Do cell phones need an earpiece?

image Can the Dell Mini 5 phone be used as a … phone? included the following concern:

“[T]he Mini 5 does not have an earpiece. This means that without a Bluetooth or wired headset, those around you will hear both ends of your conversation through the speaker. Maybe it’s the attorney in me, but I think phone conversations should be  private.”

Steve of NanOsNotes posted a lengthy and interesting comment, which he later turned into an article on his blog, Dell Mini 5 debate update. Let’s continue the debate, not just for the sake of debate, but because the issue may have implications for whether the Mini 5 would be a good purchase for you.

(Steve’s comments in bold, quoted type, followed by mine in regular, unquoted type).

“There seems to be some social hangup about having a full, two-way call in public, yet no one thinks twice about people nearby overhearing one side of any call.”

Let’s leave aside that those around you will learn less about your conversation hearing only one end of it rather than both, and focus on how well those around you can hear your end. Steve is correct of course that your side of the call could still be heard by those around you. Indeed, for a truly private call, I would move into a private area (though see below). I usually can speak so my listener hears me but those around me can’t make out my words by modulating the volume of my voice and by speaking directly into the microphone. By contrast, the speaker through which I must hear the other end of the call (there being no earpiece) can’t be modulated so easily. In order for me to hear, those around me may hear. I could try to have my ear form a perfect seal over the speaker and adjust the volume accordingly. Based on my experience with the HTC Advantage, this is difficult while holding such a large phone.

“It is just one small step to hearing both sides of a private telephone call, and remember that even now with one-sided calls, anyone near you will only hear your side of the conversation BUT someone the other end is, undoubtedly, overhearing the other end of the conversation.”

I can’t do anything about the other end of the phone conversation. I only have some degree of control over my end.

“What is the difference between hearing a two-sided conversation between two (or more) people in a restaurant booth and hearing a two-way telephone conversation? I would argue that there is no real difference. It is all in the head of the listener.”

I actually was thinking about this last Friday evening. My wife and I were having dinner at a Hawaiian fusion restaurant in Downtown LA. We both have difficulty hearing conversation in a noisy room, and we obviously wanted to hear each other. So I asked for a quiet table. The restaurant tried. But no such luck. At one adjacent table, a young attorney was speaking overly loud on her cell phone, in an “I’m important, look at me” mode, while her hapless dinner partner stared at the ceiling acoustical tiles. At another adjacent table, a self-styled lifestyle trainer/coach from SF was loudly hawking his dubious wares to his hapless dinner partner.

The respective decibel levels of the attorney and the coach were about equal. Yet the attorney on the cell phone disturbed me more. Why? I guess because I expect people to talk in a restaurant, but regard cell phone use as usually gratuitous. Is this all in my head? Probably.

“What I am getting at is that this hangup about people hearing both sides of a phone call is, really, all in one’s head. It is a social hangup and not a privacy thing – if it were a privacy matter, then people would not speak on a phone in any conditions whereby they may be overheard; like taking a phone call by walking outside a meeting, for example.”

This goes to the core of my problem. Sometimes I take a call that I truly want or need to be private. This is particularly true when wearing my attorney hat. I definitely will step out of a meeting. But where do I go? The next room? In most office buildings, the acoustics are poor, so the sound coming out of my speaker (as opposed to my earpiece) still may be heard in adjoining rooms. I’ve experienced this with speakerphones, which are not altogether different. Go outside? Often there are people all around there too. Plus the ambient noise may make it difficult for me to hear.

Your thoughts?

[picture source]

3 Responses to “Do cell phones need an earpiece?”


  • I’m surprised you didn’t mention anything about the massive nuisance that is (or was) the Nextel walkie-talkie modes. Thankfully they’re all but extinct these days.

  • I wonder how the first ‘brick’ cell phone users felt when displaying their new status symbol in public.
    Strange – but in a superior way, I’d wager.

    I predict that two-way non-private calls will increase but because human beings are what they are, I don’t see it as becoming prevalent; they (finally) seem to have some modesty when sharing that which no one else cares to share with them. Perhaps texting would be the answer.
    It is, again, just a matter of choice depending on life style. I occasionally use the HTC Advantage as a cell phone and I would argue that it is less of a cell phone in the common sense, than the Dell will be.
    (I have a work-supplied cell phone which is used throughout the working week but) – Is the Dell good for me on a personal level?
    I don’t get many personal calls – I am not a cell phone animal – two or three calls (max!) per week for me. I prefer to use my phone for a quick check of email and (rarely) texts with a helping of some news and a simple game or two for when I am waiting around. A regular cell phone screen is just not large enough for my eyes. But then, a 10 to 12 in tablet with a Bluetooth earpiece would be acceptable to me, I’d simply stick a ear piece I when receiving a call – which is not something which could be practiced when in a car.
    A Dell Min5-sized phone? Yes, I could use it AND be able to read my email and news better.
    In the end, I think Genghis, and many others, probably asks themselves self the same question I do:
    “When researching, buying and trying all these gadgets, what the heck am I really looking for?”
    My response is; ‘The perfect gadget for me.” The problem is I know that until we have gadgets capable of morphing from one device to another, I will never find the ‘perfect gadget’.

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