One of BlueAnt's most popular Bluetooth headsets last year was the BlueAnt Z9, which we rated highly as having excellent sound quality, and many of you agreed. But BlueAnt wasn't happy just resting on its laurels; indeed, it has come up with an upgrade to the Z9, and the headset is now dubbed the BlueAnt Z9i. Not only does the new Z9i come in red as well as black, it now offers multipoint technology that enables it to connect to two devices at one time, the ability to pair with five devices instead of three, and a new voice-isolation technology that takes its noise-cancellation abilities to a new level. If you haven't purchased the Z9, then the Z9i is the one to get. It retails for $119.99, but you can get it online for around $69.99. For this affordable pricing alone, we think this a viable alternative to the Jawbone 2.
In a lot of ways, the BlueAnt Z9i's design is unchanged from the Z9. It still sports a 1.61-inch by 0.68-inch by 0.44-inch measurement, and it still has that same minimalist design with the multifunction button on the top (The multifunction button also houses the LED in the form of a glowing blue ant graphic). On the right are the two volume buttons, which are nicely raised above the surface. Though we found the volume decrease easy to press, we still thought the volume increase button felt quite stiff. As with the Z9, the multifunction button has a nice give to it as well.
The back of the headset is home to the standard earpiece as well as a flexible ear hook. Similar to the Z9's design, the earpiece sits just inside the folds of the ear, so it's advisable to wear the ear hook for better stability. The Z9i comes with different sized earbud covers as well as a rubberized ergonomic ear hook, which makes it a lot more comfortable than the Z9. We really liked the method of switching ear bud covers--all we had to do was screw the different covers on and off, similar to a screw-cap bottle. It's a small yet nice touch. We felt as if we could wear the Z9i for hours without much discomfort. Like the Z9, the Z9i also has a tiny clip on the back that can be clipped on to a shirt when not in use.
We tested the BlueAnt Z9i with the RIM BlackBerry Pearl and the LG Dare. We were able to pair the headset with both phones without any issues. Indeed, we are able to stay connected to both phones at the same time. Whenever either phone rang, we could answer the call with a single click on the Z9i. We could also put one phone on hold while answering a call on the other phone (Note: To answer a call on Phone 2 while placing Phone 1 on hold, press and hold the volume increase button for 3 seconds. To end the call on Phone 2 and return to Phone 1, press the multifunction button. To answer a call on Phone while ending the call on Phone 1, press and hold the volume decrease button for 3 seconds.)
Call quality was great. Though both the Z9 and the Z9i has Voice Isolation technology, the Z9i purports to have better sound. Indeed, we found it to be true. There are two modes to the voice-isolation sensor--Standard and Max. Standard allows for regular noise reduction and echo cancellation, but still retaining the sound of the natural voice, which is good for everyday use. The Max version is best for really noisy situations where the voice quality isn't as important as just the ability to hear the other person. We tested out the headset in a quiet office environment, and callers heard us loud and clear without any problems. There was still some static, but it wasn't a big deal. Next, we tested out the Max setting in a crowded restaurant setting, and though it was still a bit difficult to hear, it was certainly a lot clearer than without it. Callers had no problem hearing us at all, though they did say our voices sounded slightly more robotic in Max mode.
Other features of the Z9i include the typical answering, ending, and rejecting calls, plus last number redial, voice dialing support, call waiting, call conferencing, and the ability to transfer a call from the headset to the phone and vice versa. Also, the Z9i can pair up to five devices.
Rated talk time is 5.5 hours, and rated standby time is 8.3 days.