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Travel Gadget Reviews: New Bluetooth Headsets

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Bluetooth Headset Review - Jawbone IconThe new generation of Bluetooth headsets are becoming smaller, sleeker and more affordable. Gadget guy Phil Baker reviews two new Bluetooth headsets on the market: Jawbone’s Icon and BlueAnt’s Q1.

When the Jawbone Bluetooth headset was introduced in 2007 it was one of the first cell phone headsets among many mediocre ones to provide good performance in noisy environments.

The Jawbone got kudos for its appearance, thanks to an attractive industrial design from Yves Behar, a noted San Francisco industrial designer. The shiny chrome trim and blinking blue lights of other units were replaced by a more tasteful curved shape in black with a subtle diamond pattern.

The Jawbone Icon’s Bombshell modelThe Jawbone’s success was based on its ability to detect the movement of your jaw when talking and using that motion to turn its noise reduction circuitry on to reduce the background noise heard by the person you were speaking with.  It generally worked well, but required that the headset be fully seated against your jawbone.

The company’s latest model, the Icon, has just been released. It builds on that same technology, but offers a number of new features and addresses some of the previous weaknesses. Most importantly, in my several weeks of testing, I found its talk quality to be outstanding, better than its earlier models.

More gadget reviews: Top Mobile Phones for Travelers

Jawbone Icon Rogue - Bluetooth reviewThe new design is shorter than earlier models, making it more discreet. It comes in a half-dozen designs, all the same size, but varying in its front face. They include the Hero (a black dimpled surface), the Bombshell (an undulating gold surface) and the Rogue (a translucent ruby-red skin). Each costs $99, which is about $30 less than earlier models.

One of the biggest improvements is in its controls. Its activation button is now a switch on the top edge instead of the front surface, and there’s now a real off-on slider switch, the first on any headset I’ve reviewed.

The proprietary charging connector has been replaced with a standard micro USB port, eliminating the need for a special cable. There is now an automatic volume control rather than a manual one, which I found to work well. A multi-purpose LED light is on the back of the unit.

The Gadget Guy’s previous review: The Best Bluetooth Headsets for Travelers.

Jawbone Icon Thinker - Bluetooth ReviewThe Icon has voice prompting. When you push the top button; a voice alerts you to how much approximate talk time is remaining. The voice also recites the phone number of an incoming call and provides several other messages, such as “recharge now.” You can choose from several voices (from a robust male voice to a sexy female).

Once I selected the correct tip for my ear among a half dozen, the Icon was comfortable to wear for hours of use. It comes with an optional ear hook, which didn’t stay attached very well, and I chose not to use.

Performance was excellent, based on a series of tests, including conversations in my car with the radio playing loudly and with air blowing from the air conditioner into the microphone. While loud background noises could still be heard on the other end of the conversation, they were sufficiently muffled and I was heard clearly.  The voice I heard was slightly trebly, but always very clear.

Get help on the road with: Travel Assistance On Your Smartphone

Jawbone Icon Hero - Bluetooth ReviewSeveral Jawbone apps can be downloaded onto the Icon from a PC or Mac that add new features. They include the spoken messages in French, German and Spanish, different languages, and several extra cost services that let you transcribe messages or add voice dialing to a voice-enabled phone.

I was able to use the Icon paired to two phones at the same time (an iPhone and Droid), and it connected automatically to the phone I used to make or receive a call. If you use the Icon with an iPhone, a battery meter appears at the top of the iPhone’s screen to show its condition, something only previously available with Apple’s own Bluetooth headset.

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Another Bluetooth Option – The BlueAnt Q1

BlueAnt’s Q1, first reviewed last May, has gone through a Bluetooth upgrade called A2DP. That lets the Q1 be used not only for calls, but also to listen to music and voice being played from your phone, including your music and podcasts.

Blueant Q1The Q1 is about 30 percent larger than the Icon, but it’s still quite attractive with its convex shape, and gray brushed metallic finish. It has a large circular on-off button on the front, and up/down volume buttons on one edge. Comfort was excellent for all-day wear.

The Q1’s voice control goes well beyond that of the Icon. The Q1 understands your voice and reacts to spoken commands. Like the Icon, an incoming call speaks the number, but the Q1 would ask if I wanted to answer, and respond appropriately to a “yes” or “no.”  You can also command it to make calls such as “call speed dial one” and it will dial automatically.

The Q1’s multipoint feature is similar to the Icon’s, allowing it work with different phones. The Q1’s talk quality is very good in most environments, but not as good as the Icon in noisy or windy environments.

Still, it’s one of the better choices available and its voice recognition makes it easy to use. One negative that remains is that it doesn’t use a standard micro USB connector, requiring its own unique cable.

The Q1 costs $99 and is available from

By Phil Baker for You can read Phil’s blog at, and check out his new book, From Concept to Consumer: How to Turn Ideas into Money.

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