As surprising as this may seem, we are genuinely enthusiastic to receive new Bluetooth headsets to test with our iPhones; having used similar, earlier earpieces before with our favorite mobile phones, we are always looking for the latest and greatest ways to communicate without holding phones up to ears, and Bluetooth offers the wireless solution. A good Bluetooth headset places a small, lightweight combination of speaker, microphone, and battery in your ear, enabling you to hear your callers and callers to hear you for multiple hours of conversation.
This week, we’ve tested two new Bluetooth 1.2 headsets that we really wanted to love: Aliph’s new Jawbone Bluetooth Headset ($120), and Bluetake’s BT400GL Bluetooth Headset ($65). They’re both major contrasts with a headset we’ve considered for the past year to be a very solid reference point, Plantronics’ Voyager 510 ($100), which we’re not fully reviewing today because of its age, but rather using merely as a useful comparative design. Whereas the Voyager is fairly typical of Bluetooth headsets that can be used with iPhones, other cell phones, and computers, the others are not; each has a unique feature designed to appeal to the ears or eyes.
Put simply, Aliph’s Jawbone packages a wicked new technology in a sleek enclosure that really demands a second-generation update. Rather than relying on the shapes and designs of past Bluetooth earpieces, Aliph went with a unique new design that looks cool in the package, and on your ear: from the outside, it looks like a glossy black, silver, or red plastic box (measuring 45.7mm by 55.9mm by 17.8mm) that’s been gently curved, with a single frosted plastic line dividing its left-most sixth from its remaining five-sixths of plastic grille. You can choose from one of four included metal and rubber ear mounts, and five different rubber earbuds that rest on the edge of your ear canal. Aliph also includes a wall charger that lets you keep Jawbone juiced up between six-hour talk sessions, or after 120 hours of standby time.
What’s simultaneously cool and challenging about the enclosure is the minimalism.
Mounted on your right ear, the leftmost sixth is actually a button, and the frosted plastic divider is a line of light that flashes white when Jawbone’s turned on, red to let you know it’s turning off, and red and white to signal that it’s ready to pair with your iPhone. Aliph hides Jawbone’s second button under the grille immediately to the right of the light, so subtly that you wouldn’t even know to press or use it properly without looking at the device’s instructions.
Holding the second button for 3 seconds powers Jawbone on or off. Pressing it quickly answers or ends a call. Pressing the first button once turns the volume up. Holding it for 3 seconds activates or deactivates its coolest feature when Jawbone’s on, or initiates pairing mode when Jawbone’s off. Most Bluetooth headsets we’ve tested assign these features, and sometimes more, to four buttons; Aliph’s use of only two isn’t intuitive, but works fine after you know what you’re doing.
Holding the second button for 3 seconds powers Jawbone on or off.
Pressing it quickly answers or ends a call. Pressing the first button once turns the volume up. Holding it for 3 seconds activates or deactivates its coolest feature when Jawbone’s on, or initiates pairing mode when Jawbone’s off. Most Bluetooth headsets we’ve tested assign these features, and sometimes more, to four buttons; Aliph’s use of only two isn’t intuitive, but works fine after you know what you’re doing.
Noise Shield’s performance is a contrast with the Voyager 510 in that Plantronics—like many other companies making Bluetooth wireless devices—also touted its noise-cancelling microphone as a major feature, and though it’s much better than some of the devices out there, 510 can’t screen out the sort of ambient noise that Jawbone can. Many noise-cancelling microphones do little more than reduce wind noise, and then, not powerful wind noise; Jawbone screens out lots of noise, and well.
Incoming calls also sound very good. At its peak volume, most easily reached by using the iPhone’s side volume controls, we found callers easy to hear even in noisy environments, though not ear-splitting. Voices sounded clear, and we didn’t experience any unusual disconnections from the iPhone; pairing was smooth and consistent during our testing.
Aliph’s only major problem is one that many manufacturers struggle with: Jawbone is just not as comfortable as it needs to be.