UPDATE 1/3/2008: BlueAnt V1 Voice Controlled Bluetooth Headset
It’s rare that you can make such a sweeping statement as this, but the BlueAnt z9 Bluetooth Headset is the new gold standard for all future Bluetooth headsets – hands down. It earns a 4.9 out of 5. I’m not the only one that thinks the z9 deserves the highest award possible, because it was the winner of a CES 2007 Innovations Design and Engineering Award! Combining superior sound quality for both sides of the call, ease of use, high levels of comfort for all-day wear and a sleek design, the z9 might very well be the last Bluetooth headset you’ll need to buy (until, that is, BlueAnt releases a new version).
I tested the z9 with the iPhone on AT&T’s network and the Blackberry 8830 World Edition from Sprint. Pairing is simple and painless, with the z9 maintaining up to 3 connections with Bluetooth compatible devices ranging from mobile phones to your laptop or PC. You’ll need to jot down or remember the first, second and third device that was paired with the z9. Why? Because when you need to switch devices on the fly, you simply disconnect the headset with the current device and then click the multi-function button once, twice or three times to pair with the first, second or third device respectively. Wow, isn’t that amazing?
The multi-function button is centrally located on the front of the headset. The volume buttons are located on one side and the dual microphones are situated on the other side. The translucent over-the-ear hook is comfortable and keeps the headset firmly in place, and it doesn’t interfere if you wear glasses. I love the fact that it doesn’t seem prone to breaking off as I’ve found with the nX6000 or the Plantronics 665. That was the biggest problem I experienced with the nX6000: the ear hook and ear piece always fell off if I put it inside my pants pocket or even a shirt pocket. It’s annoying and you run the risk of losing them completely. The z9 also has an innovative tie clip that’s integral to the headset’s design, allowing you to attach it to your shirt or cuff when not in use. That’s neat!
The earpiece is comfortable – in fact the whole Headset weighs just 0.35oz – and, for those of you who don’t enjoy exploring the inner-mysteries of your ear, you’ll be pleased to note it’s not an in-ear-canal design. That means you won’t suffer the deaf-ear affect of only being able to hear what’s going on in the headset with one side of your head; you’re still able to clearly hear and enjoy your conversation almost anywhere. And when I say anywhere, I really mean it. For my first test, I took a drive with all my windows down, including the sliding window located in the back of my 4Runner. Speeding up from 0 to 70 mph, the person on the other end couldn’t even hear or sense a hint of wind noise at all. Wow! I’ve tested over 20 Bluetooth headsets over the past year in this way, and the closest to achieve this kind of wind noise reduction was the nX6000. Even with the nX6000, though, I was only able to speed up to 45 mph before background noise became unbearable. Below that speed, the receiving end could still hear slight wind noise even though it was bearable and didn’t disrupt the conversation.
I worked an entire day inside a Starbucks, making and receiving numerous calls using the z9. Guess what? Not a single person knew where I was. The z9 features two digital sound processing modes: ‘Voice Isolation Standard’ intended for everyday environments, for a more natural sounding voice while removing mild background noise, and ‘Voice Isolation Max’ to provide even better voice quality when in extreme noise environments such as a busy Starbucks or the streets of Manhattan. Perhaps surprisingly, both modes use the same amount of battery power. Oh, and the best add-on feature is the voice tag. When you click on the multi-function button while on a call, to switch between the two modes, a voice prompt lets you know that you’re in Voice Isolation Standard or Max. Rival headsets, such as the Jawbone, rely on a system of beeps to tell you the mode you’re in. Problem is, I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast, let alone how many beeps means what. Nice touch BlueAnt.
As I said at the start, I love this headset; perhaps you can tell from its score of 4.9 out of 5! So how could it eke that final 0.1 out of me? Well, the proprietary charging plug is a minor frustration; I’d prefer to see the more standardized miniUSB. A thinner design, in keeping with Apple’s highly attractive Bluetooth Headset for iPhone, would be handy too, and maybe eliminate the need for the over-the-ear hook altogether. Saying that, though, they’d perhaps need to bulk up the ear plug if that were the case, so maybe the ear-hook should stay.
I’d also – greedily – like more battery life. At the moment the z9 can manage 5.5hrs of talk-time and 200hrs standby, and seeing as this is my wishlist and I don’t have to think through the practicalities I’d love to see that extend up to 7 or 8hrs while maintaining the slim and lightweight form-factor. Lastly (and this really is splitting hairs), a way to turn off the blinking blue light would be nice; the headset is so compact that it’s hardly obvious, but the miniature light-show catches unnecessary attention. All that being said, if BlueAnt manage to incorporate my wish-list while maintaining the same superior voice quality, well, version 2 will deserve 5/5!
Update: There is a way to turn off the blinking blue light! ….press the + and – buttons for 3 seconds while the headset is in idle or standby mode and the lights will be turned to off.
Unboxing the BlueAnt Z9 Bluetooth Headset