Monday, March 1, 2010

Battle of the Bluetooth headsets


By James Booth

Originally the realm of the uber-geek and those with an over-inflated sense of self-importance, the wireless Bluetooth headset is now as common as the mobile phone. As more and more states enact hands-free requirements while driving, a good wireless headset is becoming a commodity. But what model? What price range? Are they all the same, or do some, like the ones shown in Figure A, bring more to the table than others?


Five premium headsets. (click for larger image)

Wireless headsets come in a wide range of prices, from the cheap at $30, to the ultra-premium, promercial at over $300. In this product shootout, I examine five premium headsets, all hovering right around the $100 mark, to see which is best.

A $30 headset can't be expected to last long, six months if you're lucky. And let's face it, beyond $100 is more than most consumers are willing pay. But the premium headsets priced around $100 should be the top performers in the consumer market and should last the two years of most wireless contracts.

BlueAnt Z9i

The Z9i in Figure B is an upgraded model of BlueAnt's original Z9 Bluetooth headset featuring Voice Isolation Technology for improved noise suppression, wind noise reduction, and echo cancellation.


BlueAnt's Z9i Bluetooth headset. (click for larger image)

Two settings, Voice Isolation Standard and Voice Isolation Max, allow you to adjust to the surrounding environment's noise., and dual microphones work to clear communications in even the noisiest environments.

You can pair the Z9i with up to five different devices, with Multi-point technology letting you connect to two devices at the same time, switching between the two as needed. And once paired, the Z9i will connect and reconnect automatically.

Other features include a tie/shirt clip for storing the headset out of the way when not in use, two ear hooks, and two ear gels. Advertised use time is 200 hours on standby, and 5.5 hours of talk time. The Z9i is also firmware-upgradeable via PC, which is a large bonus.

I found the BlueAnt Z9i to be easy to set up and pair with a variety of devices, including PCs, several mobile phones and Windows Mobile devices, and the PS3 gaming console. The headset has excellent reception and sound quality, but I was told by people on the other end of calls that my voice was sometimes tinny; changing to Voice Isolation Max helped to remedy this. The noise reduction itself worked quite well in quieting general background noise, as well as wind noise from an open vehicle window and running water from a faucet.