Technology marches ever forward, and Sena—one of the biggest manufacturers of Bluetooth bike-to-bike communicator systems—is not slacking. The company has just announced its next generation of comm systems in the 50S and lower-profile but same functionality 50R.
We see some pretty significant upgrades in the 50 series compared to the functionality of the previous generation of communicators. On the list you’ll see Mesh 2.0, which incorporates the latest version of Bluetooth with group functionality: every paired device can both send and receive data to every other paired device. Unlike older Bluetooth communicators which would “daisy-chain” in a one-to-one connection setup to connect more than one device, you can now join, in effect, a “group chat” with up to eight (for a total of a group of nine) of your riding buddies at a time with one connection. The 30 series supported mesh communication too (with fewer channels), but the upgrade touts better, more reliable connectivity. No more dropping out of chats and not being able to reconnect.
Sena has also addressed their oft-maligned speakers and redesigned and upgraded them. That’s great, since it’s one of the major complaints about all in-helmet communicators: they’re not loud enough. Companies are in a tough spot here; they don’t want to be sued for deafening their customers but they also need to make their audio systems loud enough to be heard over wind and engine noise. Speaker position within the helmet can make a big difference, so sometimes the speakers are plenty loud enough but just need an adjustment. Regardless, the 50 series speaker upgrade boasts a thinner, beveled design and a seven percent volume boost.
This new 50 series lists “direct digital assistant access” as a major selling point, though the astute reader will note that this isn’t a new feature. Indeed, my very old Sena SMH10 and not-quite-as-old 10C both talk to my Google Assistant when I ask them to. It’s a great feature, though, especially when you’re still miles out, hungry, and want to call ahead to make sure your favorite takeout place has your favorite meal ready for you when you get there.
The included combination WiFi-adapter-slash-charging-cable is a pretty snazzy new addition. If you’re within reach of WiFi, you can receive firmware updates to your device just by plugging it in, and it will upgrade and charge simultaneously. Any of us who have struggled with connecting our Sena units to a laptop for a firmware upgrade will breathe a sigh of relief on this one, and it’s a definite upgrade over the 30S “docking station.”
The 50S also boasts a “thirty percent faster” charge time than that previous model, but a sad trombone enters here: a full charge gives you only three hours of mesh communication time (or five hours of straight Bluetooth) before the device needs a recharge. If the comparison can hold any water, we’re going to predict that just like the 10 series “S” versus “R,” that lower-profile R model is thinner because it lacks battery capacity and will hold even less of a charge. That all might be fine for casual riders, but those of us who travel and are planted on our motorcycles for eight to ten hour days? Sena, your battery needs an upgrade right out of the box.
This new communicator is still listed on the Sena site as “coming soon” but a press release out of EICMA lists the 50S at $329 and the 50R at $299. This puts the new tech just a small sneeze away, price-wise, from the old tech. I bet the 30 series will be phased out, so if you’re budget-minded, this might be the time to look for clearance sales.