By Harry McCracken | Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 9:32 pm
Whenever I write about Aliph’s Jawbone Bluetooth headsets, I start by explaining that I’ve never met a Bluetooth headset I really wanted to use. The company is releasing a new version of the Jawbone it’s calling the Jawbone Icon–and this major update addresses all of the gripes I’ve always held about the category, and adds some multiple other nifty features as well.
The most immediately striking thing about the Icon is something I don’t care that much about: It’s available in six stylish versions. The last Jawbone version, the Jawbone Prime, came in multiple colors, but the Icon tops that by offering six distinct industrial designs in different colors and textures,, with versions designed to appeal to both women and men, and both highly blingy and relatively subdued versions. They’re known as the Hero, the Rogue, the Thinker, the Ace, the Bombshell, and the Catch.
Here they are:
The Icons are also a different shape than earlier Jawbones: shorter and stubbier, and ten percent lighter. While you still want them to brush against your face to activate the NoiseAssassin noise suppression, the review unit supplied to me by Aliph leaves me less conscious that I’m wearing something in my ear than previous Jawbones did. (The headset comes with multiple ear cushions and an optional loop.)
Here’s where the Icon really starts addressing the stuff I didn’t like about earlier Jawbones and headsets in general: It’s easier to figure out. Previous Jawbones hid the necessary buttons beneath the surface of their skins in a way that was aesthetically pleasing but was hard to remember; the Icon, by contrast, has a good old fashioned power switch, and the button you use to answer calls is, indeed, a button.
The Icon is also the first Jawbone that speaks: When you use voice dialing and caller ID or check the battery level, a digitized voice speaks to you through the earpiece–and a new service that Aliph calls MyTalk, which you access via your browser, lets you choose from seven voices and three languages besides English (French, German, and Spanish).
MyTalk also lets you install “VoiceApps” on the Icon that let you program the talk button to provide access to voice dialing, directory assistance, Jott (a hands-free service for notes, reminders, Twitter, and more), 1800Free411, or HandsFree Assistant. It’s not quite an app store, but it’s a new idea for headsets that adds an additional level of personalization. And Aliph says it’ll use MyTalk to add more interesting features in the future.
Other small but nice improvements: The Icon uses a standard MicroUSB cable (and comes with a short one that’s convenient for travel) and puts a battery gauge in the status bar of iPhones, up near the iPhone’s own battery indicator.
Oh, and the Icon is $99–a major price cut from the $129.99 Aliph charges for the Prime (which remains available).
As before, the new Jawbone’s biggest selling point is audio quality–especially how well people you call can hear you when you’re in a noisy environment, thanks to NoiseAssassin. In my limited tests so far, it does indeed sound excellent. Aliph says it’s improved both outgoing and incoming sound quality, and a new “Set It and Forget It” feature auto-adjusts sound levels from call to call so they’re never too loud or too soft.
I want to spend more time with the Icon before I declare myself, at long last, a fan of Bluetooth headsets. (At the moment, I jump back and forth between using a wired Apple headset and a Bluetooth car hands-free set, or–please don’t tell the California Highway Patrol–just pressing my iPhone to my ear.) But all the new features in the Icon make it a lot more customizable and approachable.
I’m curious how headset aficionados will react to the Icon–especially to the jewelry-like approach of its six versions. (When Aliph offered to let me try any of the designs, I opted for the fairly low-key Hero.) If you’re a user of earlier Jawbones or any other headsets, I’d love to know what you think.