Sena 10C – the first Bluetooth headset with a built-in action camera

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Sena's 10C - action cam and Bluetooth headset in one compact unit (Photo: Nick Lavars/Gizmag.com)

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Sena's 10C is the first Bluetooth headset to hit the market with a built-in action camera. It takes the intercom and phone integration features of the SMH-10, and mashes them together with the video capabilities of the Sena Prism we reviewed last week, while adding the convenience of dashcam-style video tagging. And after just a few days' use, we're happy to pronounce it the best gadget in the Sena range – one of those rare moments when you find yourself thinking "how come nobody ever thought of this before?"

Sena's Bluetooth headsets have been a favorite around the Gizmag office for some time now and just last week we reviewed the Korean company's first action camera, the Prism. The Prism may only be a few months old, but Sena is about to debut a product that's much, much better – and they've been nice enough to send us one for pre-launch review.

The 10C somehow manages to pack the Bluetooth headset and helmet camera gear into a single unit that's not much bigger than the 20S headset. It weighs 3.3 ounces (94 grams), a touch over 50 percent heavier than the 20S, but once it's on your lid, you don't notice it's there.

Installation is as simple as ever and you'll be able to fit a 10C to your helmet in about the same few minutes it takes to fit a SMH-10 or 20S. The main unit clamps onto the side of the lid, or sticks there with a strong adhesive, and you place the boom mic and earpads in with velcro. The one additional step you'll need to go through is leveling your camera, which is done with an angle adjustment lock to adjust up-down pitch, and you can then rotate the lens itself through about 30 degrees to get yourself a level video horizon.

The control system will be instantly familiar to Sena headset users. The jog dial and phone button are both where you expect them to be, although the jog dial is a fair bit smaller than previous units. These manage all your intercom, phone, FM radio and music controls. The intercom has a 1.6 km (1 mi) range, a bit of a drop from the massive 2 km range on the 20S, and you can only conference up to 4 intercoms where the 20S can handle 8. But unless you regularly ride with that many intercoms going, it's still a very practical unit.

On the top is a new button that controls the camera. One touch turns the camera on, and once it's on, one press will take a still photo, and holding it down will start video recording. Everything you do with the camera is reflected in an audio prompt through the headphones, so you always know what's going on.

Two taps on the camera button and the 10C will begin "video tagging," which is effectively a dashcam mode in which the camera records constantly in one-minute intervals, then deletes them. If something of interest happens while you're riding, you hold down the camera button and "tag" the footage, which means the camera will save the previous minute, the current minute and the next minute.

Realistically, 99 percent of the time you're riding, there's nothing happening that's worth recording. That's where video tagging comes in handy – as soon as something cool happens, you can save it. I reckon I'll start tagging video as a habit every time I ride, you never know what I might catch on there.

As you record video, the 10C overlays it with audio from the headset so you can live-narrate your own ride video. If you've got music playing through your phone, it'll record that as well, and if you're riding with buddies and talking on the intercoms, it'll record them as well. You'll also get alert noises from your phone in your footage, but for some reason phone call audio isn't included. Wind noise reduction on the helmet microphone audio is great; I've mounted this to the noisiest, windiest helmet I've got and the audio is still fine.

Note: YouTube hasn't been particularly kind to this video in its compression routine. Video files straight off the camera are noticeably clearer.

When I heard Sena was sticking an intercom and a helmet cam together into one package, my first thoughts were "awesome… oh wait, won't the camera drain the battery so fast that I won't be able to talk to anyone or listen to podcasts on my way home?"

The answer is yes. The 10C packs a huge battery that's good for a massive 17 hours' worth of talk time on the intercoms, but that's only enough for two hours of camera use. But Sena has taken this exact problem into account. After two hours with the camera on, the battery will be down to about 20 percent. At this point the camera shuts off, leaving you a solid two hours' worth of intercom time to get home with. I think that's a great solution that'll make the 10C as useful on long group rides as it is on shorter commutes. If you've got an external charger or 12V socket on your bike, you can also charge it on the go to avoid battery issues altogether.

Is it perfect? No. I think video and image quality from the 125-degree camera could stand to improve. It takes 1080p/30fps or 720p/60 or 30fps video, and 3.5-megapixel still shots, but dynamic range, sharpness, quickness of ISO adjustment in changing light conditions and the overall feel of image quality is a step behind the market leaders in action cameras. Plus the video compression tends to get a bit blocky and colour-bandy, which is noticeable on a big screen. If maximum image quality is your #1 priority, you'll need to look elsewhere for the moment.

Of course, top quality sensors and lenses don't come cheap, and the 10C is being built to a price point - and that's good news.

Secondly, if you're going to use it every day, you'll want to find some way of protecting the camera lens against mud, stones and general road grit, but I'm sure Sena's working on a replaceable lens filter for just that reason, as they told me they are for the Prism.

I'd also like to see audio from the headset microphone separated onto a different audio channel from any music you're playing in the lid, because there's no way to mix the audio in post production if the music's too loud. Music left/voice right would be a handy optional setting for me.

And finally, I'm a fan of the voice control system on the 20S, which lets you run a bunch of important functions hands-free. There's no voice control on the 10C, but it'd be great to be able to say "Sena, take a photo" or "Sena, record video" and have the unit turn on the camera and get to work.

Still, overall it's a fantastic gadget and there's nothing on the market that's like it. It goes on sale in a couple of weeks for US$349 - less than a hundred bucks more than the 20S, and $50 cheaper than a Gopro 4 Silver. I can't think of a good reason why you'd want to buy a headset without a built-in camera. Well done Sena for moving the goalposts, and we hope to see a 10C Pro with top-notch video sometime in the future!

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