Bluetooth headsets are great, no doubt. Allowing easy hands-free calls, wirelessly, whilst maintaining access to much of your phone’s functionality is brilliant, making a Bluetooth device a must-have accessory for those always on the move.
So why is it that they have had such a bad reputation?
Are they too difficult to set up, with pairing and handset compatibility issues resulting in many a wasted afternoon and acute frustration? Is it the quality of the early devices, making it sound as though people are speaking through a tin can telephone in a wind tunnel, gargling muesli?
Or is it just because people feel a bit like a twerp wearing them?
Whatever it is that has made them so uncool, many of the big headset makers have taken great pains to shift away from this negaitve press. With the highest spec materials, amazing call quality and sporting designs that would make an architect weep in wonder, these three headsets scream ‘business-chic’ as opposed to ‘boy band reject’.
Aliph Jawbone Prime – £89.99
The first brand to position the Bluetooth headset as a luxury item and succeed, the Jawbone series of headsets offered exceptional call quality, a gorgeous design and a nice line in noise reduction.
The Prime continues this lineage effectively with an elegant and compact form factor, subtly placed buttons, wind-cancelling technology and a hefty price tag.
The Jawbone derives its name from the unique way that it picks up what you are saying, resting gingerly on the face and using sensors to detect movement in the jaw.
The Prime’s ‘NoiseAssassin’ technology uses this jaw vibration to sense when you are talking and filters out external noise automatically.
In addition, the volume of the caller on the other end is raised and lowered in
line with surrounding noise, picked up by a built-in external microphone.
Actually pairing the device is simple, holding down the ‘talk’ and volume buttons on the side for a couple of seconds is enough to alert any handset to the Jawbone Prime’s presence, and syncing is quick. An LED light gives a visual indication of what is going on.
In terms of comfort, the Prime comes with four different sizes of ear loops, as well as differently sized ear buds for the perfect fit. The loops aren’t required as the Prime nestles pretty well without them, but it adds an extra level of comfort. When on your head, the Prime barely reaches past the sideburns, resting at the top of the lower jaw and ready for vibro-action.
Weighing only 11 grams, the Prime causes little discomfort after extended usage, and the noise-cancelling feature is surprisingly effective, even walking around the bustling streets of Camden could not dampen the caller on the other end. Neither did we find ourselves shouting over traffic to be heard.
A stylish device, the Prime also comes in a vast array of colours in addition to its dimpled finish, matching any handset or mood. A nice touch, and a step towards courting the casual phone user as well as the businessman.
Battery life as well as voice quality was also tested on a marathon Playstation 3 session, a good place to get an idea of audio reception quality. The main thing it highlighted was just how bad the headsets other people use, with plenty of horrible echoing and background noise. Syncing with the PS3 was the usual Bluetooth cakewalk.
The Prime was done in around three and a half hours, which is not too bad considering the fact that it can be easily set to standby when not in use, and the constant activity when used as a gaming headset tends to drain a battery faster than normal. A quick recharge on the supplied USB charging cable (there is also a USB mains adapter) meant we were back in the game.
As an all-rounder, there is little to fault the Jawbone Prime. That bit of extra cash gets you a sleek, stylish Bluetooth device that is equally functional thanks to first-class NoiseAssassin technology, well worth it.
Plantronics Voyager PRO – £79.99
Definitely a case of placing form before function, the Voyager Pro strays little from the lineage, acting as a successor to the immensely popular Voyager 510 still riding high in sales charts years after release.
With a overwhelming sense of ‘if it ain’t broke,’ the Voyager Pro looks much like a last-gen Bluetooth headset, but it is rammed to the gills with bleeding-edge AudioIQ noise-cancelling functionality, as well as being made of the highest grade materials.
Pairing is a simple exercise, a clearly marked power button is depressed, and the accompanying LED gives a little flash of awareness. Input the code in your phone, and you’re ready to go! The Pro is not ashamed of requiring buttons to work, and as such places them in plain sight. The volume up/down keys are placed on the top of the ear loop, whilst the ‘talk’ button is squarely on the side of the earpiece.
Vocal cues are also offered, with the dulcet tones of a lady informing of muting status, as well as of low remaining battery life.
It might not be a voice you’ll hear too often, given that the battery life for the Voyager Pro is a whopping 6 hours talk time, with 5 days of standby. Arguably it ought to last all week given the size of the ear loop, but running out of juice at an inopportune moment is a good thing to never have to worry about.
It is a tad difficult to get over the retro styling of the Voyager Pro, as the bulky design and extended microphone boom are not pretty. Admittedly, the microphone is there primarily to perform a function and placing it as close to the mouth as possible just makes sense.
Those who aren’t fans of having equipment constantly plastered to their face will find a boom a better audio/noise cancelling solution than the Prime’s reliance on jaw vibration.
For that matter, the noise reduction is exemplary. The boom actually has two microphones, the usual inside mic for speaking into, and an outside mic for picking up ambient noise levels. The audio algorithms between the two pieces of audio allow the Voyager Pro to separate the ambient chatter from your voice, with stunning results.
The rubber earpiece supplied is fairly comfortable, but the weight in comparison to the Prime, particularly behind the ear, takes some getting used to. Coming in at 17 grams, the weight of the Pro is noticeable, yet well balanced on the ear.
Calls are crystal clear, and the difference between a device that has been manufactured for quality above all else is palpable, in terms of both use and feel. The specially chosen acoustic fabrics and steel microphone screens provide crisp, distortion-free output, so far as to get compliments on audio quality from other team members during a particularly heated battle in Call of Duty!
Whilst everything from washing machines to babies and annoying brothers can be heard in the background chatter of other players’ mics, the Pro managed to mix out practically all of the ambient noise, despite residing with others in a busy living room.
The ample choices of charging via USB, three and two-pin mains and even a car charger in the box was a nice perk, but a hectic afternoon of defending checkpoints and calling in artillery strikes resulted in the Pro losing only a third of battery life.
This is definitely the handset to go for if you are serious about having a sturdy, dependable Bluetooth headset with exemplary performance. The slightly unattractive styling, steep price and also the relatively unknown nature of Plantronics as a brand will make the Voyager Pro a tough sell to the average consumer.
However, the Voyager Pro is admittedly not an average Bluetooth headset for your average consumer, despite their protestations. The high-grade construction, peerless call quality and almost perfect noise reduction places the Voyager Pro firmly as a frontrunner in the premium Bluetooth headset market, making it a great choice for professionals constantly on the move.
BlueAnt Q1 - £79.99
Whilst the Jawbone Prime and Voyager Pro are evolutions on long-established technology, the BlueAnt shakes up the Bluetooth market with brand new voice recognition technology.
With no prompting or learning, the Q1 enables almost complete phone functionality using just voice commands.
A definite selling point, the Q1 recognises your voice immediately without any training and has a myriad of commands that allow you to answer calls, check battery status, redial numbers and even discover some handy tricks for how to use it by saying “Teach Me”.
Even the entire pairing process is conducted via a series of voice commands piped into your ear, making the Q1 tremendously easy to set up. All you need to say is ‘Pair Me’, and you’re away!
The Q1’s styling as sleek and futuristic as the technology inside it, a curved and minimalist design of dark-grey plastic with a main ‘talk’ button emblazoned with the BlueAnt logo, and two smaller volume keys on the top of the device.
Placing it near your mouth is paramount for getting it to work, as the voice prompting is super sensitive to various commands. A blustery day or travelling in a car can make the Q1 a tad difficult to use, so the best chance of it working is by positioning the microphone portion in the right direction.
The noise cancelling is quite some ways off the pace set by the Voyager Pro, and is even a couple of steps behind the Prime in the call quality stakes. Calls are still very much audible and the ‘voice isolation sensor’ which forgoes audio fidelity to increase audibility in busy locations (in Max mode) works well.
It is just a matter of being spoilt by the wind-cancelling tech in other devices that made the Q1 in arguably the most important department…
Nevertheless, the Q1 has the cool factor in spades, with call mute and call waiting support, automatic volume modulation according to the surroundings and a decent battery life of 4 hours talk time.
If any device existed to make Bluetooth headsets cool, then the Q1 is it. The mean form factor, the cool voice interface, even the ‘edgy’ logo, everything about the Q1 sets it apart, in a good way.