Aliph’s Attractive Jawbone Icon Is an Upgradable Bluetooth Headset
By Robert S. Anthony
At a Glance
User-customizable voice alerts
Smaller, more stylish than earlier Jawbones
Sound quality can degrade in certain scenarios
Thin earhook seems fragile
Smaller, smarter, and glitzier, Aliph’s new series of Jawbone Bluetooth headsets aim to combine good looks with a customizable, voice-driven interface.
The shape is the same, and so is Aliph’s distinctive noise-cancellation technology, but the new Jawbone Icon ($99 as of February 10, 2010) series of Bluetooth headsets sports a bit of style and a new level of user customization. And you can upgrade them in a manner usually reserved for cell phones and computers: with applications.
The Icon is smaller than the original rectangular Jawbone but retains its basic good looks. Instead of a metallic sheen, the Icon headsets come in iridescent and pearly colors and have snappy names like “The Bombshell” and “The Hero.”
According to Aliph, the Icon incorporates design improvements and features suggested by Jawbone users. For example, the Icon has a simple on/off switch on its underside and a large talk button on one end–that’s it for physical controls. Pairing the unit with a cell phone is easy: You simply hold down the talk button while switching the device on to place it into Bluetooth pairing mode. And instead of beeps and flashes, the Icon uses voice technology to communicate to users. If you press the talk button while no call is in progress, for instance, the Icon announces how much battery time you have left (a fully charged Icon might announce, “About 4 hours of talk time remaining”). If a call comes in, the same voice states the Caller ID information.
Like older Jawbones, the Icon uses vibrations from your face as part of its Noise Assassin noise-cancellation technology. A small nub called the Voice Activity Sensor rests on your face while the unit sits in your ear. The vibrations from your face help the unit separate your voice from the noise around you. If the nub loses contact with your face, however, the Icon reverts to a less-effective noise-cancellation mode.
In practice the noise cancellation worked well for me, washing away the drone of a nearby TV. When the nub slipped off my face for a few moments, however, the person at the other end heard a distinct drop in audio quality. Since proper fit makes a difference in performance, the Icon comes with six earbuds in addition to the one already installed, as well as a small and somewhat fragile-looking earloop.
The Jawbone Icon uses technology that maintains your preferred volume level from one call to the next, once you set it the first time. If your next caller is a whisperer or has a penchant to bellow, the unit automatically alters the volume as needed. You can still adjust the volume level from your phone, however.
The Icon aims for personalization: Not only can you choose from the six different styles and colors, but you can also download new voices from the Jawbone MyTalk audio and dial application Website. Currently you’ll find a voice for each of the six Icon body styles. You can also switch the language to Spanish, German, or French.
In addition, you can customize the talk button to support voice dialing or to gain quick 411 information access; you can even set the unit up to work with Jott Assistant, an application that lets you send updates to Facebook, Twitter, and other online services by voice. If you use the headset with an iPhone, a battery meter for the Icon appears on the phone’s display–a handy bit of integration.
The MyTalk Website, which is still in beta form, requires Internet Explorer or Firefox. My attempt to use Google Chrome yielded a polite but large error message. Once at the site, you’ll need to download and install a small Jawbone Updater application. The site is also the spot for downloading Icon firmware updates.
The battery in the 0.28-ounce Jawbone Icon provides 4.5 hours of talk time and ten days of standby time, according to Aliph. Though the Icon and the top-rated Jawbone Prime, introduced last year, are each just under an inch thick, the Icon is stubbier at 1.8 by 0.72 inches while the 0.39-ounce Prime measures 2.1 by 0.56 inches.
Even without the customization options, the Aliph Jawbone Icon is an admirable addition to the company’s line of sharp-looking Bluetooth headsets. It remains to be seen, however, if Icon users will embrace the opportunity to tweak their headsets.
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