIO" or "BATTERY" and would repeat back, "Leave the Pack". That required us to rejoin the pack and try to turn the radio on/off again. I discovered that if it simply used the voice command "PACK", she would reconnect me to the pack.
When the phone rang, I simply said "HELLO", and the phone answered. We once got separated by about 5 miles and reverted to telephone to coordinate getting back together. Didn't use the Intercom to phone feature, one of the separated group manually called me using voice control.
As we were getting back together from that separation, we could communicate via DMC when the other two riders were just tiny speck of light from their headlights behind us. The range for us was at least a half mile and maybe a mile when we were line-of-sight on different hilltops. Range was never ever a problem for the entire trip, even though two of our users had broken antennae.
The units DO have one serious deficiency. The little pop-up antennae break off. We never consciously popped the antennae up; I think wind/vibration would pop them up. In any case, the antennas are very, very fragile. So they break very easily. We tried to repair with glue, but it didn't hold for long at all. So, the four of us taped our antennae in the down position to hold theirs and keep ours from ever popping up. All of the range experiences were with the antennae in the down position for all four of us (two with broken antennae). The two that suffered broken antennae will be filing a warranty claim this coming week. It should be honored because the design is obviously deficient in that area.
So after 5 or more years of different Bluetooth helmet communicators, the PackTalk actually works and does everything that it's advertised to do. We're extremely happy with them, especially after our 2+ years experience with the other leading brand.