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August 31, 2010


Do the Bluetooth Thing Right with a Jawbone Icon

Recently, they passed a law up here in the great, white world of Canada that makes it illegal to use a hand-held device, such as a phone, while driving a car. Getting caught doing so is now quite the expensive affair. But it’s ok – I’m still safe, until they outlaw driving with your feet. What a sad day that’ll be.

In any case, to avoid paying hundreds of dollars in fines for something that I absolutely do not do regularly (*wink wink*), I decided that it was time to invest in a bluetooth headset. Being a geek, making such a decision is somewhat exciting, because it means I get to do what geeks love to do: Research new toys!

Jawbone Icon - Headset Views

This model is called "The Thinker."

So, long story short (I know, what fun is that), I arrived at the latest product from Aliph: The Jawbone Icon. Here is my review of the device.

The headset itself is small and light, and sits at the side of your head rather inconspicuously. However, I suppose it could draw as much or as little attention to your ear as you desire, depending on which model you pick up.

The Jawbone Icon web site shows you six varieties, each with their own name, some more subtle than others. Some look like flamboyant pieces of jewelry hanging off your ear. All of them are technically identical, though; The differences are purely aesthetic. I also found that if you look around, you can find varieties that aren’t displayed on the Jawbone site.

Don’t confuse this headset with its predecessor, the Jawbone Prime. Besides the Icon being significantly smaller than the Prime, there are so many other reasons why you want the Icon. Better noise cancellation, better battery life, a standard micro-USB charging connector and software updates, to name just a few. The product page has a full feature comparison available for you to look at.

So Just How Good Is the Noise Cancellation, Anyway?

The Icon is designed to be worn so that it touches the side of your face. When you speak, it senses the vibrations generated by your voice, and uses that to determine what’s background noise, and what’s actually your voice.

So, what? Aliph calls the technology “Noise Assassin.” In my experience, they aren’t exaggerating with the name. I tested the headset in a call while I was driving with the window down, wind blowing into the car, and my stereo playing music loudly, and the person I was talking to said they were just barely able to hear the music and the wind. My voice was clear, and they had no problem understanding me. Impressive? Very.

Too good to be true? Maybe. Although most people I’ve spoken to who have one are very pleased with them, not everyone is. Joshua Nozzi uses one with his iPhone 4, and he’s received complaints that people couldn’t hear his voice over background noise in calls. Oddly enough, he said that turning off the Noise Assassin feature actually improved call quality.

Conclusion: While the majority of users are very pleased with the Icon’s noise cancellation technology, there are a few who would suggest that it may not always work as well as it should. Whether that has more to do with the phones, and not the headsets themselves, is anyone’s guess.

Fit and Comfort

Jawbone Icon - EarbudsFit and comfort level is probably the one other factor as important as noise cancellation in a headset. The Icon comes with seven sizes/styles of earbud (pictured to the right; one comes already on the device) and an optional ear loop. The two at the top of the picture are designed to hold the headset in your ear securely without the ear loop, and they do a pretty good job of it.

It’s worth noting that to secure the top earbuds in your ear, you have to insert the headset facing down, and then twist it upwards so that the earbud’s loop slides into the back of your ear. Sometimes I could swear I can feel the cartilage in my ear crunching when I do this. Or maybe it’s just my superhuman hearing picking up somebody else’s cartilage crunching. Who knows.

Besides that, once I figured out a combination that I liked, I found it to be comfortable, fit securely, and cause minimal strain on my ear even after a couple hours.

Charging and Software Updates

Jawbone Icon - MyTALKSince when did bluetooth headsets have upgradeable firmware? Since now.

The Icon charges with a micro-USB connector. You can charge it either by plugging it into a wall outlet with its included charger, or by plugging it into a USB port on your computer. When connected to a computer, you can install things like software upgrades (to enable new features) or different voices (because it does cool things like read incoming caller ids and battery level to you).

This is done from the MyTALK web site. Install a small app on your computer, and start syncing with your headset. The site’s still in beta, but works extremely well and is easy to use. As soon as I connected mine, there was an update available that allowed me to listen to music from my phone on the headset, in addition to using it strictly for calling. Also, if you use an iPhone, you can install an app on your phone that shows you the battery level of the headset in line with your iPhone’s battery meter. Too bad that feature isn’t available for Windows Mobile or Google Android.

To Buy, Or Not To Buy?

If you’re looking for a good bluetooth headset, buy the Jawbone Icon. Just don’t buy it from your service provider (*ahem* AT&T stores *ahem*), unless you feel like paying more than you should. I bought mine from a reputable eBay merchant (sealed retail package), and even after shipping, I got it for $25 less than I would have anywhere else. But my point is, shop around, and you’ll find they’re relatively inexpensive.

Or you could just buy 51 burritos. That’d probably be good, too. Just saying.

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sep 17 2010

    While I’ve never tried the Jawbone, I’m personally a big fan of Plantronics headsets myself. I currently use the VoyagerPro, the Backbeat and Discovery 975. Their noise cancellation technology is quite good as well and have traditionally been very good headsets.

    • Sep 17 2010

      I’ve heard good things about Plantronics headsets, too, although I’ve never actually tried any of their products myself.


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