Gear Review – Sena 10R and RC4

Back in June I won an RC4 remote that Sena was giving away on Instagram. Once it arrived, I had to figure out which headset to pair it with. Choosing a bluetooth communicator/headset is pretty hard these days, most companies do the basics similarly well and the deciding factors for everyone vary on what kind of end-user they are. My choice was at least narrowed down to Sena products, to make sure I could use my shiny new toy. I asked the Sena marketing representative who was in charge of my giveaway which would pair best with the RC4 and was told the office favorite was the low profile 10R. After looking at the options available, how I would be using a bluetooth communicator, and how much I wanted to spend; I decided on the 10R and ordered one from Revzilla. I’ve used them both for the past 4 months, and this is what I think.

Senastuff

Installation and Setup

Installation is pretty quick and easy, Sena provides good instructions and plenty of double-sided tape and sticky back velcro for attachment. Some helmets may require the battery pack to be attached to the rear of the helmet with the provided tape or velcro. The box also includes 2 microphones, a wired low profile dot mic and a boom mic for use with 3/4 or modular helmets.

Setting up my helmet, a Nexx X.D1, made things a little bit easier as it is set up for the Nexx X-Com* and has cutouts or pockets that accommodate the speakers, battery pack, microphone, and wiring. Everything either slips into place or is peel and stick, wiring to each piece is easily concealed by the pads where there is not a channel provided. The hardest part of installation was deciding where to mount the outside module.

*The Nexx X-Com is also made by Sena, and is very similar in specification to the older Sena SMH-10R. The X-Com is not compatible with the RC4 and runs about $85 more than the 10R.

10R Close up

After installation, pairing to your phone is not too difficult. The included instructions walk you through it, but the quick version is – hold the center (Sena) button until you get into the configuration menu, use the +/- buttons to click through the options until you hear “phone pairing” and then open the bluetooth settings on your phone and select the Sena.

This is where things get complex. You can then connect to the Sena Utility app on your smartphone to see if the firmware is up to date. If an update is needed, you will need to download either the Sena Device Manager program to a windows or mac computer, connect your headset via USB, and use that tool to update. A THIRD app, Sena Rideconnected, can then be setup and used for unlimited range pairing using your phone’s data connection. Everything works, none of it’s hard, but it’s more complex than it should be, it could be all simplified into one app.

Pairing the RC4 is similar to phone pairing, with one additional step that took me a solid hour and contemplating sending back the free thing I got. Hold the center (Sena) button until you get into the configuration menu, use the +/- buttons to click through the options until you hear “remote control pairing”, and click the center button again. If you don’t do the latter, it will not attempt to pair. Phone pairing does not require clicking the button again. This additional step is also not clear in all of the instructions provided, but is now clearly listed on the Sena website. This could also be controlled by the app and is not.

Hardware, Functionality, and Battery Life

Both the 10R and RC4 have some things in common, they share the same level of fit and finish, fantastic. They have soft touch rubber on all surfaces that are touched, port covers fit securely and have shown no sign of leaks in rain. Buttons have a great tactile feel, are easy to tell by touch with or without gloves, and have a confident press. Both are relatively simple interfaces, with 3 and 4 buttons for the 10R and RC4, respectively.

However with the simple interface comes a downside that could be a deal breaker for many – there is a secret language of timed button presses, combinations, and audio tones required to operate the devices. I was ok with this and kept the cheat sheets Sena provides close while I was learning to use them, but needed to refer to the full user manual on a couple of occasions and still for some reason can never get it to end a call. I can definitely see some consumers choosing other products for simpler operation.

The 10R works as it should, some functions are good, some are great. Voice quality is probably it’s best feature. According to a everyone I’ve asked when calling, wind noise is eliminated below 50 MPH. Above 50 MPH noise is present but my voice is still clear and understandable. Audio quality is clear at all but the highest volume at which point it starts to clip. I wear earplugs 99% of the time and I do need to keep it turned up fairly high. I am able to hear music and call audio well up to 70 MPH; above that wind noise is just too much. FM radio is a thing it does, reception isn’t the worst, but it’s not great and when I want music I listen through my phone. Red and blue LEDs in the dividing strips between the buttons are bright and easy to see in even bright daylight.

The RC4 has grippy rubber on the inside of the claw and grips very securely, if needed Sena includes thick rubber bands to slide over your grip. The claw is made from aluminum and has a fairly strong spring to hold onto the grip. This design conveniently places the controller within reach of your left thumb, however does increase reach to the other controls on your left hand. Button layout matches the 10R unit with the addition of a multifunction button that can be used to control additional functions on other Sena devices. There is one red LED indicator light to signal when the device is turned on/off, battery life when turned on, and when the device is in pairing mode. This LED is very dim and can only be clearly seen indoors or at night.

RC4

Battery life between the two could not be more different. The 10R advertises 10 hours of battery and seems to be accurate as far as usage time goes when streaming music, receiving directions, and talking on the phone. Standby time is longer. Listening to music both ways on my 20-30 minute commute the battery lasts about 2 weeks. Listening to music all day on a road trip, it lasts about a day and a half. I would suggest charging nightly or getting comfortable with a USB cable running to your helmet during the day if using heavily. The RC4 battery life is abysmal, it runs on a 2016 coin cell battery instead of a rechargeable cell like their earlier handlebar remote. It’s supposed to last 5 months. I find in daily use commuting it lasts 2-3 weeks max and it lasted 3 days of all day road trip use. I was pleased to see that 2 batteries were included in the box,  I was not as pleased when I discovered why.

Summary

I imagine my usage is pretty similar to others; I mostly use it for music and directions via Waze or Google maps on my phone, occasionally for phone calls, I have not had a chance to try pairing it with other riders yet. For my purposes the 10R is pretty good, I am happy with my purchase, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to a friend.

The RC4 does make the 10R easier to use in that I can keep my hand on the controls but I don’t think I would recommend it. At its current price point (MSRP $99, about $90 retail) you should get a visible LED and rechargeable battery. Lately in fact, I’ve been leaving it at home more often than not. Mostly due to the battery life, partly because it’s super easy to forget on the bike. While the RC4 is completely secure for use, it is impossible to secure against theft.

10R Helmet

Specifications Summary

Full specs can be found at Sena.com.

10R

  • Talk time: 10 hours
  • Bluetooth 4.1
    • Headset Profile (HSP)
    • Hands-Free Profile (HFP)
    • Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP)
    • Audio Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP)
  • Intercom Working distance: up to 900 meters (0.5 miles) in open terrain
  • Advanced Noise Control™
  • Wind noise reduction
  • Built-in FM radio with RDS AF (Radio Data System Alternate Frequencies)
  • 10 preset station memory with automatic scan function

RC4

  • Operating time: 5 months (supposedly)
  • Water resistant
  • Maximum grip diameter: 38 mm
  • Minimum grip diameter: 24 mm
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • Working distance: up to 10 meters

 

Full Disclosure: I was given the RC4 at no cost as part of a promotional giveaway from Sena. I purchased the 10R at retail price from Revzilla.com. I was not asked, prompted, or encouraged to write this review.

 

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