While there are thousands of Bluetooth headsets on the market, only a few stand out from the rest. The Jawbone’s Icon headset offers a fashion-oriented premium solution for those looking for excellent audio quality and some style. For those not familiar with Jawbone, the headset initially stole the spotlight a few years ago as their NoiseAssassin technology offered unparalleled noise cancellation capabilities. While competitors including BlueAnt, Jabra, and Plantronics now offer similar solutions, the new Jawbone Icon claims to have even more to offer with downloadable apps to customize the entire experience.
Jawbone tries to entice buyers right from the beginning with some impressive packaging. Unlike some gadgets which arrive in impossible-to-open plastic cages, Jawbone ships the headset in one of the fanciest boxes I have come across. A showcase features the headset prominently at the top while accessories are hidden in the base. Instructions printed directly on the packaging explain each accessory’s purpose. There are multiple ear buds, an ear loop, a USB cable, and an AC wall charger inside. As a bonus for eco-friendly shoppers, the packaging is entirely recyclable.
Jawbone offers the Icon in ten styles which vary in color and texture. Just about each style offers a unique look that will make a fashion statement. Some might be searching for a unique look, but business professionals may have a hard time selecting a subtle Icon style. In addition, “The Rogue” version that Skatter Tech received was a definite finger print magnet, which attracts dust and grime quickly. I had to wipe it down with a soft cloth each day to keep it looking pristine. I should note that our review unit was also slightly chipped, which hopefully is not a common flaw.
As someone who often finds discomfort with some in-ear headphones and Bluetoothheadsets, I was glad to find that Jawbone includes various ear bud sizes to ensure a proper fit. There are three sizes for the standalone ear bud style which features an extended fin to stay in place. I prefer this option since it offers a clean-cut look without having to use an ear loop that goes above and around my ear. For the most part, the Jawbone stays secure and the silicone bud is fairly comfortable. However, the Icon will probably fall out during rigorous activities. To solve that issue, Jawbone also includes an ear loop and four sizes of round fin-less buds as an alternative.
To avoid clutter, the Jawbone Icon only features a power button under the belly and a multi-function key. The built-in software dynamically adjusts volume levels depending on the surrounding sound levels. For those concerned, I noticed that my Android smart phone also let me manually increase or decrease the volume. The multi-function key lets users quickly answer or end a call with a single click. A double-tap even initiates a instant redial.
The Bluetooth (v2.1) module was also strong enough to support a steady connection from over 15 feet away from my device. I was glad to learn that the Icon can remember up to eight paired devices and simultaneously stay connected to two at once. For instance, this makes it possible to seamlessly toggle between a Skype call on your computer and an incoming call on your mobile device without having to switch headsets.
Charging the Icon is also easy since Jawbone includes a Micro USB cable which works with either a computer’s USB port or the provided AC adapter. The company claims 4.5 hours of talk time and 10 days of standby which fit appropriately with my findings.
While the brand new Jawbone Era sports the latest NoiseAssassin 3.0 technology, the Icon still runs on NoiseAssassin 2.5. I had a chance to throughly test the headset in various environments and found impressive results. During a call, the other party could not hear any unwanted background noises while I was not speaking. I happened to walk by a bus and a construction site in downtown Berkeley during a call without the person on the other end hearing a sound. However, the noise cancellation capabilities began to vary as I began talking.
I found that some minor background noises, which are very much suppressed, still make it through. Fortunately, those sounds are nearly undistinguishable to the other party. It would be nearly impossible for some one to tell whether you are in front of your TV, in a car, or at a party. At first I did not think the NoiseAssassin was doing enough, however after comparing it to the regular microphone on my HTC EVO 4G, I was very impressed.
Much like a smart phone, Jawbone offers a web-based app store for the Icon. Since the headset does not have a display, you need to connect it to your computer with the included USB cable to get started. Jawbone provides a small application and drives which install fairly quickly, but requires restarting all open web browsers.
The MyTalk app store offers six free voice packs to replace the default narration. There are even language packs for Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin, and Cantonese speakers. Additional apps offer quick access to frequently dialed numbers, extra voice dial features, and even note-taking tools. A “Voice on the Go” app even reads emails out to you over Bluetooth.
While the value of MyTalk apps might be little for those with smart phones, it will prove very handy to the vast majority of buyers who still use feature phones. I should note that I found installing apps painfully slow as it took over five minutes in some instances. The buggy software manged to crash my browser twice, but a third attempt was a charm.
The Bottom Line
If you are looking for a premium Bluetooth headset that offers impressive noise cancellation capabilities and do not mind the rather unique styles, the Jawbone Icon could be the answer. The headset will undoubtedly stand our from the ones your friends and family use and the MyTalk apps are a definite plus. Even if you do not need apps, the bonus voice packs are a fun addition. However the most important fact remains: the NoiseAssassin technology once again went above and beyond competition. The Icon retails for $99 on Jawbone’s website, however other retailers such as Amazon offer it for as little as $70. While this might be a bit over the top for some, those who take the plunge will realize that the Jawbone Icon offers presentation and performance which will not disappoint.