Review: BlueAnt V1 Voice Control Bluetooth Headset
Several months ago, we reviewed BlueAnt Wireless's Z9i, a $100 Bluetooth 2.0 headset with a 5.5-hour battery and echo cancellation functionality that callers described as good but not great. This month, BlueAnt released V1 ($130), an upgraded version that we've decided to review only briefly as it is substantially the same as Z9i, but for the inclusion of a few new features. We'll point you to our prior review for the other details.
iPhone and iPhone 3G users won’t see any benefit from the company’s upgrade to Bluetooth 2.1 technology in V1, and they’ll also note that the talk time has decreased to five hours from the Z9i, despite the fact that this earpiece is a hint larger and cosmetically near identical in all ways but for color. Most of the design, including the 200 hour talk time, weight, and look of the earpiece—complete with the big glowing ant on the side—is the same as before. BlueAnt’s biggest obvious changes are the use of a silver striped body versus the Z9i’s black, the new inclusion of a mini USB-to-V1 charging adapter and car charging bulb, plus the presence of new Comply-style foam eartips in the package. These are in addition to the prior choice of two adjustable earstems, wall charger, and USB-to-V1 charging cable that are slightly different from the ones included with Z9i, but not importantly so.
The big change in V1 is under the hood. BlueAnt has added a substantially impressive new voice prompt and recognition feature called BlueGenie that transforms what used to be endless button combinations into simple commands. Want to know how much battery power is left? Press the unit’s multifunction button and say “check battery.” Need to pair it? Just say “Pair me.” Need a list of options? Ask “What Can I Say?” These commands, as well as specific number dialing commands, work 95% or better of the time in a quiet environment, with greater challenges as ambient noise becomes an issue. However, you can tell the headset to isolate your voice more effectively to improve its recognition under those circumstances. And more importantly, you can always hear whatever the headset is telling you—yes, in a very easy to comprehend voice that leads you through menus or offers quick prompts—because the earpieces fit well and don’t require much screwing around.
Before going into some of the issues we noted with the V1, it needs to be said that focusing too much on the problems would be a mistake. While they’re important to note, V1 generally does such a good job with voice recognition and prompting that inexperienced users will find it an absolute breeze to use. All you need to know how to use is a power button and two volume buttons; the rest, you can pretty much just speak, including even turning the power off. There are only limited exceptions to this; overall, the V1 makes voice control of the iPhone very easy, which is the reason it rates as well as it does given its price and other issues.
Speed dialing fans will find one big issue with the V1: its speed dial system is pretty lackluster and confusing; there’s no really easy way to explain it all. BlueAnt created nine speed dial positions, but populated the first five with its own choices, including “voicemail,” “home,” “office,” “favorite,” and GOOG-411, a toll-free Google service that helps you get destination information from Google using voice prompts. You dial these slots by name rather than number. While BlueAnt’s picks might make some sense, you may not want to use them for these purposes or dial using those words, and the next four positions are dialed by number (“Call Speed Dial 6”). This appears to be a way of improving the voice recognition system’s accuracy, as it sometimes confuses numbers, but it’s not convenient for all users.
Then there’s the way the speed dialing list is programmed with the iPhone. As convoluted as this may sound, iPhone users will need to arrange their Favorites list in Contacts to match with the aforementioned speed dial positions, omitting position 5 in favor of GOOG-411. The alternative is to have all their callers dial the iPhone with V1 paired, and then add the contacts manually one by one into V1 by holding down two buttons on the headset to remember a given number. This is a lot of hassle for what should be such a simple feature to use.
Our only other major issue with the V1 is a carryover from the Z9i: there’s no doubt that Aliph’s Jawbone delivers substantially better noise isolation than the V1, as callers told us that the Z9i and V1 were basically indistinguishable from one another when they were placed in their respective “standard” and “max” isolating modes. The same callers gave the Z9i a very slight edge over the V1 on voice quality, noting that their sound signatures weren’t identical.
In the big picture, we consider the V1 to be a nice upgrade over the Z9i and a strong alternative to the latest version of the Jawbone. BlueAnt’s offering doesn’t match Aliph’s for high-noise environments, but its good noise cancellation is bettered by the voice control functionality, which is surprisingly well-implemented in all ways save speed dialing. V1 is also a comfortable earpiece to wear, with the adjustable ear stem and tip combination rating amongst the best we’ve used. Although the price is high by consumer Bluetooth headset standards, V1 is solid enough for the price to be worthy of our strong general recommendation.