Listen up, 2.5mm-to-3.5mm headset adapters. You too, crappy shape changers required by an absurd chunk of the worthwhile phones out there: We’re through. Game over. Just like voicemail and hand shakes, we’re officially declaring war on any middleman component required to pump audio from a cell phone to decent headphones, along with the phones that use them.
There was a time when this sort of thing was acceptable. It was only a few years ago. Most phones were hitting the shelves with but a few hundred megabytes of storage space, while standalone audio players touted capacities that all but the most dedicated downloaders had a hard time filling. Then came microSD and its high capacity variant, allowing users to pack up to 16 gigs of data (soon to be 32 gigabytes and, with the eventual evolution of SDXC, up to 2 terabytes) onto a card roughly the size of your thumbnail. Then came the iPhone which, whether the decriers like it or not, made much of the general populace give a damn about what their cell phones could do. With 3G networks up across the country and 4G networks beginning to roll out, audio streaming and on-the-go music downloads are becoming commonplace.
Phone manufacturers can no longer afford to implement media playback as an afterthought – but if they insist on requiring headset adapters, that’s exactly what they’re doing.
Enjoying audio on the go has always been a two part experience. You have the first part, the player itself, acting as the storage and control unit. You have the second part, the headphones, which allow you to bask your ears in aural delights without blasting away everyone around you. That’s all it should be. Introduce a third component, and the whole idea gets thrown out of whack due to one key problem.
It’s the same problem that forces TV networks to dispense 3D glasses in grocery stores nationwide every time they want to do a 3D segment: people lose crap. They can jam their cellphone in their pocket, and headphones are cumbersome and commonly used enough across multiple devices that they’re actually somewhat hard to lose. That little 2-inch wire tacked on to the end for use with a single device? Two days after taking it out of the box, it’s stuffed in a drawer or glovebox, destined for an “Oh, that’s where I put that” moment months from now.
Making things worse, phone manufacturers often decide that they don’t even need to include an adapter in the box. Take the T-Mobile G1, for example. It was the world’s first Android-powered phone. It had a relatively decent media playback offering, along with access to Amazon’s MP3 store. Yet, for the first 2 months after launch, there was no adapter included in the box. Sure, you could use the absolutely terrible headphones they included in the box, which were pre-shaped for compatibility with the HTC ExtUSB port. Or you could jam needles in your ear. Same difference, really. Phone manufacturers seem to have the idea that if they include a crappy pair of headphones in the box, they’re off the hook. This idea is crap.
So now they’ve forced you to use some stupid dongle whenever you want to use your own buds, but they didn’t put one in the box. At least they’d make it easy to buy one, right? Nope – usually not. These items are too low-margin for most manufacturers to bother selling directly, and carriers rarely offer them. RadioShack has the 2.5mm-to-3.5mm bits, but I’ve yet to see any carry even the most popular brand-specific adapters. With the obvious options out, you’re now forced to make a purchase on Amazon or slum it with the third party resellers on eBay, just to listen to your music on the phone you just dropped $200 bucks on.
Eventually this problem might just fade away, thanks to stereo Bluetooth headphones. That is, be it that you want to drop another few hundred bucks on a quality pair of Bluetooth headphones, and if stereo Bluetooth headphones ever stop being complete trash. Even with the nicest Bluetooth headphones I’ve tried, the slightest bit of interference can make the sultry sounds of Norah Jones or Marvin Gaye sound as if they’re being played back through a garbage disposal. Maybe Bluetooth 3.0 will come and save us all – until then (and probably long thereafter), we’ll go ahead and stick with our standard, 3.5mm headphones.
We’ve been saying this to manufacturers for quite some time now, raising the issue any time they demoed a phone on which a 3.5mm port was absent. We’ve heard every excuse, from “There’s no space!” to “It wasn’t cost effective”. Garbage, every one of them. Figure out how to make it fit. As for the cost of squeezing it in there? Consider it the final cost of any research, development, and licensing associated with media playback, as it’s all entirely in vain if you’re requiring an audio adapter.
From here on out, this is going to be one of the very first things we look for. If your phone requires a headset adapter, your phone sucks. If a new phone is announced and lacks a 3.5mm headset port, we’ll make every effort to highlight this fault. When we review phones that lack 3.5mm headset ports, we’ll put it in big bold letters. We will never again recommend anyone buy a phone that requires an audio adapter. It’s time for these things to die.