The Q1 from BlueAnt Wireless comes with an incredibly useful voice-control helper, which is unique to the Q1 and to its cousin, the BlueAnt V1. The $130 (as of 5/6/09) Q1 is an addition to the BlueAnt product family; it does not replace the V1.
With a typical Bluetooth headset, you can take advantage of some voice controls, as most cell phones support voice dialing. When your phone is connected to a Bluetooth headset, you can say, for example, “Call voicemail” or “Call Jim mobile.” The call then initiates, and you don’t have to touch your phone’s keypad. Such commands originate in your phone, and you hear them through your headset. In contrast, the Q1 houses its own dedicated voice-command system, bypassing your phone’s voice prompts. The voice-controlled interface feels a bit like having my own Jeeves to handle calls–and I like it.
The Q1‘s voice walked me through the pairing process to connect the headset to my phone via Bluetooth. After that, whenever I pressed the BlueAnt button (that is, the main control button), a male voice popped up, intoning, “Say a command.” I could choose from a predetermined list of commands, including “Redial,” “Call back,” “Check battery,” and “Switch headset off.” Overall, the Q1‘s speech recognition works well–it doesn’t involve any training. And if you’re not sure of your next move, asking “What can I say?” cycles you through the range of available commands.
One unique and major plus is the Q1’s ability to let you pick up or reject an incoming call using your voice. If you’re driving, you don’t have to lift your hand off the wheel to tap a button to grab a call. As my phone rang or vibrated, the Q1 notified me: “Call from 415 555 4141. Answer or ignore?” I said “Answer” aloud, and it connected the call.
However, like the V1, the Q1 restricts you to its collection of commands. I missed being able to say, for instance, “Call Mariana home.” To get around that limitation, you can save up to eight numbers as speed-dial options (though your phone needs to support it). Alternatively, you can revert to your phone’s voice commands. (You do so by pressing the control button and saying “Phone commands.”)
During my tests, call quality was inconsistent, and not comparable to handset quality. On my end, incoming voices sounded fine, but not amazing. On the other end, calls sometimes sounded very clear, without any intrusive interference, but more often calls sounded mediocre or subpar. My voice often sounded hollow, muffled, or slightly robotic to the other party; a couple of call recipients complained about choppiness, portions of words dropping off, static, and reverb.
On the plus side, the Q1 handled background noise and wind pretty well. Tunes on my stereo indoors and in the car practically disappeared. Ditto for the breeze whipping around the car. To simulate even windier conditions, I made calls beside a fan churning at full strength, and the Q1 shoved the noise aside somewhat; the call recipient could hear something that sounded like a washing machine, but my conversation still came through. In the middle of calls, I tried turning on the Q1‘s maximum noise-reduction setting (by pressing the control button once). At times, the difference was marginal; in the case of the swishing fan, the Q1 reduced the noise even further, though at the same time my voice sounded more robotic. Overall, the Q1 did not handle windy conditions quite as successfully as the Plantronics Voyager Pro did.
Compared with the rather dull design of its cousin, the Q1 sports an improved look. The V1 is squarish and drab gray; the Q1 is more elongated and sleek, with a pleasing charcoal color (the company describes it as “gunmetal gray”). Even though the Q1‘s (removable) earhook lacks flexibility–it’s fixed in its loopy shape–the headset felt comfortable, secure, and light on my small ear. The company also provides two earbuds, but the small-size one was still too large for me.
I prefer donning headsets without a loop, so I tested the Q1 that way, and it did not feel snug or stable. Plus, to optimize conditions for outbound call quality and accurate speech recognition, you need to orient the headset toward your mouth. Having the hook in place kept the Q1 in position. (At least half a dozen times when I didn’t have the headset perched right and I mumbled “Redial,” the Q1’s interpretation was “Call speed dial eight.”)
The headset’s button layout and tactile feedback were impressive. The control button over the ear, which you tap to bring up the Q1‘s voice commands, to initiate or end a call, and to power the device on and off, is easy to access by feel, and it delivers terrific feedback when pressed. The volume-control buttons–a short, skinny one for volume down and a longer one (with the same thinness) for volume up–were also easy to locate.
The Q1‘s integrated voice control is one of this headset’s greatest features. If your cell phone supports speed dialing and you’d like to handle calls using your voice a lot of the time, consider the Q1. Be prepared for inconsistent call quality, though.
(To see other models we looked at recently, check out our Bluetooth headset chart. For more on selecting the right headset for you, see our Bluetooth products buying guide.)